Dreaming of Lithuania


21.09.2013 - 15.12.2013


The visual arts and music have often influenced each other over the centuries, but it is extremely rare to find an artist who practices both disciplines equally well.


Mikolajus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875-1911) is the exception to the proverbial rule. In his short career, he developed into one of the most intriguing defenders of Synesthesia, an art philosophy that came to prominence around 1900 with the ambitious aim of uniting the various artistic disciplines into a sort of meta-art, or ‘derangement of all the senses’ (to use a phrase borrowed from Rimbaud). The fact that Synesthesia is a medical condition (it is a ‘talent’ of the brain that apparently occurs in only 5% of the population) did not stop the Symbolists and early abstract artists, in particular, from being mesmerised by it. Major artists, including Skrjabin and Kandinsky, counted themselves as synesthetes.


Čiurlionis was born in the Southern Lithuanian village of Varéna. In those days, his country only existed in the collective memory of the population, and it was dominated by two large cultural and political spheres of influence: the Russian and Polish. After first completing a thorough musical training in Warsaw and Leipzig, he began to focus on his new passion for painting just after 1900.


The outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1905 triggered a new sense of political commitment in Čiurlionis. From that point onwards, he put his talents at the service of his Lithuanian homeland, advocated that the people use their native language (which he himself strived to learn) and devoted himself to the study of the extensive arsenal of Lithuanian folk songs.


In 1908, as a painter, he was welcomed with open arms by the progressive artistic elite of St. Petersburg. Yet his oeuvre, which is mostly comprised of small-scale and fragile-looking works, many of which form series, has never reached a wide audience. In a number of paintings he sings the praises of the legendary Lithuanian past and his the natural beauty of his country. Many works depict atmospheric, mysterious and dreamlike scenes and, in terms of content, they are closely related to Symbolism. On the other hand, landscapes also feature prominently. These expand to encompass the entire cosmos and display strikingly abstract tendencies.


The exhibition is a first in Belgium and offers the public the opportunity to discover a fascinating and multifaceted artist from the Baltic. All of the loans, including over a hundred paintings in addition to drawings and photographs, are made available by the National M. K. Čiurlionis Art Museum of Kaunas. As the exhibition unfolds, visitors can stop and listen to music composed by Čiurlionis.


A selection of works by Belgian contemporaries and kindred spirits, including William Degouve de Nuncques, Fernand Khnopff and Léon Spilliaert, places his art in a wider context and makes it immediately obvious that Čiurlionis was one of greatest talents of the fin de siècle.


The exhibition is part of the cultural program of Lithuania's Presidency of the EU Council.


 M.K. Čiurlionis, Fairy Tale (Fairy Tale of the kings) 1909

© National M. K. Čiurlionis Art Museum, Kaunas Lithuania



Nocturne VI 178
Impromptu VI 181 (3:19)
Prelude VI 188 (8:48)
Prelude VI 230 (10:14)

performed by


M.K. Čiurlionis, Serenity, 1909
© National M. K. Čiurlionis Art Museum, Kaunas Lithuania


 M.K. Čiurlionis, Sparks (III from the cycle of 3 paintings) 1906
© National M. K. Čiurlionis Art Museum, Kaunas Lithuania


 M.K. Čiurlionis, The demon, 1909
© National M. K. Čiurlionis Art Museum, Kaunas Lithuania



M.K. Čiurlionis, Hymn. III, 1906
© National M. K. Čiurlionis Art Museum, Kaunas Lithuania


Trailer movie 'Letters to Sofija', based on a true story about the love affair between the Lithuanian genius Čiurlionis and the woman and the country he adored. The movie will be on tour in European cinemas.