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Adamson-Eric: A Renowned Modern Painter and Colourist, who Developed Estonian Applied Arts



One of the most versatile creative personalities in Estonian art in the 20th century, Erich Karl Hugo Adamson, popularly known as Adamson-Eric, was born in Tartu on this day, August 18, 1902. Mainly known as a brilliant painter, he was also skilled in nearly all fields of applied art. Adamson-Eric worked in a number of disciplines ranging from oil painting to furniture design. The originality and power of his work makes it seem fresh even today.

Adamson was the fourth child of Jaan and Anna Adamson. After attending school in his native Estonia, he moved to Berlin, where he studied at the Charlottenburg School of Arts and Crafts. After finishing his studies there, Adamson moved to Paris, where he studied art with artists such as Charles Guerlain, Roger Bissière, Moise Kisling and André Rothe before joining the private academy of Russian artist Vasili Sukhaev in 1925.


During the 1920s and 1930s, Adamson-Eric was one of the most important cosmopolitans of Estonian art, having lived and worked in various locations throughout Europe. He was also an active and courageous participant in Estonian cultural life and was a flamboyant figure in society. In addition, he was active in the policymaking and organising of Estonian artistic life, and was an invaluable art teacher after the war, influencing several generations of artists.

Adamson-Eric\’s paintings are characterised by a subtle sense of colour, sophisticated taste, and elegant wit. The artist\’s aesthetic beliefs and the development of his painting style were greatly influenced by the French painting tradition. In the late 1930s, he became obsessed with plein air painting, capturing the light, colour and mood of the moment. In the 60s, due to bodily weakness, he had to use his left hand to paint, and yet managed to continue with the realistic painting style he had developed in the late 30s, with great passion born out of his discovery of the possibilities of the abstract pictorial language. Adamson-Eric was a great painter and colourist, but he played an even more important role in the development of Estonian applied arts. He was a creative pioneer who, with his indomitable spirit, fresh approach and original imagery, gave new directions to Estonian pottery, porcelain painting, leatherwork, metalwork and textile arts. His creative style was characterised by an obsession with materials, bold use of colour, and dynamic decoration. He consciously replaced classical symmetry with asymmetric rhythms of surfaces.


Adamson\’s career as an artist spanned almost four decades. After decades of creating art, he gained an additional position as an administrator and became Minister of Education for Estonia. Adamson worked in many mediums, including utilitarian art using materials considered craft, such as pottery, jewellery, metal, and leather. These works are now on permanent display at the Adamson-Eric Museum in Tallinn\’s Old Town. The museum was founded in 1984, 16 years after the artist\’s death.

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