Riga Art Nouveau

Riga Art Nouveau also known as Riga Jugendstil is by far some of the most flamboyant and impressive in all of Europe. Come with us and enjoy some of its finer examples.

The history of Art Nouveau.

The History of Art Nouveau goes back to the late 19th and early 20th century, with its peak spanning from between the mid 1890’s to the mid 1900’s. Known within France as Art Nouveau, Jugendstil by German speakers and Stile Liberty by Italians it swept across Europe as the latest must have fashion of its time.

Furniture, interior arts, handicrafts, ceramics, architecture, fabric design, fashion design to name a few were all influenced by this movement that took influence from the beauty of nature and the world in which we live. It would eventually spread world wide with some of the wealthiest of the Global society building ornate buildings and indulging in this fine export from Europe.

The economic boom years at the turn of the century allowed Art Nouveau to spread rapidly and with the age of industrialisation, mass produced items could infiltrate all walks of life. Art Nouveau’s early roots are often considered to have begun within the mind of a Czech artist known as Alfonse Mucha, although this is open to speculation amongst art historians. Essentially it found its home first on the streets of Paris and later spread through out Europe with many people embracing the new style, whilst many others rejected it.

Where ever Art Nouveau reached, local artists and designers would incorporate local styles and techniques to produce a movement that had its own individual taste in each country, artist and often in each city. For some, the movement had rules, for others they embraced the concept of the new age and changing times, inspired by other’s works to create their own unique style.

Charles Rennie Makintosh is a great example of this. Having made big steps within the Arts and Crafts movements so popular within the UK he stepped into the boots of the Art Nouveau movement and brought typical elements of Art Nouveau, clearly mixed with the environment found around the bustling cities and sweeping landscapes that surrounded him during his life.

Art Nouveau in Riga.

It is considered that the Art Nouveau influence reached Riga through its German influence and as it arrived, in what was then the Russian Empire it could not have received a more welcomed reception. From the late 1890’s, buildings within the style began to emerge and soon Riga become a show case city for a style.

To represent Art Nouveau (or Jugendstil as it was locally known here) through architecture required a great deal of investment in order to carry out and at this time there was no shortage of investors. Let us not forget that Riga was one of the wealthiest cities in Europe at the turn of the 19th century and with so many Merchant families ready to become Landlords within the city there was no shortage of capital.

We should also remember that until the 1860’s construction outside of the City ramparts was forbidden, except for 2 floored wooden houses. This meant that when they finally pulled the ramparts to make way for the canal and beautiful parks we see today that people were eager to leave their cramped conditions and begin to build onwards and upwards.

Much of the construction that we see today in what we call the central district dates between the 1890’s and 1910 giving us a great amount of Art Nouveau in Riga, close to 30% of all buildings within the centre, making Riga one of the top destinations in the world for this magnificent style.

Below are a few of Riga’s more well known architects from the period. With so many active at the time we have chosen those that for us stand out the most.

Eižens Laube

Born 1880 Riga, Russian empire (today Latvia) – Died 1967 Portland, Oregan, US. A Baltic German by ethnicity. He was the Chairman of the Latvian Architects Society from 1924 – 1926. After the second world war he moved to Germany where he became a professor later moving to the USA around 1950.He is considered one of the pioneers of the Riga Art Nouveau Movement and was tutored heavily whilst working for Konstantins Pēkšēns during his studies. His work is moving and impressive, many joint designs were carried out by Pēkšēns and Laube and their styles as individuals and as joint efforts can clearly be seen.

Konstantins Pēkšēns

Born 1859 Mazsalaca parish, Russian empire (today Latvia) – Died 1928 Bad Kissingen, Germany. By far one of Riga’s greatest architects he is responsible for over 250 multi leveled brick houses, as well as many great examples of wooden architecture spanning many styles. Often considered the father of National Romantic Jugendstil in Riga, his work inspires and brightens the city skyline on almost every street within the Central district. He was a member of Riga city council and also developed a plumbing company that was the largest supplier of central heating facilities all the way up to 1940.

Mikhail Eizenstein

Born 1867 St. Petersburg, Russian empire – Died 1921 Berlin, Germany. Of German Jewish and swedish decent he is one of the most well known architects whom’s work adorns the streets of Riga. His ornate Eclectic style of Art Nouveau has been the victim of the photographers flash to a point of over kill. A must see in Riga but you must know he produced as few as 19 buildings within Riga, his style becoming over flamboyant and garish. Soon this bourgeois eclectic style would be replaced with the National Romantic moment. Notably his son is also rather famous, Sergei Eizenstein, the well known Soviet film maker.

We invite you here in Riga to come and enjoy what is on offer.

Many buildings were unscathed during the 20th centuries conflicts and are still in a great condition to enjoy and be amazed by. Try one of our Art Nouveau Tours so that you can really feel what was taking place at the turn of the 20th century. You are sure to be amazed.

How to discover Art Nouveau through books, tours and self exploration.

Whilst you visit Riga you should take advantage of what is on offer in terms of information on the subject of Art Nouveau. We highly recommend the Art Nouveau Museum, we also highly recommend the following books, Art Nouveau Buildings in Riga by Jānis Krastiņš and Riga, The Complete Guide to Architecture by Jānis Krastiņš and Ivars Strautmanis. Also we have to say our Riga Art Nouveau Tours as well is a must do in Riga!

We also would like to point out that we hear that people are being recommended to visit Alberta Street and Elizabetes Street, having been told it is the Art Nouveau district. We cannot deny that there are many Art Nouveau buildings there as well as the Museum we mentioned above but be aware that it is just a tiny selection, many tourists and not representative of the many variations in Riga’s Jugendstil movement.

We recommend for the enthusiast to research through books or join a tour run by guides who do not show the same houses as everyone else. After all, who wants to see 20 groups of tourists, each group made up of 30 people following a guide with a microphone, holding a stick with a group number on it… Cruise tours drop many people in this area so be aware. Best times to visit is early or at night.