Painting Abroad – Part 1

This is my first blog post while painting and traveling in another country! I’ve spent the last four and a half weeks sightseeing and painting in Latvia and Poland, Prague (Czech Republic), Salzburg (Austria), Venice (Italy), Croatia, and Budapest (Hungary). It’s been a hell of a trip so far and is far too much to talk about in just one post. I’ve seen incredible paintings from European painters that I didn’t even know existed and visited some gorgeous old castles, ruins and palaces. To be honest, right now I’m having some difficulty processing all that I’m seeing. The wealth of visual culture here is staggering. This series of posts is just a notation on my experiences. 

Koknese Castle in Latvia was at the top of list of landmarks to visit long before I arrived. I found this particular ruin in an online database of castles in Latvia and knew that I had to see this place. Although it hasn’t been maintained over the years and doesn’t have the grandeur of other structures, decomposing appearance makes it mythical somehow. Archaeologists don’t know much about the place other than that it was strategically situated at the fork of two rivers in front of a settlement for defensive purposes. I’ve found that castles in Europe tend to fall in particular category, depending on how they’ve been cared for over the years. Here’s how I would define it:

  1. The castle hasn’t been used for a few hundred years and has fallen into complete ruin. Anything wooden has deteriorated and there are no floors or windows.
  2. The castle has had moderate maintenance over the years, or has been rescued from ruin for the purpose of sightseeing. Walls and floors are intact. Rooms have been remade into exhibits. Tapestries have been replicated and hung from the walls.
  3. The castle is still being actively used. Sometimes, this means it is still a government office, in other situations it has become a restaurant or other attraction. Modern lighting and plumbing have all been installed.

I’ve found castles that are all along this spectrum. Koknese was definitely a prime example of Category 1.

Photo by Gunta Klavina

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Cesis Castle was what I call an example of Category 2. Cesis is one of the oldest towns in Latvia and has a very detailed history. The castle was besieged many times, and was captured by Russian czar Ivan the Terrible in 1577. As was often the case with desirable fortresses, it was taken back a few months later (of course). It’s captured the imagination ever since and has been kept up over the years as a prime sightseeing destination.

As a matter of fact, it was still being worked on while I was painting this very picture. If you look carefully at the picture above, you may see a small dark silhouette at the top of the tower. This is actually a construction worker assembling the new roof. The old roof was made of wood, but it was suffering from weathering and damage. A local tour guide actually informed us that we were the first artists to ever depict Cesis Castle with it’s newly built roof!

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Fellow painter Amuna Laima studying the same tower from our vantage point of Cesis.

We went on to tour many more castles and had the chance to paint a few of those, as well as other landscapes unique to this part of the world. More to come soon!

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