Lithuanian National Art Gallery
The National Gallery of Art in Lithuania holds a collection of artworks from the 20th century. The collection includes paintings, sculptures and prints by artists who worked in Soviet Lithuania, as well as by artists who lived abroad. During the postwar period, the style of Socialist Realism was imposed on artists who remained in Lithuania. From the 1960s onwards, the main goals of Lithuanian artists were to preserve the national identity and continue the modernist tradition. With no active or direct links with Western art, artists developed individual versions of Realism, Expressionism, Surrealism, Abstraction, and other tendencies in modern art. Some of these works can be ascribed to the cultural opposition.
Vilnius Konstitucijos prospektas 22, Lithuania 09309
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Name of collection
- National Gallery of Art Collection
Provenance and cultural activities
The National Gallery of Art was built in 1980 as the Museum of the Revolution of Soviet Lithuania. The Museum of the Revolution was closed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the building was transferred to the Lithuanian Art Museum. Today it is the main gallery for 20th-century Lithuanian art. The permanent display at the National Gallery of Art shows works by prominent Lithuanian artists of the modern period, the most important items in the collection of the Lithuanian Art Museum. The display is chronological, from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day. Each hall has a theme, offering a glimpse of Lithuanian art in a different period and from a different point of view, and highlighting important historical facts and events, and typical styles. The story is not only about art and artists, but also about the development of modern Lithuanian society, the historical challenges, and the corresponding cultural diversity.
The main part of the exhibition at the National Gallery of Art consists of official works created during Soviet times. According to Dr Jablonskienė and Dr Lubytė, the Soviet Lithuanian government allocated a large amount of money for acquiring art. Having a comparatively large budget, the regime bought thousands of paintings and sculptures that were shown officially at various exhibitions. This policy was pursued for ideological reasons: first of all, the scope and the size of the collections should demonstrate the efforts by the Soviet regime to promote the national culture. Secondly, this policy had some aspects of social policy, to attract talented artists by keeping them on the side of the regime. Because of this, there are very few works in the collection that can be ascribed to the cultural opposition. While the Soviet government monitored the ideological aspects of creative work, some influential artists were able to express critical attitudes through sophisticated forms of art.
According to Dr Jablonskienė, the chief curator of the National Gallery of Art, the Lithuanian Art Museum and the gallery seek to acquire works that were not created by recognised artists in Soviet times, or works that were ideologically unconventional. They seek works that were created underground, or works by artists who operated outside the official ideology and were not officially recognised. Nevertheless, because of the budget, the Lithuanian Art Museum and the gallery have very limited possibilities to realise this strategy.
Description of content
The National Gallery of Art shows works by prominent Lithuanian artists of the modern period. The display is chronological, from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day, showing the development of modern Lithuanian society, the historical challenges, and the corresponding cultural diversity.
According to Dr Lolita Jablonskienė, like other museums in Lithuania, the National Gallery of Art does not have specific anti-Soviet items that directly challenged the Soviet regime and the reality of that time. Nevertheless, we can find works that express indirectly the presentation of other forms of reality, which did not fit the official understanding of art, and which could be ascribed to the cultural opposition. For example, the National Gallery of Art has works by the painter Eugenijus Cukermanas. He painted very abstract works, and was not admitted as a member of the Soviet Lithuanian Painters’ Union during the Soviet period. Cukermanas took a stand in opposition to official cultural life. In the context of cultural opposition, works by the artist Kazimiera Zimblytė are also very relevant. In 1968, an exhibition of her abstract paintings and collages at Vaga publishers was closed down on account of accusations of formalism. From then on, Zimblytė's works were not included in books and exhibitions until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Some works by the sculptor Vladas Vildžiūnas went beyond the official ideology as well. His work Ecce homo (1972) was made during a trip to the USA. According to Dr Elona Lubytė, it would have been impossible to create that kind of work in Soviet Lithuania at that time.
- paintings: 1000-
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
Vilnius Konstitucijos prospektas 22, Lithuania
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- Jablonskienė, Lolita
Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
Part of network
Author(s) of this page
Jablonskienė, Lolita , interview by Grybkauskas, Saulius, April 07, 2014. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Lubytė, Elona , interview by Grybkauskas, Saulius, April 07, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection