Tukums Museum

Una Sedleniece, Culture Theorist

Published in visual arts magazine Studija issue No. 71 (April/May 2010).

Translator into English: Filips Birzulis.

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but maybe it’s just a logical outcome that there is no other museum outside Riga which has been directly linked to so many books from our most serious art publishers, from which we can find out that one of the most valuable Latvian pre-war art collections is found right there in Tukums.(1) This is thanks to – as we find out in the books – the area’s most enthusiastic artists, as well as the meaningful activities of museum employees and the understanding of local decision-makers for the past seventy five years.(2)

To get some idea of what the Tukums Museum offers, it is recommended to take a look at www.TukumsMuseum.lv. The virtual museum home-page created with simple resources doesn’t stand out with any special visual lushness or refined graphic design, but its quality is testified by its understandable and well-structured information, practical illustrative materials and the main thing: its up-to-dateness. An insight into the museum’s collection acquisition policies and practices can be gained by accessing the Tukums Museum section of the National Museum collection online catalogue www.nmkk.lv.

Tukums Museum also calls itself a cultural environment museum, emphasizing its mission to preserve and interpret evidence about the surrounding area’s inhabitants’ ideas and achievements over many centuries.(3) The museum’s positive presence in the historical centre of Tukums can be felt at every step, but that’s not only in connection with the excellent signage in the public space. The plaques which are affixed to many buildings with information about their former owners, functions and transformations are another museum employees’ initiative. These references and short annotations help the visitor to find their way not only in space and the layers of the cultural environment, but also in time.(4)

In Tukums, with the assistance of what the museum offers, it is possible reach a number of different periods at the same time, and here one can sense a special density of art and museum work. In Tukums, there is something of interest to everyone – from the shy school-child to the refined art specialist, from the carefree home country tourist to the focused history researcher. In fact the museum is the legal umbrella structure for seven cultural heritage preservation, research and communication sites located in the Tukums area, with manifold things on offer and differing main tasks: Durbes Manor House has been fitted out with a late 19th century interior; the Weavers Workshop is a place for modern day people of various generations to put into effect their inclination to learn and practice ancient skills; in the Pils tornis (‘Castle Tower’) it is possible to find out, in a concentrated and witty way, about historic Tukums scenes and interconnections from the Middle Ages until the present; the gallery Durvis (meaning ‘door’) in the town’s central square provides a space for exhibitions by contemporary artists and is also a strategically important place for the sale of books, art objects and souvenirs; the Pastariņš Museum in Zentene pagasts and the Džūkste Fairytale Museum are particularly suited for anyone who is or has once been a child, but the Art Museum in Tukums is unique – at least as far as Latvia is concerned.


Many of Latvia’s regional museums have art collections, but rarely has a museum been established firstly as an art museum, rather than as a museum of local history. As it turns out, during the Soviet period the Tukums Museum even suffered due to this circumstance, as it was classified within a lower category and consequently received a lower level of funding than other regional centre museums which, unlike Tukums, housed local history expositions. Many Latvian re¬gional museums create, hold and show collections of art, but none of them are able to present such a broad representation of the best examples of national art: Janis Rozentāls and Vilhelms Purvītis, Voldemārs Tone and Voldemārs Matvejs, Rūdolfs Pinnis and Uga Skulme, Ansis Artums and Kārlis Neilis, and many other outstanding Latvian artists are represented in the collection.

The practical foundations and ideological direction of the collection were established by the museum’s first director, painter Āriņš (1907– 1991) from Tukums, whose “work in organizing the museum was a lesson in understanding various approaches to art”(5). Many art collections in the world have developed together with a growth in prosperity and as traditions of patronage have spread. In the case of Tukums, however, the driving forces behind the creation of the art collection reside in the professional intuition, courage, selflessness and conviction of Leonīds Āriņš and his successors. “The human being is infinitely lonely. Parents fail to find the way to their children, children to their parents, a friend to a friend. […] Only art unites [people together] in feelings. Not the objective, indifferent art that is learned, which can state a price, which can explain objects, but the real expression of emotional experience, whether it be music, poetry, painting.”(6)

We can only surmise whether Leonīds Āriņš’ ideas about art can be considered as programmatic in the collection and interpretation work of the museum today as well. The central axis of the art collection of Tukums Museum – Latvian oil paintings from the first half of the 20th century – in the museum’s early years represented Latvia’s art avantgarde, and the modernists also. Today the museum incorporates into its collection mainly well-established Latvian art treasures. This means that, on the one hand, Āriņš’ collecting philosophy has been continued, but on the other – in the compilation of the art collection, the plan is to avoid, as far as possible, risks that could be associated with the collection of “unproven” art assets. Possibly it is this fact specifically which distinguishes the earliest days of Tukums Museum art collection from today’s practices. In the purposeful restoration of the Durbes Manor interior, a second line of collection and study of significant art works and objects at Tukums Museum is connected with Baltic-German painting and history in Latvia.

It must be admitted, though, that the opportunity to view, “face to face”, all of the approximately 400 objects which form the Tukums collection of paintings is unfortunately re-stricted due to a lack of space. Only two, not very large, spaces at a former bank building in Harmonijas iela are intended for museum exhibitions. However, the museum successfully seeks to compensate for this with the assistance of educational programmes, for example, the popular programme Kopējam gleznas (‘Let’s copy paintings’). A sign of the mutual trust between the museum and its funders is the decision to waive the entry fee to the Art Museum for children, school children and students. In addition, starting from this year, there will also be special exhibitions of art objects from the extensive collection, with regular changes and a diversity of themes.

There are all kinds of stories about the geneses of mu¬seums, and likewise just as varied are the paths that bring visitors to a museum. The story of the Tukums Museum is almost an ideal illustration of how a museum can develop in harmonious cooperation with the community, listening to and cultivating the wishes of the people living around it. All that remains is to wish that the next logical step in the Tukums Museum story will be the construction of a Tukums Art Centre, which has been in the pipeline for a number of years now.

(1) See.: Cēbere Gundega / Runkovska Ināra. Latvijas glezniecība: Tukuma muzeja gleznu kolekcija: Izlase. Rīga: Neputns, 2005, pg. 200.

(2) See.: Cēbere Gundega. Leonīds Āriņš. Glezniecība, zīmējumi, dienasgrāmatas. Rīga: Neputns, 2007, pg. 168 and Neilis Kārlis. Tie trakie gleznotāja gadi. Rīga: Neputns, 2006, pg. 179.

(3) Thanks to Tukums Museum Director Agrita Ozola and the Museum of Art’s Directori Maija Matīsa for the “Muzeju ekspedīcijas” (Museum Expedition) discussion on 5 February 2010.

(4) Par Tukuma muzeja pētījumu sk. plašāk: Agrita Ozola. Tukums: Vecpilsēta: Ielas un nami, to iedzīvotāji. Tukums: Tukums Museum, 2007 – pg. 559.

(5) Runkovska Ināra, Cēbere, Gundega. Leonīds Āriņš. Tukums: Tukums Museum, b.g., pg 22.

(6) Ibid, pg. 20.