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The Story of One Painting: White and Black

From 3 February until 8 August 2015, the exhibition “The Story of One Painting: “White and Black”” will be held in the Museum of Romans Suta and Aleksandra Beļcova in Riga (57a Elizabetes Street, Apt. 26; entrance from the courtyard, 5th floor).

“White and Black” (1925) is a double portrait that can be called an outstanding example of Classic Modernism in the Latvian world of art in the 1920s. It also plays a special role in the work of Aleksandra Beļcova (1892–1981). The painting hides an intriguing and dramatic tale about the fate of the woman seen therein. We see Biruta Ozoliņa (1905–?), who was the younger sister of a close friend of Beļcova, the writer Austra Ozoliņa-Krauze, and was married to the Italian diplomat Giovanni Amadori.

At the time when this portrait was painted, Biruta Ozoliņa, Giovanni Amadori and their young son lived in Thailand, but the family occasionally visited friends and relatives in Latvia. A young girl accompanied the family to take care of the child, and it was during one such visit that Aleksandra Beļcova painted a portrait of Biruta and the girl from Thailand.

The life of Biruta Ozoliņa is much reminiscent of the story line in Russian author Lev Tolstoy’s masterpiece “Anna Karenina”, albeit with a less tragic denouement. After two divorces, Biruta spent the rest of her life in Cannes in France. She corresponded with Beļcova, as well as with friends from her youth – Sigismunds Vidbergs, Rūdolfs Pinnis and others. Because she freely spoke five languages, Biruta Ozoliņa regularly worked as a translator at the Cannes Film Festival for many years.

Biruta visited Riga for the last time in 1932. She was homesick, subscribed to the Latvian press, bought new books from Latvia and followed along with all cultural events. Though she never saw her home town again, her portrait remained there, first in Aleksandra Beļcova’s flat and then at the Latvian National Museum of Art.

Text by Natalia Yevseyeva
Exhibition curator