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PRESS RELEASE 31.10.2008

 

EMIGRES. INHERITANCE OF LILI KAELAS

 

Lili Kaelas (nee Lüüdik), a native of Pärnu, graduated cum laude from the University of Tartu in 1943 with a degree in art history. She had married the legal scholar Aleksander Kaelas (1911-1964) in 1939. In 1943, Aleksander and Lili Kaelas emigrated to Finland and on to Sweden in 1944. In Sweden, Kaelas became one of the most outstanding and acclaimed figures in exile Estonian political activism, writing several hundred articles and nearly twenty books and brochures about Soviet Estonia (“Occupied Estonia”, 1956, et cetera).
Lili Kaelas became a celebrated archaeologist and ethnographer in Sweden and was employed for years as the head of the Gothenburg archaeology and history museum. After Aleksander’s death, Lili Kaelas settled in Gothenburg. There she met her second husband, whom she married in 1974. After being widowed in 1993, Kaelas focus shifted to charity work. She is the founder of several grants and scholarship foundations in Estonia. Lili Kaelas died on 9 December 2007 in Gothenburg.
When she emigrated during the war, she left behind Aleksander Kaelas’s painting collection, archive and library (destroyed). Aleksander Kaelas was also a noted bookplate collector. He started collecting in Estonia in 1937 and over time the collection came to include 3,715 bookplates primarily from Estonian artists (3,015) as well as Baltic German, Finnish, Russian and a few Danish, Latvian and Lithuanian ex librises. The collection is now at Yale University and is the largest collection of Estonian bookplates abroad. Lili Kaelas was not involved in any particular field of collection – she was spurred more by the need to have a home that would be stimulating for the mind and spirit and a desire to integrate life and art. Icons of Swedish modernism such as Carl Malmsten and Josef Frank offered elite-quality yet comfortable furniture. As Kaelas was a wartime refugee, Frank had also emigrated to Stockholm in 1933, as if sensing the impending horrors of war. Several of the works that were once in Lili Kaelas’s home had a complicated and colourful destiny. For instance, the large floor carpet designed by Ernst Jõesaar (1938) travelled abroad with its owner. Ernst Jõesaar himself emigrated to Sweden in 1944.
Lili Kaelas used the walls of her home to display paintings, drawings and graphic art. Here her preference lay with Estonian art, including the artists Karin Luts, Hermann Talvik, Salome Trei and others who had been forced by war to flee to the West. In Kaelas’s home, 17th and 18th century Chinese porcelain and centuries-old Swedish silver found a place. Her library was noteworthy, featuring specialized and reference works and leather-bound rarities.
Kaelas’s home museum consisted of things that she loved and in accordance with her wishes, a part of the works now reside in the collections of the Art Museum of Estonia and the Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design.

The museum would like to thank Åsa Bergström.


 



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