Stasys Ušinskas’ Marionettes and the International Aesthetics of Modernism

Stasys Ušinskas (1905–1974) is undoubtedly one of the most proficient and innovative representatives in the art history of Lithuania who had uniquely synthesized the characteristics of Lithuanian art and Western avant-garde movements of the 20th century. His work encompasses multiple creative fields: painting, graphic art, scenography, he is, as well, widely recognized as the “father of Lithuanian stained glass art”, a significant figure in the history of puppetry, a pedagogue.

 The artist grew side by side with young artists educated in the independent Lithuania and soon became notable for his versatile artistic talent: painters consider him the pioneer of monumental Lithuanian painting and the founder of the Lithuanian school of stained glass; cinematographers call him the originator of the first sound marionette film; puppeteers refer to him as a pivotal figure of the professional puppet theatre in Lithuania. It seems certain that his marvellous activity in the field of puppet theatrical shows in 1933–1940 allowed him be entitled the inventor of the “author’s theatre” and the predecessor of the “artist’s theatre”. The oeuvre of S. Ušinskas fall under the characteristics of artistic avant-garde. A spectrum of his creation is broad enough to be surveyed at a single glance, so his creative legacy is usually explored with regard to separate areas. This exhibition focuses on one of his artistic axes – marionettes.

After graduating painting studies at the Kaunas Art School in 1925–1929, the artist went to Paris. It was there that his curiosity was caught up in the history of marionette theatre and puppets of ancient China and Japan. Inspired by the artistic ideas of a Russian and French painter and designer Aleksandra Ekster (also known as Alexandra Exter), S. Ušinskas, rather than being a passive illustrator, got preferably involved in a theatre as a dynamic and constructive unit, in the relationship between a human figure and an object in space. His task was to examine a multitude of technical issues – from making puppets move, endowing them with different experiences to conveying mimicry and rendering a characteristic appearance for each of them.

The first performance with the artist’s puppets was based on the play “Silvestras Dūdelė” by writer Antanas Gustaitis (directed by Henrikas Kačinskas and Vladas Fedotas Sipavičius, music by Viktoras Kuprevičius, puppets by Petras Svidras). The premiere in Kaunas took place on 6 May 1936. This date is considered the birthday of the professional Lithuanian puppet theatre and is celebrated annually as a holiday of professional puppeteers.

In 1938, S. Ušinskas created the first in Lithuania 18-minutes’ duration sound puppet film “The Dream of the Fatty” which was screened in New York in 1939. On 28 May 1940, his technology of marionettes received the patenting in the United States, the cartoon company “Dal-company” bought the film, and the artist was commissioned to produce a new production based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Nightingale”, however, the outbreak of the Second World War prevented the realisation of the idea.

On 4 June 2019, Stasys Ušinskas’ puppet film “The Dream of the Fatty” and the drawings of marionettes active in the film, under the proposal of the Central State Archives of Lithuania, were recognized as objects of documentary heritage of national significance and entered into the Lithuanian National Register of the UNESCO Programme “Memory of the World”.

The exhibited marionettes comprise one of the most unique collections housed at the Lithuanian Theatre, Music and Cinema Museum.

 

Exhibition organizers: M. K. Čiurlionis National museum of Art,  Lithuanian Theater, Music and Cinema Museum

Exhibition partners: The Kaunas State Puppet Theatre, Vilnius Theatre  "Lėlė“


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