Graphic art in books and printed works

A significant part of the museum collection consists of Latvian books, newspapers and magazines characterising the development of book publishing practices during the Art Nouveau period. Active publishing of books began at the end of the 19th century reaching its peak before WWI. The most renowned book publishers were Ansis Gulbis, Jānis Ozols in Cēsis and others. Not only did they publish the works of Latvian authors, but they also made special cover designs and illustrations. Noteworthy are The Collected Works by Jānis Poruks and the cover of the book designed by Gustavs Šķilters, The Times of Land Surveyors by Reinis and Matīss Kaudzītes with Eduards Brencēns’ drawings, and Writings by Aspazija with the cover design made by Jūlijs Madernieks. The aim of the publishing house Zalktis (1904–1914) was to publish works by Latvian and foreign authors of high artistic quality, illustrating them with original illustrations of Latvian artists. The publishing house worked with the leading artists: Janis Rozentāls, Vilhelms Purvīts, Jūlijs Madernieks, Gustavs Šķilters and others. Jūlijs Madernieks, who pioneered National Romanticism in design, was the author of the first covers of the magazine which also became its characteristic feature. Other magazines like Observer, Education, Rays, etc. also had original cover designs. In the early 20th century, bookbinders, who mostly were members of the Small Guild of Riga, played a major role. They worked in all largest publishing houses. Some of them even had their own workshops. Bookbinders not only bound standard books but also produced expensive custom-made bindings. At a customer’s request, bindings were made of paper, cardboard, canvas, calico and leather. Initially, different works could have the same graphic design as the same printing blocks were used to print the cover; yet, later, original printing blocks were made for each book. Volumes of Encyclopaedia the issue of which began in 1906 by the Science Commission of the Riga Latvian Society are an excellent example of bookbinder’s work. Publishing of books cannot be imagined without printing houses. At the beginning of the 20th century, the largest of them in Riga were Hempel & Co and Gutenberg that produced printed material of high quality. 

In the 1900s, book publishing in Latvia evolved into a branch that combined the literary content of books with their artistic design. Books became artworks of Art Nouveau embodying the ideas of Gesamtkunstwerk.



Newspapers and magazines