ROUTES4U FAM trip vol. 3: the retreat of (impressionism) artists in Nida

We were about to reach our third stop, located in the Lithuanian part of the Curonian Spit, a peninsula trapped in between the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon. I was excited about our visit to Nida, the most northern point of the Impressionisms Route, one of the most recent certified Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe. I know this picturesque little resort town very well. However, I was eager to learn more about Nida’s history of the end of the 19th- first half of the 20th century, when it served as a retreat for the artists of the region!

We finally arrived and left our air-conditioned minivan. The day was again very hot, perfect weather for Nida to be flooded by people, but apart from a couple of German tourists’ groups, it seemed quiet and peaceful. We started our tour by climbing up a hill to the Thomas Mann house where we met the local coordinator of the Route and our guide for these few hours.

The guide Nijolė Strakauskaitė told us the story of awe the famous German writer Thomas Mann experienced the first time he arrived at Nida. He was so impressed by the landscape and thus decided he wanted to spend his summers here. His vision became reality and in 1930- 1932 for the three consecutive summers he stayed with his family in his newly built house in Nida.

The World War II damaged not only the historic city center of Šiauliai as we learned just on the previous day of the trip, but has left its mark also on Thomas Mann house. However, more than a decade after the end of the war, the house was brought back to life. Now this place is a very popular and busy museum as well as the headquarters of the annual international Thomas Mann festival. Every year it takes place in summer and fills up Nida with music, art, cinema and discussions!

We left the Thomas Mann house behind us and went down the wooden. Walking along the lagoon, I was observing the traditional wooden houses freshly painted in blue and red and their green and neat gardens. No matter how many times I see this wooden architecture, it still gives me a feeling of appreciation. The voice of our guide brought me back from my memories as she started to tell us another story, a story of the Nida Artists’ Colony.

In the end of the 19th century Hermann Blode opened the hotel which soon became the attraction of artists. Firstly, students from the Art Academy of the University of Königsberg discovered it. Later also more prominent people from the same Academy started coming here and painting the incredible landscapes they experienced around Nida. It was the beginning of the golden age of impressionism in Nida Artists’ Colony.

While the guide was telling us about the impressionism history of the place, I was immersing myself in the serene landscape surrounding us and the background music of dozens of swallows tirelessly doing their aerial acrobatics. ‘This scenery, plus the view of the fishermen sailing the lagoon in their ships, their traditional costumes and the traditional way of life was what influenced the appearance of the Nida Artists’ Colony’, – the guide continued. Moreover, the doors of the hotel were always open. Even if artists did not have the money to pay for the stay, they could still take the refuge there and pay back with a painting or two.

We later moved to the next stop on our itinerary- a tiny Hermann Blode museum established by the daughter of Ernst Mollenhauer, the successor of Hermann Blode in managing the hotel. This place greeted us with the wall of portraits of some famous guests who stayed in the hotel. Not all of them were artists- there were also some science people, such as the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud.

There is another museum just next to this one and it was our last official stop for this tour. Curonian Spit History Museum introduces a visitor to the history of the local fishermen community and their sometimes strange traditions, such as hunting craws!

It was about the time to leave Nida, way too short for such a magical place. And we could not leave it without showing our non-Lithuanian group member Denise one of the landscapes that have been inspiring the artists since the 19th century. Crossing the pine forests we drove up to the Parnidis Dune. The amber souvenir sellers were already packing up when we passed them on our way to the observation point of the dunes. And here we were- some of us taking photos with the background of this idyllic landscape, and me standing there with awe and appreciation, just as every time when I come to this majestic place.

At the end of the trip by surprise, we ended up in the current Nida Art Colony of Vilnius Art Academy, located in the pine forest, not so far from the dunes. It is a temporary home for up to 75 artists who reside here during the summer and only of which 15% are Lithuanians. They also host exhibitions as well as other events open to the public. Interesting fact- Nida Art Colony produced this year’s Lithuanian pavilion for Venice Biennale, which to the great joy of the whole nation received the top prize- Golden Lion for Best National Participation, an event that was also covered in the New York Times.

I find it very beautiful that tradition of Nida Art Colony is still alive and this small town remained the place for inspiration and creation. What started as the retreat for the impressionism artists is now continuing with other amateur and professional artists who look for the muse in these beautiful natural surroundings.

Some of the guest houses here promote the Creative Holidays deals, especially outside the main season. I believe that is something I will try one day!


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