The creative work of Kārlis Hūns (1831-1877) belongs to Latvian, Russian and also European art of the second half of the 19th century, but he has always held a special place in the history of Latvian culture and art.
He was the first Latvian to have earned a Gold Medal, and hence the opportunity to study abroad, at graduating from the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. Hūns spent almost eight years in Europe, mainly in Paris, and his artwork was shown at Paris Salon and several international exhibitions. Later he worked as professor at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts for some years. However, throat tuberculosis cut short what promised to have been a long and successful career in art and education.
Hūns’ style and form can be characterised by rationally and precisely developed composition, diversely harmonised colour schemes, very skilled reproduction of real objects and a balanced union of painterly completeness with a non finito incompleteness. Perfection of a work’s formal aspect as well as the depicted motif and object were of great importance to Hūns. In addition to a romantic line, his work also contains a definite element of social realism and the theme of the lives of common people.
Of particular interest are Hūns’ paintings in which the message is united by three concepts: family, children and work. These paintings confirm tha he was, without doubt, an outstanding master of the “small form”, and they have received favourable reviews at important exhibitions. Hūns’ constant return to the themes of the work of peasants and craftspeople, daily life and family allows an assumption that there were perhaps personal reasons behind such motifs, for example, memories of his own childhood in Madliena;
a belief that simple, everyday work is one of the foundations of man’s existence or his views about the ideal family and human relationships.
Portraits, in the broadest sense of the genre, comprise a significant part of Hūns’ known artwork. These include portraits of specific people as well as the close-up images common in genre and historical painting, where the artist has paid attention to both the characterisation of selected models and features of the type envisaged for a specific task in a scene.
Kārlis Hūns is best known as a painter, but drawings and watercolours also form an important part of his oeuvre
Hūns participated in Russian and European art exhibitions, and he signed his name using both Cyrillic (Карл Гунъ) and Latin (Carl Huhn) letters. Exhibition reviews repeatedly state that he did not really belong to Russian art, that he was different and independent artist. Having been born and raised in rural Livonia (Vidzeme), and maturing into an adult there, Kārlis Hūns repeatedly confirmed his sense of belonging to his family and native land. The artist’s creative heritage is an indispensable part of Latvian people and Latvian culture.