Friday, 8 September 2017
Art Nouveau: a street in Riga
Alberta iela, where tourist groups are brought to see the most extensive row of Art Nouveau blocks in Latvia's capital, also happens to be where my friend Kristaps' small but classy publishing house, Mansards, has its office.
In, it has to be said, the weirdest and most forbidding, castle-like building on the street, No. 11,
the 1908 work of Eižens Laube which also has the advantage for students and renters of not having been done up yet.
A barrel-vaulted entrance
leads to a courtyard which would be very Crime and Punishment were it not for the lovely big tree in it. The old designs on the staircase to Kristaps' office have been nicely revealed, too.
And he gets to look out on such gems as this, No. 8, designed in 1903 by the predominant genius of the Art Nouveau movement in Riga, Mikhail Eisenstein (1867-1921), father of film-maker Sergey.
No. 4 (1904) is where young Sergey lived for a few years, my guidebook says, though I didn't see a plaque. Perhaps I was distracted by the lions on the turrets.
Fascinating details abound on both: at like the satyrs with pan-pipes here,
a more central lion atop No. 8
and the Babylonian dragons here.
My own personal favourite, partly because of the handsome dark red stripes, is No. 2a, another Eisenstein folly from 1906.
with more fine classical heads
and a combination of grotesquerie and elegance lower down.
It's especially endearing because the young Isaiah Berlin spent some of his formative years here - this time there IS a plaque.
Turn left at the end of the street, and you find an especially spruce restoration, of No. 41 Strēlnieku iela, a typically riotous Eisensteinian fancy of 1905-6 which now houses the Stockholm School of Economics
with classical/futuristic helmets at the base
There's a statue outside, one of many dedicated to the city's much-loved fourth Mayor, Riga-born Englishman George Armitstead.
Most startling of all are Eisenstein's elongated heads on the corners of the pinnacle at No. 10b Elizabetes iela,
another opulent specimen.
The Art Nouveau district has most of them, but there are a few in the Old Town, one topped by this wolf,
though here as you'd expect what turns out to be the oldest inhabited house in Riga makes a tourist attraction with the two buildings to its left, known as the Three Brothers in counterpoint with Tallinn's more regular Three Sisters.
Kristaps' tour ended here - I've described and depicted the building where Wagner conducted in a previous post - and began with an interesting wander through the sensitively restored pedestrian streets of Bergs Bazaar (originally late 1800s) with their abundant cafes and restaurants, one of many fine pieces of discreet intervention by the architect Zaiga Gaile, whose work Kristaps understandably admires.
So much more of this ilk, and other districts to discover, when I return to Riga, which can't be too soon.