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Voldemars IRBE

(1893 - 1944)



Voldemars Irbe, popularly known as “Barefoot Irbite”, was a legendary figure of 1920s–30s Riga, an artist, whose distinctive, inimitable mode of expression introduced into art a naive perception of the world, one that convingly conveyed his outlook. Intuitively appreciating and applying the advantages of pastel, he revealed the true potential and strengths of the medium, demonstrating its unique character and its right to a place among other media of painting. Irbe’s artistic legacy was a stimulus for the development of Latvian pastel painting in the 1970s. 


Voldemārs Irbe’s original style and techniques emerged already in the early 20s, and his skill with pastels developed over time, the techniques becoming more diverse and complicated. In the paintings, his feelings and mental states correlate with the stylised rhythms of the depiction, consisting of boldly coordinated areas of colour, lines, hatching and vivid accents. Since he favoured a dark, velvety background, the artist generally chose black paper, cardboard or sandpaper as the support, using techniques of his own invention for priming and preparation.


In terms of subject matter and its portrayal, Irbe’s scenes of church services are unusual and it is hard to find anything similar in Latvian art. The exquisite, intuitively harmonious colour and the vivid texture became characteristic features of Irbe’s church scenes, expressed not only in depictions of church services, but in the whole of his art. 


Landscape had an important place in Irbe’s art, and the artist, while revelling in dynamic colour, never departed from characterisation of the specific location or season. 


Irbe has studied in the Draing and Painting School of the Riga Decorative Painters’ Aid Society(1908–11), J.Madernieks studio (1911–1913). He participated in exhibitions since 1914 and have arranged several solo exhibitions.



Knāviņa V. Voldemārs Irbe. Rīga: Neputns, 2015.

Tidomane G. Irbe, Voldemārs // Māksla un arhitektūra biogrāfijās, I / Atb. red. A. Vilsons. R.: Latvijas enciklopēdija, 1995, 207. lpp.