1912 – 2003
Constantin Kluge’s Early Life
Constantin Kluge was born in Riga, Latvia, on January 29, 1912. His parents were Russian, his father a graduate of the Polytechnic Institute of Riga and his mother a Professor of Literature. In 1917 the Bolshevik Revolution and the ensuing Civil War completely uprooted the Kluge family, forcing them to continuously move east for the next three years. In 1920, when Constantin was only 8 years old, his family settled in Manchuria, where the young Kluge learned to speak Mandarin.
Life in Manchuria was short-lived, though, and in 1925 the Kluge family moved again, this time to the French concession of Shanghai. Constantin finished high school in Shanghai, and at the youthful age of seventeen he was already very active member of the Shanghai Art Club. He had been exposed to art throughout his childhood, being taught to handle a brush by his Chinese teacher, and constantly being surrounded by a Chinese respect for beauty. His parents, however, believed that art was not a lucrative or dependable career for Constantin to pursue. So, in 1931, Kluge moved to Paris to study architecture at L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, abandoning his artistic pursuits. He graduated in 1937 with the title of French Government Architect.
Kluge’s Artistic Career
Studying architecture could not quash Kluge’s desire to paint, however, and his years surrounded by the quaint, characteristic scenes of Paris strongly inspired him. So, after graduating, Kluge delayed his return to Shanghai, choosing instead to remain in Paris. He spent the following six months pursuing his dream, painting Parisian scenes all day.
Kluge eventually returned to China, intending to practice his profession of architecture and forget painting, but his friends persuaded him to exhibit his paintings nonetheless. The exhibitions were a resounding success, convincing Kluge once and for all that he could support himself with his art. For a while, he continued to work in Hong Kong as an architect, painting in his spare time. But in 1950 Kluge left China for good, returning to Paris and beginning his career as a full-time artist.
At this point Kluge was already a mature and successful painter, so it was no surprise that he won an award and considerable attention at the Paris Salon in 1951, his first salon. Many more awards followed, including the Madaille d’Argent, the Raymond Perreau prize, and, in 1962, the Gold Medal of the Salon. He was even named a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur by the French Ministry of Culture in 1991.
Constantin Kluge’s Art
In Kluge’s work, we can see his adoration for the city of Paris. His buildings are rendered not only with the realism and precision of an architect, but with the affection and happiness of a man fulfilling his artistic dream. His firm drawing and well-constructed forms are bathed in an atmosphere of subtle colors. Indeed, every painting is like a love letter to the small, daily scenes of Parisian life. French art critics title Constantin Kluge’s work ‘poetic realism.’ He enjoyed painting and communicated that joy to the beholder.