Gunnar Neeme (1918–2005) was one of the most remarkable Estonian artists and authors in Australia due to his exceptionally diverse artistic legacy, active primeval talent and limitless energy. In 2018, when we celebrate the centennial of the Republic of Estonia, one hundred years will also have passed since the birth of the artist Gunnar Neeme in Tartu. Although Neeme had a noteworthy 60-year-long career in faraway Australia, his name and oeuvre have remained in relative obscurity for Estonian art audiences.
Gunnar Neeme (originally Johannes Näkk) was born on 19 May 1918 in Tartu. He began his art studies at the Pallas Art School, which he intermittently attended between 1937 and 1943 under the guidance of Kaarel Liimand, Aleksander (Bergman) Vardi, Johannes Võerahansu, Villem Ormisson and Anton Starkopf.
In the autumn of 1944, during the great escape, Gunnar Neeme and his wife Hilja fled Estonia in fear of the second Soviet occupation and accompanying repression. Via refugee camps in Germany, they ended up in Australia in 1949 and settled in Melbourne. At that time, the young artist took the new name Gunnar Neeme. For decades, it was a well-kept secret in Estonian art history that the successful Australian artist Gunnar Neeme was actually the once-promising Pallas student Johannes Näkk.