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Ukrainian Pictorial Art

Fine arts development in Ukraine harks back to the dawn of history. Archeological finds, especially dated to the period of Scythian and Trypilia cultures, are notable for proficiency of techniques and prove high artistic level of the artifacts by the ancestors of the present-day Ukrainians.

Specimens of the art of the Kyivan Rus that had been developing within the general line of the medieval European culture linked with the Church and Christianity reached our eyes in a more complete form. The leading genres of the imitative art of the Rus were mosaic, fresco, and icon and book miniature paintings. The extant world of old art as integral assembly of architecture, decorative and applied artworks is real at St. Sophia Cathedral of Kyiv where samples of secular painting of the 11th century have preserved unique for the whole Europe. However, until the 17th century icons remained the principal pieces of art in Ukraine.

The intermediary between the icon and secular portrait paintings were so-called parsuny, full-face portraits made using icon-painting techniques. Well-to-do members of the Cossack chieftains’ families in great number ordered their portraits to be made. It is for the second half of the 18th century that the peak of the secular portrait painting fell on in the full sense of the term. At the same time, the tendency is evident of the gifted youth from Ukraine departing to St. Petersburg to the Academy of Art. Thus, the most famous artists of Russia of those days were Dmytro Levytsky from Kyiv and Volodymyr Borovykovsky from Myrhorod. Of the Ukrainian origin was also Anton Losenko, the creator of the historical style of the Russian academic art.

Regarding the pictorial art in the East Ukrainian land of the 19th century one might observe certain Ukrainian-Russian oneness: although the Academy of Art in St. Petersburg remained the primary center of education in the Russian Empire, numerous artists were attracted by Ukraine that they called “a new Italy”.

Famous Russian artist Vasyliy Tropinin used to say that Ukraine was in place of the Academy for him. He lived and worked for many years in Podilia and devoted a vast number of portraits to Ukrainian theme including: The Girl from Podilia; A Boy with an Axe; Wedding Party at the Kukavtsi Village; The Ukrainian; Portrait of a Peasant from Podilia, etc.

The brilliant Ukrainian poet and painter Taras Shevchenko also attended the Academy of Art in Saint Petersburg; however, the external circumstances such as exile and ban to paint prevented his talent to be uncovered in full measure. In the romantic pictures The Peasant Family, Gypsy Fortune-Teller and others, deviation from pure academism is already noticeable. The versatile gift of the artist reached academic heights in graphics too: in 1860, Taras Shevchenko was awarded the title of Academician in engraving of the Academy of Art (for the series of gravures Picturesque Ukraine, etc.).

The great seascape painter Ivan Aivazovsky, who spent major of his life in his native Feodosia, dedicated his art gallery to this town. Ukrainian theme was also often present in his pictorial art works Canes on the Dnipro Nearby the Small Town of Aleshky, and the scenic picture Wedding Party in Ukraine that was unique for the painter.

Innovative for landscape painting has become the creative work of Arkhyp Kuindji who was born not far from Mariupol. The very first picture Night on the Dnipro set by him for display caused sensation in St. Petersburg. The painter skillfully applied the brush to convey the the play of air and light on canvas.

Realism-the main trend of the pictorial art of the second half of the 19th century was especially distinctive in the creative work of the members of Peredvizhniki, the “Partnership for Movable Art Exhibitions”. Incidentally, Ivan Kramskoi, founder and moral leader of the group, painted the best renowned portrait of Taras Shevchenko. Its membership also included artists of Ukrainian origin Mykola He, Olexandr Lytovchenko, and Mykola Yaroshenko.

Originating near Chuhuyev was Ilya Repin, the Russian realist painter who often came to his native land and repeatedly visited the estate of Tarnovskys, Ukrainian patrons of art, at Kachanivka. Noteworthy is the fact that exactly at that place he made the first sketches to his famous masterpiece Cossacks Writing Letter to Turkish Sultan.

The majority of works of the prominent genre painter Mykola Pimonenko portrayed the village life. Generosity, emotionality and high artistic skill are distinguishing features of Christmastide Fortune-Telling; Wedding Party in Kyiv Province; Seeing-off the Recruits; Matchmakers; Harvesting; To Fetch Water; Trade Fair, etc., the canvas painted by him. Author of over 715 paintings and pictures, Mykola Pimonenko was one of the originators who in this nation combined the genre art with poetic Ukrainian scenery, as well as founded an art school in Kyiv.

They called him ‘sun hunter’: Olexandr Orlovsky was one of the founders of the new Ukrainian realistic genre of landscape; at the same time Olexandr Murashko, Ilya Repin’s disciple, is seen as the best Ukrainian portraitist of the late 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

The nation conscience art first appeared in the creative work of Serhiy I.Vasylkivsky who devoted his skill completely to Ukraine. He painted landscapes of the Dnipro region, Podilia, Slobozhanschyna, as well as architectural monuments, genre and historical pictures, in particular Cossacks in Steppe; Cossack’s Levada (infield), Taras Shevchenko’s portrait, etc. On the other hand, he collected and studied objects of interest related to the Ukrainian antiquity art, and together with Mykola Samokysh, painter of battle-pieces, created the album titled From the Ukrainian Antiquity, 1900. The historian Dmytro Yavornytsky wrote commentaries to the watercolors made by Vasylkivsky.

The advance of Ukrainian painting during the post-revolutionary period was affected by the confrontation of artistic schools and trends. Side by side with those following the traditional realism were adherents of futurism and formalism, which example is the wall-paintings by Vasyl Yermilov of the Kharkiv Com. Party Club. On top of mass pictorial propaganda in full swing quite noticeable progress was achieved in easel painting and graphic arts. Canvas of Kyriak Kostandi, Fedir Krychevsky, Olexandr Murashko, Mykola Samokysh were the most prominent, while Mykhailo Zhuk, Ivan Padalka, and Volodymyr Zauze worked the most actively in graphics. Heorhiy Narbout formatted the first books of Soviet Ukraine as well as the magazines Mystetsvo (the Art), Zoria (dawn), and Sontse Truda (Sun of Toil). During the early post-revolutionary years I. Trut, O. Monastyrsky and I. Kurplas worked in the Western Ukraine.

The Kyiv Institute of Art became the true center of the vanguard art to which Kazimyr Malevych returned at that time, being already the founder of suprematism-the art school of highly geometric abstract painting style.

Ukrainian vanguard represented by painters Olexandr Bohomazov, Mykhailo Boichuk, Anatoliy Petrytsky and others turned out to be the bright page at the turn of the century. Mykhailo Boichuk had set up neo-byzantism, a new trend in the monumental art of the 20th century by resting it on the organic combination of the traditional Old Russian icon painting with constructive peculiarities of the Byzantine style. Unfortunately, quite a few first-rate painters, e.g., Mykhailo Boichuk, Vasyl Sedliar, Ivan Padalka and others perished during the time of repressions.

Negative tendencies of the Communist party socialist realism characterized the development of Ukrainian art of the 60s to 80s of the last century when the populist academic style of the preceding 19th century was imposed with dogmatism and pomposity prevailing over the expressiveness. On top of that, creative experiment and search for new forms were actually banned in accord with the slogan that the Art must be understandable to the ‘vast working masses’. Nevertheless, simultaneously creative work continued by such outstanding artists as Olexiy Shovkunenko, Tetiana Yablonska, M. Derehus, and Vasyl Kasyian.

Today, the art pieces of Tetiana Yablonska, Ivan Marchuk, Fedir Humeniuk, Andriy Chebykin, Vasyl Borodai and others are well known far beyond the Ukrainian border.

Since the times of princely state amateur folk pictures were the essential component of the Ukrainian painting. This primarily concerns the series of national characters such as Cossack with a Bandura, Cossack Mamay, etc. The 20th century produced a cluster of talented masters of folk paining who in their creativity advanced further the colorful and fantastic images born by human imagination and realized in style according to the laws of the folk art of the 18th to 19th centuries and Ukrainian decorative painting. Among them are Hanna Sobachko-Shostak, Paraska Vlasenko, Natalia Vovk, Paraska Khoma, Maria Pryimachenko, Nykyfor Drovniak from Krynytsia, Kateryna Bilokur, Ivan Skolozdria, and others.