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Ukrainian Painting from the 19th to the early 20th c.
"I has devoted my artistic activity entirely to Little Russia and I love this land,"16 stated Kostiantyn Trutovsky. This feeling arose in his childhood that he spent in his father's estate in Kharkiv region. Representing the everyday life and holidays of Ukrainian village, the artist reproduced the life-asserting and optimistic nature of people. His canvases are permeated with Gogol-like juicy humour and lyrical romanticism. They demonstrate the thorough knowledge of folk customs, everyday occurrences, and types. These pictures became popular during the artist's lifetime and could be seen reproduced on tobacco-boxes and trays, printed on calico and embroidered on decorative towels. Among such widely popular canvases are Wedding Ransom and On the Footbridge.
Shevchenko's followers, accumulating experience of truthful rendering of folk life, paved the way for the next stage in the development of national art associated with a new generation of artists – the Peredvizhniki (members of the Society of Mobile Art Exhibitions), whose role in the advance of realistic painting is determinant. Organized in 1870 as an association of kindred spirits, the Society soon began to represent an integral art trend. Conveying progressive views of the epoch, the Peredvizhniki declared realism, folk spirit, and national roots as their program. The ordinary life of plain people or common nature was for them the highest criterion of beauty. The Society mounted its exhibitions in remote provincial towns introducing their residents both to cultural attainments and acute social problems of the time. The Peredvizhniki aspired to be the rulers of people's thoughts, awakening in them civic consciousness and cultivating love for their country, for their people. Reducing a topical idea to the artistic dominant of a work, they, in fact, put the painting problems to the background. Ascetic dun tones suited the content and mood of their canvases.
Many Ukrainian artists who shared humanistic and democratic ideals of their colleagues joined the Society. Their art, however, favoured a poetic representation of nature and life of man over social acuteness, reflecting thus the mentality of the people and traditions of its world outlook.
The Peredvizhniki movement appeared as an antithesis to Academicism that was far from real life, from problems of the development of progressive art. In Kyiv of those times, the academic trend was supported by O. Rokachevsky, whose skilfully made portraits enjoyed great demand. They bear all the essential signs of the style in which the formal authenticity in the image treatment prevails over the state of mind of a person. The canvas Desolate Park by H. Kondratenko, a landscapist given to excessive romanticizing of nature, is also an example of academic painting.
The creativity of the famous artist Volodymyr Orlovsky, who greatly contributed to the evolution of realistic principles in landscape painting, visually demonstrates how new, progressive views intrude into academic art and won a victory over the traditional. And if the compositional structure of his canvases still have a propensity for certain conventionality, then their idea content is close to the Peredvizhniki's works, so deep in them is the theme of the Homeland and people. V. Orlovsky was one of the first Ukrainian landscapists to take up intentional mastering of the principles of plein-air painting, drawing on the experience of the French Barbizon artists, who in the 1830s – 1860s turned to the direct observations of nature and realistic rendering of atmospheric effects. Though V. Orlovsky could not abandon completely the rigid representation of forms he, nevertheless, in his small study-like landscapes reproduced "without any conventionalities and theories" (by the artist's words) the bright sunshine and rich original colour correlations that show national expressiveness of nature images created by him.
The notion of national peculiarity acquires a special semantic pithiness in the works by Mykola Pymonenko. The characters of his pictures, residents of a small village of Maliutynka near Kyiv (there the artist made himself a summer studio), are very racy. They are shown as carriers of genetic memory of the people, in which the past and the contemporaneity, peculiarities of national character and manner of life had condensed. "True and lovely as Ukraine itself" (as I. Repin said), Pymonenko's genre paintings acquire lyrical colouring, bearing in themselves the poetry of folk vision. The festive mood inherent in them becomes a peculiar form of manifestation of man's cherished hopes for a happy and joyous life.
In his early work A Reaper the image of a slim brown-eyed peasant girl against the background of a golden wheat field and the high blue sky becomes the personification of beauty and richness of Ukrainian land. Works of a later period (Idyll) demonstrate the artist's attainments in mastering the laws of plein-air technique, which leads to a greater dynamism of natural environment. In them, the bright summer sun permeates the greenery of leaves and mauve translucent shadows fall on the earth enveloped in light and air.
Landscape played an important part for M. Pymonenko the genre painter in his thematic compositions. It not only outlined the range of human life but also was a means of enrichment of lyrical expressiveness of images; it helped the artist make more active painterly principles of his pictures that bore the signs of the characteristic plastic and colour changes peculiar to the painting at the turn of the century.
Landscape painting in the Peredvizhniki art was also a priority, like genre pictures. In scenes of nature, the artists did not simply embody a certain landscape motif, they created the image of the Homeland with all national peculiarities of its characteristic features. The creative work of the famous Kyivan master Serhiy Svitoslavsky is a bright evidence of this. Following democratic traditions of his teacher A. Savrasov, the artist glorified the beauty of ordinary, prosaic motifs of nature that acquired in his works the inner magnitude and poetic vividness. Genre scenes and the images of animals are a regular and natural component of his landscapes, in which each detail, each particular tells about the life and fate of an average man. The comprehensive collection of works by S. Svitoslavsky elucidates the evolution of the master's creativity – from his epic and austere picture The Dnipro Rapids with its thoroughly worked out forms to his last landscapes, marked by generalization and decorativeness, executed by S. Svitoslavsky in Central Asia, which remained unfinished through the eye disease. Comparing them, we see how time changed the character of the figurative and plastic idiom of Svitoslavsky, determined his plein-air searches, leaving the essence of the artist's outlook firm – a real view on the real ordinary world. And this world – quiet side-streets in the Kyiv suburb Kurenivka where the artist lived or typical rural landscapes of Ukraine – opens to us its poetic nature tinted with sincere emotions.
Wise life pithiness marks works by another Ukrainian Peredvizhnik Petro Levchenko, a talented master of lyrical landscape from Kharkiv. Small in size, sometimes painted on post cards, his landscapes surprise with the perfection of their execution. Scintillating brush strokes, soft and rich tonal gradations and a special study-like reticence recreate the lyricism of the life of nature that organically correlates with deep human emotions. His work Village in Winter. The God-Forsaken Place became a real gem of Ukrainian landscape painting. In it, the image of a wretched village street with its squalid, grown into the ground houses materializes visually into the smarting torment of a human heart with its hopeless longing for happiness.
P. Levchenko brilliantly solves intricate painterly tasks in his pictures-interiors as well. Tinted with elegiac moods, full of warm-heartedness, they show the eternal harmony of a human life within the space of ordinary things. This is the intimate world with a single hero, the singer M. Sytova, the artist's wife. In 1924, she, who carefully preserved the artistic heritage of her husband, donated one canvas to the museum, thus starting the collection of the artist's works in the museum. Nowadays it is so representative that enables to trace the nature of changes in the artistic idiom of the painter. They are seen in the creative mastering of painting innovations of Impressionism that penetrated into Ukrainian art in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
Impressionism appeared in France almost at the same time as the Peredvizhniki Society. It also was a counterpoise of routine Academicism. Its representatives in their own way contributed to the recognition of human dignity of underprivileged classes, choosing ordinary motifs and tending to represent not "roses and palaces but cabbage and huts."17 In Impressionism, however, purely painterly problems were the determining artistic factor: the striving to show the changeable world in reflexes of light, in all intricacy of its colour correlations, while the Peredvizhniki's pictures are based not on a transient impression of life but on the detailed description of it – feelings are clearly defined and forms realistically represented. Plein-air achievements of the Impressionists aroused interest of Ukrainian artists. Surely, the Ukrainian nature itself – rich, colourful, and sunny – stimulated them to tackle the light and colour problems. The combination of national imagery and painterly attainments of Impressionism characterizes the creativity of many Ukrainian artists, including P. Levchenko and his colleagues, representatives of the Kharkiv art school, M. Berkos and M. Tkachenko, whose life is an example of direct interrelation of two cultures, Ukrainian and French.
Ivan Pokhytonov mastered the system of reproducing the light-and-air effects under the influence of French culture, in particular the Barbizon School. A self-taught artist, descendant of a Cossack family obliged to live abroad (in France and Belgium) through the state of health, he, like M. Tkachenko, never severed ties with his homeland. The artist successfully exhibited his works not only in Paris Salons but also at the exhibitions of the Peredvizhniki Society. His world outlook developed in many respects under the influence of famous Russian writers I. Turgenev and L. Tolstoy, whom he knew personally. His small landscapes with a specially treated surface18 resemble precious enamels. The finesse of miniature technique reproduces the smallest details and superfine colour correlations in the environment. They demonstrate masterful and deeply emotional rendering of poetic sentiments and national peculiarities of nature in Western Europe and Ukraine.