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Ukrainian Painting from the 19th to the early 20th c.
In his early works F. Krychevsky showed interest for the Art Nouveau stylistics. In the Portrait of L. Starytska against the Golden Background, based on the counterpoising of a real female image with a conventional decorative background, reminiscences of the Vienna Sezession are seen, in particular the art of G. Klimt. However, the bright colours of a large folk-style shawl, the warm shine of the golden background are associated with old Ukrainian icons, while the combination of plastic three-dimensionality of the face with the flat ornamentality of the dress refers to the traditions of eighteenth-century portraiture.
The elder brother of the artist, Vasyl Krychevsky, found his measure in the combination of conventionality and reality and successfully used the principles of Art Nouveau in painting, graphic works, and architecture. His subtle feeling for colour and linear rhythms serves for the transformation of a concrete natural motif – a typical Ukrainian landscape – into a generalized image devoid of any fortuity.
The figurative vocabulary of Art Nouveau blended organically with national features in works by Mykhailo Zhuk, a pupil of the well-known Polish master of Sezession, S. Wyspianski.
Ornamental decorativeness of his art has its sources in the vegetable world, which was peculiar to the style in general. In the diversity of this world Art Nouveau drew the plasticity of its flowing lines. In his numerous panels, fantastic images as, for example, a lily, the favourite flower of the Sezessionists, joined to the wings of a fanciful bird (is it not a symbol of the Annunciation), neighbour stylized field flowers, dahlias, and marigolds, dear to the heart of common people. For all their decorativeness, M. Zhuk's portraits are marked by the psychological treatment of images as we see in his portrait of the Chernihiv artist I. Rashevsky.
The aesthetics of Art Nouveau distinguishes works by Petro Kholodny as well. He was a man of versatile talents – a scholar, an amateur artist, teacher, and politician. His famous work Tale of a Girl and a Peacock unites organically the mysterious symbolism of the subject (the peacock being the embodiment of eternal dream of the beautiful) with poetry of Ukrainian folklore and national painting traditions. Decorative flatness of painting with accentuated fine line drawing, the use of tempera and panel remind of old icon painting whose traditions the artist transformed so brilliantly in his sacral art. P. Kholodny's creativity was connected not only with Kyiv but also with Lviv, a city of long-standing artistic traditions, in which a galaxy of celebrated masters worked. And although they were nearer to Europe and European culture owing to the historical development (Halychyna was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), they never severed contacts with Ukraine, with its artistic processes.
The convincing proof of the fact can be found in works of Ivan Trush. The museum collection of canvases of the well-known artist and public figure is represented by portraits, among which those of Lesia Ukrainka and Ivan Franko are distinguished for the spiritual beauty and strength of mind of the outstanding cultural figures of Ukraine; genre scenes from the life of Hutsul peasants painted with thorough knowledge of ethnographic details and life realities; and landscapes in which the artist could not avoid fashionable moods of symbolism with its propensity for mystery and allegorization of nature images. In his canvases from The Pines series bent and twisted tree trunks are perceived as the manifestation of suffering of a lonely human sole.
One of the bright representatives of the Art Nouveau style Oleksa Novakivsky, like the majority of artists of that time, was an adherent of the traditions of folk art and folk images that made the foundation of national originality of culture. His portraits (Self-Portrait with Wife and Portrait of the Artist's Wife) are a synthesis of a psychological approach and decorative solution. The paintings demonstrate a turbulent expression borne of a broad, free, plastic and curved brushstroke, dynamic form, and force of colour harmonies, which reveal the deepest feelings of people with their sufferings and joys.
Vsevolod Maksymovych, the youngest of the represented artists, can be considered the most typical devotee of the Art Nouveau style in Ukraine, whose creativity embodies all characteristic features of this artistic trend. A considerable amount of his works came to the collection in 1930 thanks to the efforts of F. Ernst. He found these canvases in Moscow and with time, Maksymovych's mother donated them to the museum. Almost half a century the pictures were inaccessible to the viewer. Rolled up, they waited for the time when art would get free of such categorical labels like 'formalism.' The monumental panels, portraits, and mythological scenes of the young artist mirrored his fate of a typical representative of the epoch of decadence with an unusually keen perception of life and death, and the peculiarities of his art with its symbolism of images, emphasized decorativeness of flat forms with prevailing rhythmic contour lines. The world on his canvases is always conventional, theatrical, masquerade-like. In the two-dimensional space of his pictures graphics is primary. Some of them resemble works of the outstanding figure in Art Nouveau A. Beardsley in their minimalism of black and white colours. Others in their combination of black and red associate with both Ancient Greek vase painting and works by folk artists of Poltava region, where V. Maksymovych grew up.
Portraits by Y. Shaposhnikova, M. Yarovy, and M. Popov are also executed within the context of painterly-plastic tendencies of the time. The generalization of the imagery and decorativeness of colour solutions enhance the female appeal of the models and do not overshadow their peculiar individuality.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, along with masters whose creativity was based on realistic principles, artists appeared who became founders of new art. They organized their own, art revolution that 'shock the world' earlier than social and political upheavals of 1917. Prophetically foreseeing future political cataclysms and spiritual changes, they contrasted the new with the old. Resolutely rejecting everything traditional and realistic, young rebels resorted to deliberate reforms of painterly and plastic idiom, introducing associativity and individualization of world outlook laws.
The Avant-Garde art emerged in Ukraine as an all-European phenomenon resulting from the course of developments in historical and cultural processes. Unlike Impressionism and Art Nouveau, it gained independence. In Ukraine (Kyiv, Odesa, Kharkiv), the ideas born in the West were enriched with the previous artistic experience and enhanced with national attainments of folk art that nurtured them with traditions in form creation and colour rendering. Thus new stylistic trends appeared, adequate to the stormy epoch.
Kyiv-born Oleksandra Ekster and the Ukrainian Davyd Burliuk, a descendant of an old Cossack family, who regularly contacted Western artists, filled a niche of their own in the history of European Avant-Garde. The creativity of another Kyivite, Oleksandr Bohomazov, who never visited the West, also received wide recognition. In a large variety of tendencies, these three artists represented one artistic trend, namely Cubo-Futurism, which united diametrically opposed principles – the constructivism and architectonic ideas of French Cubism with the unrestrained dynamism of Italian Futurism that destroys the form. In search of their personal formula of representation of the world as well as in confirmation of the subjectivity of their vision, they passed through Impressionism, which is evidenced in Burliuk's excellent Alley in the Park and Windmill. Kherson Region, dedicated to Ukraine.
The catalogue for the Kiltse (Ring) exhibition held in Kyiv in 1914 (its was mounted by O. Ekster and O. Bohomazov) included the program of the artists who sought to recreate on canvas the beauty of the felt rather than that of the seen, to model a new reality dissimilar to the usual three-dimensional basis. Its artistic image comprised a certain set of artistic signs – lines, forms, colours, and planes that in their combination should convey the inner force, energy, and rhythms of the world. This idea was developed and theoretically substantiated in the treatise by O. Bohomazov Painting and Elements (1914), which became an interesting document of the epoch that rendered the system of views of the avant-garde art. In the artist's painting Bottles the form consists of superimposed lines and colour planes that reflect the constructive basis of objects. For the artist, namely the basis and not the outward truth of a naturalistic imitation of nature was a determinative feature of the essence of a thing.