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Ukrainian Painting of the 20th c.
The Ukrainian National Museum of Art boasts over 4,000 works of 20th century painting that distinguish themselves by their very high professional quality. These works are also distinguished by their innovativeness in the context of Ukrainian and world art, and are also remarkable for certain periods in Ukrainian painting of the previous (20th) century. This collection brings together the artistic and life’s paths of the Ukrainian artistic elite of the 20th century, which, in effect, is also that of Ukrainian culture of the time. The collection may be regarded as an artistic journal of its day and age – a collection that documents history. The character and very existence of the collection is the credit of the Museum’s founders: M. Bilyashivsky, F. Ernst, and D. Shcherbakivsky, but also due to the cataclysms of the 20th century.
From the first days of its existence, the City Museum of Art and Antiquities (the name of the Museum from 1899-1904) became the cultural center in which collections were being compiled and academic supportive research was being conducted, and, at the same time, an aggressive exhibition schedule was being pursued. Even at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, when, for all intents and purposes the museum building had not yet been completed, the Museum, with the assistance of the Kyiv-based Association of Antiquities and Art, began displaying exhibits that became the first actual attempts at showing modern art. The exhibit galleries on the Museum’s second floor were being rented by the Kyiv-based Association of Artistic Exhibitions, and, with this being the case, the Association’s 6th exhibit became one of the first of the Museum’s exhibitions. In subsequent exhibits, along with works by Kyivan artists A. Manevych, V. Halymsky, V. Kotarbynsky, and I. Rashevsky, paintings by Polish, Russian, and Byelorussian artists were also displayed. The post-mortem exhibit of the works of M. Vrubel and an exhibit of works by T. Shevchenko on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of his death were significant events in the Museum’s exhibit schedule for 1910-1911.
An exhibit that had great resonance was the First Ukrainian Art Exhibit that highlighted an unusually large number of artwork (400 works) that united artists (45 individuals) of all territories of Ukraine – the lands of Chernihiv, Halychyna (Galicia), Kharkiv, etc., the organizers of which included P. Kholodny, O. Oles, F. Krasytsky, M. Bilyashevsky, F. Balavsky and V. Krychevsky. The effectiveness of the exhibit, and, at the same time – of the organizers’ efforts, was evident in the three distinctive directions taken by the exhibit. The first of these is that the focal point of the exhibit became the architectural drawings and more than 500 impressionistic etudes, painted by V. Krychevsky in Ukraine and other parts of Europe, which depicted the actual problem being faced by Ukrainian artists of creating and perfecting a Ukrainian national style. Regarding the achievements of the artist with this, as well as regarding the denoting of the style itself, S. Taranushenko writes: “His (Krychevsky’s) originality, his new statement in art, to a great extent, lies in his ability to take modern decorative painting and spontaneously uniting with it local color – a typical Ukrainian characteristic, which, in various stages, crosses over from the sketches of Shevchenko and Mikeshyn to our own day. In his modern, simplified drawings, Krychevsky exudes the life giving resources of a freshwater spring.”
Secondly, the activity of the First Artistic Academy led to the idea of the founding of the Ukrainian Academy of Art, which was created at the end of 1917. Thirdly, the Department of Art, the foundation of which was the Museum’s collection of Ukrainian art, was established at the Museum.
The Museum’s acquisition catalogue for he beginning of the 1920s is highlighted with paintings by V. Syerov, Ya. Tsionhlinsky, A. Petrytsky, M. Yarovy, and the masters of modern art, O. Murashok, the brothers V. and F. Krychevsky, as well as over 20 landscapes by A. Manevych. Among the works are also to be found those by the Western-Ukrainian (Galician) artist I. Trush and the Central-Ukrainian artist from the Dniper River region M. Burachek, both -- students of the Krakow Academy of Art studying under the master of effective landscape painting and great cultivator of impressionism, Ya. Stanislavsky. Aside from acquisitions obtained from exhibitions, the Museum’s collection of Ukrainian modern art was greatly enlarged thanks to contributions made through the generosity of benefactors.
I. Trush immediately shows signs of his own personal intonation in landscape painting in which he searches for originality and exoticness of motif, as well as a soaring of his own personal poetic innermost feelings. M. Burachek interprets his landscapes as a dynamic form in which he correlates internal uneasiness subjugated by the storminess of nature. O. Novakivsky, a Western-Ukrainian from the Podillia Region representing the Lviv School of painting, is a temperamental colorist who, having been influenced by his teachers Matejko, Unezhynsky, and Bychulkovsky, presented an entirely independent position regarding Ukrainian post-imprssionism in the first decades of the 20th century.
In 1919, the Museum received the designation of National Museum and was completely enveloped in the ideological objective of the new government, which nationalized its artistic acquisitions and became a guarantee for their preservation. In 1923, the distinguished museum professional and talented academician Fedir Liudvihovych Ernst (1891-1942) was made Head of the Museum’s Art Department. In this capacity, Ernst became the organizer of such significant exhibits of the first three decades of the 20th century as “Ukrainian Portraits of the 17th-20th Centuries” (1925) and “Ukrainian Painting of the 17th-20th Centuries” (1928-1929). Ernst’s academic essays written for the catalogues of these exhibits became an invaluable innovative step in the understanding and preservation of the national legacy of the art of painting, and the first step of an academic approach to the activities and perspective development of the Museum. F. Ernst developed the general concepts and principles for filling out the Museum’s collections. For him, most important was the support and popularization of the creative activity of Ukraine’s masters, not only those within Ukraine, but also those who had traveled beyond Ukraine’s borders and continued to dedicate their work to Ukrainian themes. Professionalism, a separation from political crisis, and the artistic sensitivity of an experienced collector all helped to form the Art Department so as to be representative of all branches of Ukrainian painting.