For additional information, please dial the number:
Ukrainian Icon Painting from the 12th to the 19th cc.
The icon collection of the National Art Museum is one of the most famous and significant in Ukraine. It is a unique treasury that comprehensively represents Ukrainian icon painting, which was the major aim of searching and collecting conducted by the Museum founders. The Eleventh Archaeological Exhibition, dedicated to the Museum opening in 1899, for the first time presented sixteenth-century icons from Volyn which drew attention of the public by their originality and high artistic merits. Mr. Kuzmin, an art historian from Kyiv, noted, "We have no other option but to come to a rather impressive conclusion that by no means old South-Russian art should be regarded only as a part of Great-Russian art modified slightly under the influence of the West. It is so original, so filled with surrounding realities that with good reason it can be considered as being a school, same as Russian, Flemish, Spanish and others are."
All the next exhibitions organized in the early 20th century by archaeological congresses in Kharkiv, Chernihiv, and other cities extended gradually the notion of Ukrainian icon painting as an independent art school. The attention to icon painting coincided in time with the general awakening of interest in native culture and historical past of Ukraine. Along with archaeological discoveries in the territory of Ukraine, old icons were "discovered" as well. The new comprehension of artistic value of the icon as a unique and independent kind of medieval art that had been deeply rooted in Ukrainian culture was established.
At that time a small section of "Southern-Russian" icons (then it was a traditional name for Ukrainian icons) had already existed in the Museum of Ecclesiology and Archaeology under the management of Kyiv Theological Academy, which had a very valuable collection of antiquities of various epochs. It was studied and systematized by M. Petrov, the well-known expert of the antique art. The museum, however, was a special institution with a limited access for the public. The opening in Kyiv of the first public Museum of Antiquities and Arts (which served as the basis for the National Art Museum of Ukraine) became a new stage in accumulating monuments of antiquity. Thanks to the efforts and energy of Mykola Biliashivsky, the Museum's first director, and his assistant Danylo Scherbakivsky the solid foundation of the antique art collection was set. With time, the collection was replenished with new acquisitions. The Museum organized systematic expeditions into various regions of Ukraine, cooperating with scholars, researchers, art patrons and amateurs, members of the Kyiv Society of Antiquities and Arts to find and gather old works of art. However, the sphere of museum expedition activities was rather limited because of the borders that separated the western regions of Ukraine from its eastern parts. During the First World War Scherbakivsky managed to break through to Halychyna and bring some works of art of the 15-18th century. Unfortunately, this "penetration" was the only one and the collection was enriched thanks to the expeditions to Dnipro regions of Ukraine, which determined its character and content. The artificially created borders and separation of Ukrainian lands (from the late 18th century Western Ukraine belonged to Poland and later to Austrian-Hungarian Empire) impeded the formation of the comprehensive Ukrainian icon collection.
Nevertheless, in spite of the Museum's tough situation at that time and lack of means for acquiring artistic valuables, the process of icon collecting continued. First scientific publications based on the materials of the museum collection appeared (by V. Antonovych, K. Shyrotsky, M. Makarenko, H. Pavlutsky, Y. Kuzmin, M. Biliashivsky, D. Scherbakivsky), which discussed various problems of the national art heritage.
In the post-revolutionary years the collection grew mainly thanks to the nationalized collections. During the Civil War and economic dislocation period the Museum undertook "rescue" actions to save works of art that had remained in churches and monasteries closed in the process of the so-called active struggle against religion in the 1920s-1930s. Though not all art works doomed to destruction could have been rescued, the Museum workers tried to do their best to honestly perform their mission, which sometimes was dangerous.
During the Second World War, when Kyiv was occupied by Nazi troops, all museums of the city suffered great losses, in particular, the richest collection of the Museum-Preserve of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. The fate of its treasures taken out to Germany remains unknown to this day. The collection of the National Art Museum of Ukraine also lost part of its icons.
In the post-war years the Museum intensified its collecting activities, expeditions throughout Ukraine were resumed, and, consequently, the collection was considerably enlarged.
The Kyiv Museum collection of icons is not the largest one in Ukraine. The priority belongs to the National Museum in Lviv and the Lviv Picture Gallery, which gathered their collections in West Ukrainian lands where the historical situation was more opportune. Nevertheless, the impressive collection of NAMU based on art of the regions in the Dnipro basin provides a certain possibility to represent the evolution of Ukrainian icon-painting school.