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Ukrainian Painting from the 19th to the early 20th c.
Further research into the artistic heritage of that period went on simultaneously with the stable replenishment of the collection. This process was interrupted by the Second World War. Museum workers managed to save a considerable part of the collection sending it to the rear, to Ufa. Many exhibits, which could not be evacuated through the lack of time, were taken out to Germany.7 Only some of them were returned to the museum. The fate of the rest is still unknown. Gathering activities recommenced at the end of the war and again began one of the major lines of museum work.
In the 1950s – 1970s the amount of exhibits of classical art grew quickly, though with time this process decreased because of circumstances beyond the museum control. During the last two decades, the collection was supplemented mostly with donations.8 The transferring of a part of the Gradobank art collection,9 which has a number of works by Ukrainian classical artists, became an important event for the museum.
To date, the stock of art of the nineteenth and early twentieth century numbers more than 1,800 paintings. The collection presents, along with works by well-known masters that make its foundation and define main tendencies in the development of culture, artists ‘of the second rank,’ whose works contribute to a better understanding of artistic phenomena of this period. Some artists are represented in the museum by numerous works, others, by individual exhibits. The collection as a whole enables to outline the development of Ukrainian painting through the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It was a complicated and long way of the in-depth cognition of man and world, the artists' way from concrete imagery to wide figurative generalizations.
The end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century in Ukraine became a border that demarcated art of previous times based on religious principles and new, secular art, whose aesthetic purposes were connected with realistic, devoid of scholastic dogmas, perception of man and his environment. This age is represented by the names of outstanding portraitists Dmytro Levytsky and Volodymyr Borovykovsky, who greatly contributed to both Russian and Ukrainian culture. Born in Ukraine, they acquired here their first professional experience: D. Levytsky's father was a well-known engraver of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra shop and V. Borovykovsky came from a family of Myrhorod icon painters. Here, on Ukrainian land their artistic inclinations and aesthetic tastes were formed, in particular, in portrait painting that had remarkable national traditions. Portrait of Field Marshal Prince N. Repnin by D. Levytsky and Portrait of Minister of Justice D. Troschynsky by V. Borovykovsky demonstrate the perfect mastery of the artists, their progressive for the time view on the status of man in the society fostered by the Enlightenment ideals, its determinant criterion being the faithful service to the Fatherland.
In the first half of the nineteenth century the process of the interaction of Ukrainian and Russian cultures was reciprocal. The St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts, which in fact monopolized all artistic developments in the Russian Empire, promoted this process. Being a single educational establishment that trained professional artists, it formed its official art style – Academicism, based on aesthetic principles of Classicism. Talented Ukrainians went to St. Petersburg to master the art of painting. Their creativity, as well as works of the Academy alumni who came to work in Ukraine, left a bright trace in Ukrainian fine arts. Among them, mention should be made, above all, of the outstanding Russian portraitist Vasily Tropinin. The Podolian village of Kukavka, the estate of his master Count I. Morkov, became for the artist a school of both life and creative endeavour. "I studied at the Academy not much, but I learnt in Little Russia (Ukraine): I painted there without respite everything and everybody… and these my works seem to me the best of all I have painted,"10 testified the master.
In Kukavka, V. Tropinin made portraits of the Count's family as well as of Podillia peasants. The images of dark-eyed girls and gentle men created by him represented not only the national ethnotype but also romantic ideals of that time with its conceptions of beauty and human dignity. His canvas A Girl from Podillia, in which traditions of the eighteenth-century Ukrainian painting are evident, and the work A Ukrainian Man mistakenly defined in some publications as a portrait of the folk rebel Ustym Karmeliuk,11 whom the artist painted, according to a legend, embody the idea of harmonious integrity and inner freedom of man. The fact of the presence of V. Tropinin’s works in the museum collection (their gathering began in the 1920s) is an evidence that the museum workers, in particular F. Ernst, realized the prominent place the Russian artist took in Ukrainian art: he was one of the first to turn to the peasant theme consciously, displaying humanism and democracy of views and a realistic approach to the subject.
If Tropinin had spent more than twelve years in Ukraine on the whole, then Kapiton Pavlov, a native of Revel, after his graduation from the Academy remained here forever. He taught drawing first at Nizhyn Lyceum, where among his students were the Hrebinka brothers, N. Gogol, A. Mokrytsky, and A. Horonovych, and later at Kyiv University of St. Volodymyr. The number of works of the artist that has been preserved to our time is not great. The paintings from the museum collection elucidate rather comprehensively the character of the creativity of this "nice artist" (as T. Shevchenko said): his tribute to the Academic tradition and conformity to the progressive tendencies of the epoch manifest in the democratic tenor and realism of his art, for example, his Self-Portrait, in which the outward asceticism of colours and composition reveals the inner nobleness and creative nature of the personality, or a lovely canvas The Artist's Children imbued with the warmth of paternal feelings.
The development of painting in the early nineteenth century was connected with noble families who were the commissioners and main characters of art works. At those times, there were many visiting foreign painters in Ukraine invited by rich landowners to their estates, among them the Hungarian artist J. Rombauer and the Austrian master H. Hollpein12 who lived in Ukraine for almost sixteen years. His highly professional portraits executed in European painting traditions were much in demand with Ukrainian and Polish nobility.
Polish painters also worked in Ukraine, in particular A. Stankiewiecz, a graduate of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, and A. Kokular, who received education in Vienna and Rome. Their works are typical examples of portraiture of the first half of the nineteenth century with all its specific compositions and figurative solutions.
Beside the creation of family portrait galleries, the nobles wanted to record in drawing views of their estates, palaces, and parks. The collection possesses the views of Yahotyn, the estate of Princes Repnins, depicted by P. Lazarev and interiors of their manor house executed by M. Kern. Typical of the time were water-colour panoramas of provincial towns and villages of Chernihiv and Poltava regions represented by the Russian painter A. Kunavin with documentary accuracy. The three canvases in the Academicism style by the German artist Grothe, who scrupulously and vividly painted Kyiv scenery in the mid-nineteenth century, have not only artistic but historical value as well.
The estate of hospitable Hryhory Tarnovsky at Kachanivka became one of the centres of cultural life in Ukraine. It was visited by the poet V. Zabila, composers S. Hulak-Artemovsky and M. Glinka. V. Sternberg, a student of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, spent at Kachanivka his summer vacations in 1836–1838. Later he brought there his friend T. Shevchenko. A German by birth, the Russian artist V. Sternberg became one of the founders of new Ukrainian landscape and genre painting, whose artistic images were based on principles of the truth of life. Even in such quite academic picture as H. S. Tarnovsky's Estate at Kachanivka, marked by the conventionality of a three-dimensional composition and colour solutions, the artist strove to render the actual, non-assumed reality of a natural motif.
V. Sternberg's works were imbued with the ideals of romanticism, which became a synonym of patriotism for the progressive circles of his contemporaries. Romanticism in national culture was a sign of the development of people’s self-consciousness rather than the expression of mental conflicts and impulses. It embodied the spirit of freedom in the widest sense – the freedom of feelings and opinions, the freedom from class narrow-mindedness, and the freedom from academic canons after all. It upheld the right of art to reflect and poeticize everyday life. The cult of an excited emotion the artist felt for nature contributed to its realistic rendering. In his Herdboy and View of Podil in Kyiv, nearly miniature by their dimensions, V. Sternberg unites organically the romantic mood of the landscape revealed in the contrasts of light and shade, in the representation of the sky with broken dynamic clouds, in the enigmatic mystery of the long-deserted house with boarded up windows and the realities of life of an average man, whom he always treated with respect and benevolence.