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Ukrainian Painting from the 19th to the early 20th c.
The museum collection possesses two portraits of one of the succeeding owners of Kachanivka, Vasyl Tarnovsky the Junior, a follower of the patronage traditions of his uncle. In his estate, he received P. Kulish, M. Kostomarov, D. Yavornytsky, and the museum director M. Biliashivsky. In Kachanivka I. Repin gathered material for his famous paintings Zaporozhian Cossacks and Evening Gathering. One of the representations of V. Tarnovsky painted in traditions of ceremonial portraits has been mentioned above. The second canvas, more intimate, painted by the same artist A. Horonovych, has all the characteristics of portraiture of the mid-nineteenth century: the authenticity of a person's appearance, certain romanticization of his image, somewhat estranged, absorbed in his feelings, thoroughly elaborated details and material texture of objects. The same features are found in the works by H. Vasko, P. Schleifer and M. Briansky. A rather numerous collection of portraits painted in the first half of the nineteenth century enables to see the complicated road passed by the artists aiming at the realistic, psychological treatment of the image. If in the Portrait of M. Khanenko by the artist-priest H. Kushliansky traditional archaistic features of the past are fairly visible despite acutely represented outward characteristics of the model, then B. Klembovsky in his Portrait of W. Besser shows us a character of a new era – a thoughtful, serious scholar who won European recognition for his scientific works.
Most of the canvases of the museum portrait gallery painted by unidentified artists represent persons that unfortunately will remain unknown for us. Notable among them are numerous female portraits; the time of their creation can be approximately established analyzing not only their painterly qualities but dress style as well. The female images permeated with the light of poetic emotions embody the aesthetic canons of that time: the sensitivity of sentimentalism and spiritual elation of romanticism.
The light of romanticism imbues Portrait of the Artist's Wife by Apollon Mokrytsky. Presenting the image of a woman lost in reverie, the artist not only reproduced noble ideals of the time which comprised the notions of spirituality, harmony of feelings and thoughts, the unity of man and nature but also his personal admiration of the model. A. Mokrytsky, who belonged to the circle of progressive Ukrainian and Russian intelligentsia, was a friend of T. Shevchenko and played a significant part in his fate – the poet's redemption out of serfdom.
Artists I. Soshenko and M. Sazhin also were close to the great Ukrainian poet and artist. Their works represent the romantic line in landscape painting, which paved the way for an ingenuous and truthful rendering of reality.
The mid-nineteenth century in Ukrainian culture is marked by the name of great Taras Shevchenko, who made an epoch in the history of Ukrainian art. His poetic word and artistic activity maintained the distinctive power of Ukrainian culture, they defined the mentality of people, their national self-identification.
T. Shevchenko, a favourite pupil of K. Briullov, withdrew from Academicism with its canons of world perception and paved new ways in mastering the laws of creativity. Paying tribute to Romanticism both in his poetry and painting, he came to realism but on a higher level of its conceptual and figurative system than his predecessors. The artist did not simply record objectively the life occurrences; he shared suffering of his people, and resolutely opposed social injustice and oppression. Painting and graphic works by the master rank with his ardent poems by the intensity of feeling, dramatic force, and harsh truth of life.
At present, the museum collection of Shevchenko’s works is not large13 and it cannot represent in full measure the versatility of his talent and all stages of the evolution of his artistic creativity. His six early etchings from the album Picturesque Ukraine (1843–1844) show Ukraine's history, its scenery, views of Kyiv, and peasants' life. They prove the high artistic skills of the young artist, the novel character of his art and are a manifesto of his further creative work in which humanism and utter devotion for the native land became determinant criteria.
The only one painting in the collection, the penultimate Self-Portrait made in 1860, is pervaded with deep psychologism and high spirituality, its vigorous chiaroscuro is close to traditions of great Rembrandt whom Shevchenko considered the unsurpassed master. It is perceived as the man's sincere account of his life full of anguish. The Self-Portrait is an appeal to us, to those who, through the ages, would look into the doleful eyes of the painter, which passed his thorny path with honour and to his last days remained honest with himself, with people, with fate. It is interesting to note that the fate of this Shevchenko's work was also complicated. Grand Princess Elena Pavlovna bought the portrait from the exhibition at the Academy of Arts where the artist showed it to the general public for the first time. Shortly afterwards, she presented it to Prince F. Tolstoy, President of the Academy, later the portrait passed into the hands of his daughter, K. Yunge. With her death, all information about the portrait disappeared. Only in the mid-1930s it appeared in the possession of N. Smirnov-Sokolsky, a well-known actor, satirist, bibliophile, and collector. After his death, his widow brought Shevchenko's Self-Portrait to Kyiv in 1965, and since that time it has taken a place of honour in the museum exhibition.
Taras Shevchenko was a precursor of the processes that determined the further development of Ukrainian art in the second half of the nineteenth century. Shevchenko's painted and poetic images of Ukraine aroused interest of his contemporaries in his homeland, its nature, and its people. They inspired many artists, including Russian – L. Zhemchuzhnikov, I. Sokolov, and K. Trutovsky, for creative endeavour, the artists who went down in the history of national art as Shevchenko's followers. "He was the force that fused us with people. He awaked us to a new life,"14 wrote L. Zhemchuzhnikov. The theme of Ukraine became major in the creative work of these artists. While mastering new images, they reinterpreted old aesthetic canons. Overcoming academic traditions, the artists developed realistic principles of the compositional and colour construction of a painting. Undoubtedly, the element of idealization is still felt in genre scenes represented against the background of nature. This, however, agreed with the artists’ striving to reproduce a poetic element in the images of peasants and maintain the feeling of beauty in the everyday life, beauty to which the Ukrainian people was always sensitive.
Lev Zhemchuzhnikov is represented by his well-known picture Kobzar on the Road. Its dramatic images had been evoked by Shevchenko's poem Kateryna and songs by folk musicians whom the artist knew well and liked to listen to. His portrait studies of Ukrainian peasants executed during his travels through Poltava region and the water-colour Cossack Leaving for the Zaporozhian Sich demonstrate the artist's ability to render both the contemporary life and the past of the Shevchenko land in the veracious and vivid style.
As distinct from L. Zhemchuzhnikov who visited Ukraine, Ivan Sokolov spent the last years of his life in Kharkiv. K. Trutovsky said about his pictures: "How nice is his Little Russia – a real wonderland."15 The artist's vision of Ukraine is reflected in his romantic canvas Telling Fortunes by Wreaths, full of mysterious mood of folk beliefs, and in the painting Returning from the Market imbued with gentle humour and witty characterizations. A small sketch to the canvas Seeing Off the Recruits approaches Shevchenko's poems by the dramatic force of the scene represented.