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Ukrainian Painting from the 19th to the early 20th c.
The feeling of historical truth in the program work by the graduate of the St. Petersburg Academy Heorhy Krushevsky successfully combines with the tense anxiety of people and romantic appeal of feats of the Zaporozhian Cossacks. This theme in Ukrainian history painting came to the foreground, comprising not only the heroic spirit of the past but contemporary concepts of patriotism and national self-consciousness.
The collection of the department gives a rather comprehensive idea of the artistic processes in the late nineteenth – early twentieth century and acquaints with the creative work of artists, some of whom upheld established realistic traditions and others defined the artistic innovations of the time. Their searches went within the context of general European art processes. And if Impressionism enabled to reproduce the light and air effects saturating the space with polychromy of natural colours then Art Nouveau became a next step on the road of comprehending nature of the decorative substance of the world. For the majority of Ukrainian artists who did not escape the influence of Art Nouveau, this style with its propensity for symbolism and mysticism did not become a vehicle of world perception, it was rather a medium of reproducing of the world in which they found their own measure of conventionality and reality, where a colour spot defined the form, a line – its contours, and the space was subordinate to the plane of a canvas. At the same time, the works of some artists often demonstrated the merging of several stylistic tendencies, which was characteristic of that time in general. The Art Nouveau style superposed Impressionism and assimilated traditions of realistic art school and folk art. Moreover, all that was tinged with bright individualities of the masters who created their original art.
Oleksandr Murashko was one of those outstanding artists who initiated the twentieth-century culture in Ukraine. His art was formed at the turn of the epoch, when former aesthetic ideals broke up and views on the world and laws of creativity reassessed. Responsive to the changes of the time, O. Murashko opposed poetic synthesis to critical analysis and figurative generalization to illusiveness. Resting upon the traditions of the national realistic school and creatively assimilating contemporary European artistic trends, in particular Impressionistic innovations in light and space rendering and decorativeness of Art Nouveau, O. Murashko created his own painting system, in which a philosophically comprehended model of the world was rendered in the rich sonority of bright decorative colours. The master's keen perception of beauty and variety of nature correlates with the profundity of human characters and fates.
The considerable museum collection of O. Murashko's canvases gives possibility to trace the tendency of artistic searches of the master, beginning from his Academy paintings. They are represented by portraits and the epic graduation work Funeral of the Cossack Ataman painted under the influence of his teacher, I. Repin. O. Murashko paid tribute to Impressionism in his Paris works executed during his Academy-granted voyage abroad. It is seen in the widening of colour range, the artist's quest for more subtle nuances in tonal gradations, for rendering complex effects of artificial lighting. The shimmering light of lamps on the night streets of a city 'washes out' the clear outlines of faces and dress of his heroines, women of the demimonde who seem to came from the pages of novels by Zola and stories by Maupassant – Parisiennes. At the Cafй. His Portrait of a Girl in a Red Hat, also painted in Paris and notable for bold contrasts of red and black, conveys the delicate charm of a young heroine, intricate nuances of her enigmatic mood which the young artist felt and reproduced so subtly, with close attention to the inner world of the person that was the tradition of national art.
Portraits by O. Murashko take a prominent place among his works. They vividly demonstrate the artist's talent, his ability to reveal a unique personality of man, using expressive potentialities of an attitude, a gesture and material attributes, as well as the plasticity of a painterly form itself. Thus, the gleam of gold rings on V. Dytiatyna's hand attracts your eyes to the woman's face, to her eloquent and penetrating look. The smooth ochre lines of a large stylish hat naturally flow into the outlines of the back and arms of a simple wicker chair, thus making an original framing for the figure and accentuating on it the viewer's attention.
Landscape is an important component in many of Murashko's portraits. It not only enhances and makes deeper portrait images, it reveals the decorative integrity of the world where man and nature interpreted in universal plastic categories become interdependent.
The feeling of inviolability of life foundations is embodied in many of his works on peasant themes, which took on special topicality at the beginning of the twentieth century. The narrative picture cultivated by the Peredvizhniki went out of date and artists in their 'plotless' canvases tended to a synthesized image that reflected the best features of people – their calm temper and philosophic thinking. In one of Murashko's major works A Peasant Family the artist depicts his characters not in a certain action but during a long serene pause, that opens a complicated world of human relations, feelings, and thoughts. Old age and youth, the past and the future combined in the images of this family whom the artist painted from real peasants in the village of Luchky, Poltava region. In them, the deeply individual and the defining typical intertwined. They appear as bearers of life wisdom of many generations. The painterly solution of the canvas corresponds organically with its spiritual content. The large planes of red, yellow-green, white and blue, which seem to be saturated with the vigour of the earth, mould the form, imparting epic magnitude to the images of ordinary peasants.
Also in the village of Luchky the artist painted his canvas A Laundress, in which he approached the summit of his decorative perception of the world. Colour and light brought to the highest registers of sounding 'tell' about the hard lot of the woman, about bright vividness of a summer day. Hot sunrays with their lively reflexes, synthesizing with the energy of flaming orange-yellows, create an image that becomes a metaphor of beauty and energy of life.
O. Murashko played an important part in the history of Ukrainian art. Recognized during his lifetime not only in his homeland, he, through his art and by exhibitions abroad, became one of the first to introduce national painting into the context of European and world artistic processes.
Among the artists who paved for Ukrainian painting the way into the wide world was Abram Manevich, whose course of life lay from the Dnipro's banks to the Hudson. The European recognition came to him in 1913, after his triumphal exhibition in the Paris Gallery of Durand-Ruel. Manevich's original art assimilated plein-air searches of Impressionism and colour planes of Art Nouveau, plasticity of its linear rhythms, which naturally agreed with the artist's inner world, his perception of nature. Traditions of national realistic art and experience acquired on poor streets of Mstislavl formed the artist's ability to see the great in the small, and the poetic in the ordinary. Manevich was a singer of province – small towns, cosy Kyiv environs. A wise philosopher, he could sense gentle melancholy behind inviolable walls of human dwellings and nature's eternal dying away behind the riot of golden colours in autumn. In many of his compositions, trees become dominant. The expressive intertwining of their stems and branches that create almost a phantasmagoric arabesque design embodies the idea of the perpetual motion of vital forces of nature. Manevich's landscapes are perceived as specific symphonies, thanks to the absolute musical harmony of their form and colour relations. D. Burliuk called his friend "a conductor of the orchestra in which paints play in unison, without any false note in their sounding."27
The larger part of the collection consists of works donated to the museum in 1972 by the artist's daughter L. Manevich-Chester. Carrying out the last will of her father, she brought 48 landscapes executed at different times to his homeland, to the museum where the first exhibition of the master was arranged. At present, this largest in Ukraine collection elucidates all stages in the artist's creative endeavour; it includes wonderful Kyiv views, and industrial quarters of Moscow saturated with red colours, and images of prosaic America and farmers' Canada.
The famous Ukrainian landscapist Mykola Burachek, who improved his skills in Krakow and Paris, brilliantly mastered the fundamentals of Impressionistic painting. Poetic ingenuousness of nature perception and study-like character of his paintings harmonize with plastic integrity of images, which is created by bold brushstrokes. Thick, vibrating, and energetic, they lend texture to the canvas surface, fuse natural forms into a single matter that gives rise to the sun, the air, and the realities of life. The evolution of his creativity is the road from landscapes that record the changeability of the world (Golden Autumn, Porch in Winter) to compositions in which the image of the earth is a synthesis of long observations and sweeping generalizations.
Fedir Krychevsky tended to images synthesized in their essence. They appeared as fruits of artist's meditations on the fate of the people, as a result of his serious study of folk art that brought within itself a feeling for colour and linear rhythms, decorativeness, planar forms, i.e. everything that corresponded with the principles of a novel decorative tendency in the early twentieth century. His graduation work Bride defined the program of the artist's further work marked by national originality, realism and monumentality of images, as well as decorative force of painting forms.