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Ukrainian Painting of the 20th c.
The beginning of the 1930s saw the onset of changes that were destructive to the hitherto freely developing creative formation of artistic culture in Ukraine. The totalitarian politics of the governmental regime regarding art put a constraint on the creative freedom of the artist, and denied the artist’s ability to gear his own creativeness towards the standard and quality of world art. In 1934, it was formally announced that the only creative style permitted would be that of “Socialist Realism,” the underlying characteristic of which was ideological kowtowing to those requirements demanded of the artist by the governmental regime. Thematic direction, according to the norm of political dictate and classical academic professionalism, became the basic requirement for judging the value of artistic works.
Eventually, only the degree by which a work’s subject matter fulfills the needs of the ideological system becomes the criterion by which the value of a given work is judged. The influence of governmental ideological structures and party-sanctioned art critics of the totalitarian era completely deforms the Ukrainian School of art, as well as the individual creativity, fortune, and lives of the artists. A clear example of such violent tactics is that of the fate that befell M. Boichuk and his followers.
M. Boichuk was the author of a formal creative concept in modern art that united the folkloric essence of Ukrainian painting with the sacred artistic traditions of Bizantium, Ukraine and the proto-Renaissance. The artistic school that he founded differed by its unordinary treatment of artistic legacy and gave a brand new creative impulse to his personal students and followers.
Having received his professional education at the Academies of Art in Vienna and Krakow, and having been to Munich, Paris, Italy and Petersburg, Boichuk does not follow the style of impressionism that was in vogue in Europe at the time, but returns to the formal principles of monumental art. Having pondered the artistic cultural legacies of Florence, Ravenna, Venice, Byzantine art, as well as Ukrainian folk paintings and icons, Boichuk’s great talent was in his ability to synthesize and integrate the styles and imagery of these varying epochs and their individual characteristics. This ability also defined the credo of this artist and innovator. Everything taken as a whole facilitated the rebirth of a national tradition that was enriched by the problems and creative questions of early-20th century art.
In Boichuk’s early works one immediately notices the innovativeness that he brought to European art. In the context of Paris where in 1910 he exhibited his works with a group of like-minded friends – Ukrainians, Poles, and Frenchmen – at the Gallery of Independents, the thematic direction of the exhibit was proclaimed by its title: “The Rebirth of Byzantine Art.” A French art critic declared Boichuk a uniquely talented artist, a master-monumentalist, who is able to present new artistic concepts within the confines of collective creativity. From then on, regardless of where M. Boichuk chose to work – be it in Paris, Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv or Odesa – the concept of the “Boichuk School”, which consolidated the living artistic process, was understood to mean the mutuality of artists, their individual creative characteristics united by general artistic principles. Students of Boichuk, and/or people of a similar philosophy as his, were S. Nalepynska-Boichuk, I. Padalka, V. Sedliar, T. Boichuk, A. Ivanova, E. Shekhtman, O. Pavlenko, K. Hvozdyk, Ye. Sahaidachny, and M. Rokytsky. M. Boichuk himself was enthusiastic about the idea of uniting into one whole monumentally-executed painting surfaces devised and built upon according to the principles of the Byzantine fresco where the human figure was given the most attention by a sharpening of attention on the restrained, static nature of the movement, figures; together with this there was an accentuation of the internal dynamic of the personages with a certain backward flowing perspective that was masterfully utilized by Giotto, whom Boichuk greatly admired. Such an approach, which was synthesized personally by Boichuk, caused for a harmonization of the painting surface and thus accentuated a main premise. However, if this method, borrowed from the art of Italy and Byzantium, had not been spiritually inspired by the images of Ukrainian icons (the essence of which Metropolitan A. Sheptytsky, the great humanitarian of the Ukrainian Renaissance of the early-20th c., helped M. Boichuk achieve), his (Boichuk’s) creativity would not have had a national color, and he would not have achieved the melding of professionalism and spirituality that occurred within his person.
The flagship museum of Ukraine was categorically deprived of a professional approach to its collecting that would have enabled an objective overview of art history. The important movements happening at the onset of the 20th century that were centered in classical avant-garde, in neoclassic forms of realism, and in the birth of creative forms that were previously unknown to the European experience (modernism and the school of collective creativity created by M. Boichuk; the spectralism of V. Palmov, which was born in Ukraine; and the cubist-futurism of O. Bohomazov) were categorically rejected and destroyed – both physically and spiritually. The news of the tragic ruin of M. Boichuk, the students of his school, as well as his followers in general, quickly spread through the unsuspecting world of art in 1937. The development of this world renowned artistic movement was suddenly and cynically ended. The shared artistic aspirations of Bella Uitsa, Diego Rivera and Mykhailo Boichuk were not destined to be realized, as they had planned to execute collaborative works of monumental art in the immediate future. However, in the mid-1930s the Museum acquired monumental painted canvases from the VI All-Ukrainian Exhibit (1935) and the VII Exhibit entitled “The Flowering of Socialist Ukraine” (1937): “The Battle of Yeremia Vyshnevetsky with Maksym Kryvonos” by M. Samokysh, “The Victors of Vranhel” and “Happy Milk Maids” by F. Krychevsky, “The Work Brigades of the Dnipro Building Project” by K. Trokhymenko, and “The Road to the Collective Farm” by M. Burachek – all works, the artistic standard of which was denoted by the professionalism of European academic training and the humanitarianism of the authors’ personal views. Artists had come to a compromise with the regime; however, this compromise did not always bring about the desired artistic accomplishments for others as it did for those named above.