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Ukrainian Painting of the 20th c.
The manifestation of totalitarian pressure on the person of he artist became the founding by the Museum of the “Special Collection” in 1939, the aim of which was the “weeding out” and isolation from Ukrainian museums and art exhibitions those works that were deemed not to be in synch with the goals of the regime or representing movements not sanctioned by the regime, such as “formalism”, “Ukrainian bourgeoisie nationalism”, etc. These works were destined for destruction; not only the works themselves, but their creators as well. From the time of the conception of the “Special Collection” up to and including 1941, it contained two thousand individual pieces of artwork; by the end of World War II, there were only 300 pieces that could be readily accounted for.
In spite of this, the professional staff of the Museum was able to preserve at least a segment of the artworks that had been placed in the “Special Collection” thanks to the fact that they stood before the appropriate ministerial commissions and touted these works as items worth preserving as examples representing the fifth and lowest category standard indicating no adequate artistic value. In this way, it was possible to save the legacy of an entire Pleiad of artists who were world-renowned during their lifetimes such as O. Bohovazov, V. Palmov, O. Ekster, T. Boichuk, V. Sedliar, O. Pavlenko, V. Meller, and L. Lysytsky, who thoroughly illustrated the entire era of European avant-garde and the synthesis of creative principles that were developed by Boichuk and his followers (the so-called “Boichukists”). The Ukrainian classical avant-garde of the beginning of the 20th century is represented in the collection of the Ukrainian National Museum of Art by the world-renowned masters O. Ekster, D. Burliuk, V. Palmov, O. Bohomazov, V. Meller, and A. Petrytsky.
The development of contemporary philosophical thought and the study of the branches of civilization and its cultures delineated for these artists new valuable criteria of standards for art. The significance of the Tripillian Culture, the semantics of the colorful symbols of ornamentation, the centuries-old traditions of various cults, the Christian art of Byzantium, Ukraine and Europe – were all transformed in the creativity of followers of the avant-garde movement into a complete and unwavering artistic system.
Oleksandra Ekster, whose innovative principles were formed in such Parisian centers as the academy “Grand Shomyer” and who, under the influence of P. Picasso, Zh. Brak, H. Apolliner, and F. Marinetti, was a reformer of the theatrical stage, adapted the principles of constructivism in easel painting, enriching it with the rhythmic foundations of ornamentation, and in wall painting, the saturation of color inspired by Ukrainian folk paintings. In O. Ekster’s Kyiv studio during the first decade of the 20th century, artists of the younger generation (esp. A. Petrytsky and O. Tyshler) were introduced to the world of artistic enlightenment, the regularity in the composition of space, and the harmony of the various elements of a work – all of the things that artists had so stubbornly strived for at the beginning of the 20th century. An innovation for the easel painting of O. Ekster and the artists of her inner circle was that of a constructive style, the dynamic of which made itself known in the works of Ekster through its expressiveness and dialectic surfaces.
D. Burliuk, who studied in Odesa, Moscow, and the Royal Academy of Munich, worked in various artistic styles, esp. impressionism, during the beginning of the 20th century and then later in his “American period”. Burliuk’s talent has shown itself with an incredible energy of originality in all of his futuristic paintings held in the Museum’s collection where he achieved clear color tonality, texture, a defined relief of the paintings surface, and a domination of ochre, terracotta and green colors that, together, create the appearance of a geometrically rhythmic ornamentation. Regardless to which artistic style D. Burliuk turned during his life, clear color tonality and texture were always an inseparable element in his creative works. V. Palmov, a friend of D. Burliuk, had an expressive artistic nature. He was a professor and Dean of the painting faculty of the Art Institute of Kyiv (1925-1929), a position that F. Krychevsky invited him to take up. This master foretold the principles of futurism together with his own works of the Ukrainian period that he expressed in the theoretical tractate “The Problems of Color in Easel Painting”. Palmov’s spectralism was characterized by the impulsiveness of emotions, the dynamic of the painting’s content and forms, the intensity of color saturation, and contrast. His “colorgraph” has left a mark on Ukrainian painting of the 20th century.
Oleksandr Bohomazov, a professor of the Kyiv Institute of Art, was not only the founder of the Ukrainian cubic-futurism movement, but also a talented theorist. The showing of his works at the prestigious “Kiltse” exhibition in Kyiv (1914) was simultaneous with his writing of the theoretical work “Painting and its Elements”, in which he explains the value in modern art of the independence of elements such as the designated characteristics of the embodiment of the artist’s emotions and pensive thoughts. In his tractate, he generalized the intellectual and creative experience of the transformation of an image onto the artistic space of the surface of a canvas. Bohomazov’s works were exhibited not only in exhibits in Kyiv of innovative and culture-forming artwork of the first decades of the 20th century, but also, with time, in the museums and private collections of America, Great Britain, Italy, Croatia, Switzerland, and Japan.
A. Petrytsky went along in step with the artistic era that was the first decades of the 20th century. He belonged to the avant-garde of the Ukrainian cultural Renaissance, during which he happily, although, unfortunately, not for long, supported the right of the artist to create his own artistic world that could carry over to the viewer a clear impression of the artist’s personal philosophy and emotions regarding his participation in the creative process.