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Ukraine’s Manet from Kharkiv

The “forgotten genius” of Ukrainian impressionist Mykhailo Tkachenko (1860-1916) commemorated in Kyiv
12 December, 2017 - 11:38
AMERICAN RESEARCHER JAMES RUBIN’S ANALYSIS FOCUSED MAINLY ON MYKHAILO TKACHENKO’S UKRAINIAN LANDSCAPES. “IT IS EXCITING TO DISCOVER AN IMPRESSIONIST ARTIST OF SUCH EMINENCE, SO APPRECIATED DURING THE PERIOD OF IMPRESSIONISM, YET FORGOTTEN DUE TO HISTORICAL CIRCUMSTANCES,” STATED PROFESSOR RUBIN AS HE CLOSED HIS TALK

“Ukrainian Impressionism and the Revival of Commemorating Artist Mykhailo Tkachenko” is the name of a new culturological project initiated by the British-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce (BUCC). The British, in cooperation with the Yale Club in Ukraine, Cambridge Society of Ukraine, Harvard Club of Ukraine, and the US-Ukraine Business Council, recently organized a Ukrainian visit of the world’s leading expert on impressionist art, Professor James Henry Rubin. The author of numerous articles and 13 books on French Realism and Impressionism gave presentations in Kyiv, Lviv, and Kharkiv.

The Day visited Professor Rubin’s Kyiv presentation, which was accompanied by an exhibit of paintings by Tkachenko, the classic of the Kharkiv school of landscape. Of the displayed works, 20 belong to the collection of the Auction House Corners (which in 2010 held a string of events dedicated to Tkachenko’s 150th birth anniversary, and published an illustrated monograph Mykhailo Stepanovych Tkachenko by Olha Lahutenko and Dmytro Holets.

The American researcher’s analysis focused mainly on Tkachenko’s Ukrainian landscapes (and not his seascapes, which made him famous in his lifetime). Comparing Tkachenko to Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Sezanne, Renoir, Degas, and other world-famous impressionist artists, Professor Rubin stated that the Ukrainian’s work is on the level with these more renowned classics. Yet, while being typically impressionist (the researcher emphasizes Tkachenko’s affinity to Pissarro and Monet), his paintings have a vivid Ukrainian coloring. For example, comparing winter landscapes by Tkachenko and Monet, Professor Rubin points out to the “blue Ukrainian sky” reflected in the snow. You will not see that much blue in the landscape of his French counterpart, this is a national peculiarity of Ukraine and its painting, according to the researcher. “It is exciting to discover an impressionist artist of such eminence, so appreciated during the period of Impressionism, yet forgotten due to historical circumstances,” stated Professor Rubin as he closed his talk.

The dramatic lot of the forgotten genius’s heritage was shaped by historical circumstances and an unfortunate coincidence. In 1887 Tkachenko brilliantly graduated from the St. Petersburg Imperial Arts Academy. The Great Gold Medal for his Village Churchyard was his passage to a residence abroad. In 1888 he made his first trip to Paris, where he continued training at the famous Cormon Academy.

The Ukrainian painter made close acquaintance with many of his peers, future classics. He mixed with the legendary Oleksii Boholiubov, Mykola Hrytsenko, Serhii Vasylkivsky, Ivan Pokhytonov, Yosyp Krachkovsky, and others, and remained friends with the talented Hrytsenko until the latter’s very demise.

French critics soon noticed the painter from Kharkiv. “There is no other artist on the globe who would be less belligerent and more in love with the beauty of the world around us,” wrote Rene Maizeroy about Tkachenko, whose first personal exhibit in Paris was held in 1898. Later he had two exhibits at the Grand Palais, participated in the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900 (Second Gold Medal), Liege International in 1905 (Gold Medal), and many other events. His first work En plein air, a portrait, was exhibited at the Le Salon in 1891, Paris, following Cormon’s advice. In the early 20th century the managers of exhibition halls would line up for his works.

Tkachenko’s seascapes were loved by the royals, but the artist preferred painting Ukrainian landscapes. Every year he came to his birthplace, Kharkiv. When the First World War broke out, the 54-year-old painter moved back to eastern Ukraine. Working near Sloviansk, he fell ill and died. Tkachenko was buried in Kharkiv. His posthumous fate was sad. The paintings that remained in France, and that is the greater part of his heritage, did not survive. The painter’s name fell into oblivion in the West, where he was referred to as “a Russian artist.” His work was not promoted in the former USSR for ideological reasons. Nowadays, the largest collection of works by Tkachenko, some hundred paintings, is preserved at the Kharkiv Art Museum.

The project “Ukrainian Impressionism and the Revival of Commemorating Artist Mykhailo Tkachenko” envisages a publication of an illustrated monograph on Tkachenko’s life and artistic career by Professor Rubin in two languages, Ukrainian and English, and exhibits of his works in Kyiv, London, Paris, New York, Chicago, Toronto, and some other cities across the globe. The restoration of Tkachenko’s renown in the global community is an important step in bringing Ukrainian art as a whole into prominence, which will increase interest in Ukraine internationally. It will also help emphasize the role of Kharkiv as a center of museum and cultural life, the organizers of the project believe.

By Hanna PAROVATKINA. Photos by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day
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