Serhii Vasylkivsky is known as the poet of Ukrainian painting. The famous Kharkiv-based writer, historian, composer, social and political activist Hnat Khotkevych (one of those shot in the 1930s) said of his compatriot: “When a wide field, all shining with light, will look at you from the canvases, and you’ll hear the lark’s singing, how easily and freely you’ll breath the air that the painter is pouring on you in waves and even like a river. And he, who lived one life with nature, who cried over sounds and colors, makes you tremble before the mysteries of life discovered by him, listen to the nightingale’s splendid song and sorrowful cooing of turtledove…”
One of the famous Ukrainian painters of the late 19th-early 20th century, Serhii Vasylkivsky was born in the Kharkiv region. His works, mostly landscapes of Podniprovia, Podillia, Slobozhanshchyna, genre paintings, and historical canvases, create a deep romantic image of Shevchenko’s Ukaine. Armed Cossack-riders in the steppe or a group of Cossacks on guard, in cavalry march, or resting — these are some of the main themes of Vasylkivsky. In order to convey the spirit of the era, Vasylkivsky interspersed his contemporary images of Ukraine with lyrical digressions and historical landscapes portraying Cossacks themes. A descendant of a Cossack, the artist was a child of nature. He tried to put on canvas everything that he saw, felt, and imagined.
However, it would be a mistake to believe that Vasylkivsky’s work has only a local Ukrainian dimension. His works were also understood and prized in Paris. After training at the Landscape Scenery Workshop of the St. Petersburg Art Academy in 1885, Vasylkivsky was conferred the title of first-grad artist. He received one golden and five silver medals for scenery sketches, in which the artist conveyed the picturesque qualities of Ukrainian nature. He also received a big golden medal and the right to go abroad for professional development for the painting On Donets at the All-Russian Academic Exhibition. His next victory was in Paris, which opened to Vasylkivsky the doors to exhibits of Paris art galleries — his works there were highly prized, a rarity for foreign artists.
Vasylkivsky was a very prolific painter. The artist produced 45-50 paintings every year, many of which are still stored in Ukainian museums, first of all, at the Kharkiv Art Museum.
Vasylkivsky’s creative work, with its timeless value, can also be useful for the modern Ukrainian society that is suffering from the East-West stereotypes imposed upon it. Vasylkivsky, an artist born in Kharkiv province, felt and reproduced the metaphysical image of Shevchenko’s Ukraine in a way that nobody else has ever done. And it was that very image that fascinated Paris.