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Ukrainian Artists in Western Ukraine in the First Half of the 20th Century

Ukrainian Artists in Western Ukraine in the First Half of the 20th Century

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(Marko R. Stech)


at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies


Ukrainian Artists in Western Ukraine in the First Half of the 20th Century

(February 2018)

In the last few decades of the 19th century Ukrainian artists in Austrian-ruled Western Ukraine adapted to European trends, particularly those prevalent in Vienna and Cracow, where some of them had studied. Among them were Luka Dolynsky, Kornylo Ustyianovych, and Teofil Kopystynsky, all of whom depicted rural life through a romanticized ethnographic prism and were active in decorating churches. Both Mykola Ivasiuk, who was known for his panoramic historical canvases, and Antin Manastyrsky remained dedicated realists. At the beginning of the 20th century, impressionism influenced the work of Ivan Trush (although for the most part he remained a realist), Osyp Kurylas, and Olena Kulchytska. Other artists who worked in the impressionist style included Modest Sosenko and Yaroslav Pstrak. In interwar Western Ukraine under Polish rule, the most prominent Lviv painter was Oleksa Novakivsky, who began as an impressionist and was attracted by French postimpressionism and expressionism. He painted portraits and landscapes, and through his Novakivsky Art School he influenced an entire generation of future artists who went on to explore modern trends in art. The revival of the Byzantine style of church mural painting and decoration in Western Ukraine was encouraged by Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, a great patron of the arts. One of the leading masters of Neo-Byzantinism was an emigre from central Ukraine, Petro Kholodny. Roman Selsky experimented with surrealism while his wife, Margit Selska, painted under the influence of constructivism and cubism; Mykola Butovych, Pavlo Kovzhun, and Robert Lisovsky explored cubism and abstraction. After the Second World War many Ukrainian artists fled from communist rule and settled in the West. Among those who remained in Western Ukraine, Roman Selsky, Margit Selska, and Vitold Manastyrsky managed to avoid the narrow confines of socialist realism and had a great influence on the formation of the next generation of western Ukrainian artists…

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TRUSH, IVAN, b 17 January 1869 in Vysotske, Brody county, Galicia, d 22 March 1941 in Lviv. Painter, community figure, and art and literary critic. After studying at the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts (1891-7) under Leon Wyczolkowski and Jan Stanislawski, he lived in Lviv where he was active in Ukrainian artistic circles and community life. A friend of Ivan Franko, he organized the Society for the Advancement of Ruthenian Art and the Society of Friends of Ukrainian Scholarship, Literature, and Art and their exhibitions; copublished the first Ukrainian art magazine, Artystychnyi vistnyk; painted many portraits for the Shevchenko Scientific Society; lectured on art and literature; and contributed articles to Ukrainian literary and art journals. Trush was an outstanding Ukrainian impressionist, noted for his original use of color. A major part of his large legacy (over 6,000 paintings) consists of landscapes, including landscapes of Crimea, Rome, Venice, Egypt, and Palestine. His many genre paintings are noted for their simplicity of composition. His gallery of 350 portraits includes ones of Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, Ivan Franko, Vasyl Stefanyk, Lesia Ukrainka, Mykhailo Hrushevsky, Mykola Lysenko, and many others. The first solo show of Trush’s works took place in Lviv in 1899, and a large retrospective exhibition was held posthumously there in 1941. Major collections of his work are at the National Museum and the memorial museum in his former residence in Lviv…

NOVAKIVSKY, OLEKSA, b 14 March 1872 in Slobodo-Obodivka (now Nova Obodivka), Olhopil county, Podilia gubernia, d 29 August 1935 in Lviv. Painter and educator. He studied painting under F. Klymenko in Odesa (1888-92) and at the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts (1892-3, 1895-1900) under J. Unierzyski and Jan Stanislawski. After graduating with a gold medal he lived in Mogila (now Nowa Huta), near Cracow, where he devoted himself to landscape painting. The first solo exhibition of his works was held in Cracow in 1911. Having attracted Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky as his patron, Novakivsky moved to Lviv in 1913 where exhibitions of his works took place in 1920 and 1921. In 1923 he established the Novakivsky Art School in Lviv which played a very important role in the development of Ukrainian art in Western Ukraine. During his Cracow period Novakivsky painted portraits, landscapes, still lifes, and genre scenes in a naturalistic and impressionist style that resembled that of his Polish contemporaries, such as Jan Stanislawski, Jacek Malczewski, and Stanislaw Wyspianski. During his early Lviv period his style evolved under the impact of the First World War to become more symbolist and expressionist. In the 1920s his colors grew more vivid, and his lines more dynamic, and many of his paintings from that time are fully expressionist in style. Novakivsky’s oeuvre consists of over 500 oils, many of them unfinished. A memorial museum dedicated to him and his works was opened in Lviv in 1972…

KHOLODNY, PETRO, b 18 December 1876 in Pereiaslav, Poltava gubernia, d 7 June 1930 in Warsaw. Distinguished painter, by profession a chemist. A graduate of the Kyiv Drawing School, he began to exhibit his early symbolist paintings in 1910. During the Ukrainian struggle for independence (1917-20), Kholodny worked in the Ukrainian National Republic’s Ministry of Education. Leaving Ukraine with the UNR government in 1920, he settled in Lviv in 1921. The subsequent period proved to be the most productive one in Kholodny’s artistic career. In 1922 he helped found the Circle of Promoters of Ukrainian Art and took part in its exhibitions. He began to paint icons and churches and to design stained-glass windows. His principal works of this period are the icons and stained-glass windows of the Dormition Church in Lviv, the iconostasis and murals of the Chapel of the Greek Catholic Theological Seminary in Lviv, numerous icons of parish churches, and the stained-glass windows of the church in Mraznytsia. The basic features of his work, rooted in Ukrainian artistic traditions that grew out of the synthesis of Byzantine iconography with folk art, were compositional unity, the primacy of the line, and harmonious, warm colors. In his stained-glass windows, Kholodny juxtaposed elements of pure colored glass to achieve lightness and transparency. He also painted many portraits and some historical compositions. Kholodny’s style can be described as a mature impressionism of a Ukrainian variety that is profoundly lyrical. His neo-Byzantine works, which rivaled those of Mykhailo Boichuk, revealed new potentialities of the ancient style, free of schematism or archaism. After the Soviets occupied Lviv, many of Kholodny’s works were destroyed for their allegedly ‘nationalist’ spirit and his church murals were painted…

KOVZHUN, PAVLO, b 3 October 1896 in Kostiushky, Ovruch county, Volhynia gubernia, d 15 May 1939 in Lviv. Noted graphic artist, painter, and art scholar. His graphic works began to appear in Kyiv journals while he was still a student at the Kyiv Art School. By 1914 his work began to attract wide attention. Sent to the front of the First World War in 1915, at the outbreak of the Revolution of 1917 he joined the Ukrainian movement in the armed forces and edited Ukrainian military newspapers. During the Ukrainian National Republic period he helped to set up the Grunt publishing house, served as secretary of Universal’nyi zhurnal, and belonged to the Muzahet artistic and literary alliance in Kyiv. Finding refuge in Poland with the remnants of the UNR Army, in 1922 Kovzhun settled in Lviv, where he became a leading figure in the artistic community. With Volodymyr Sichynsky, Petro Kholodny, Serhii Tymoshenko, and Mykola Holubets, he founded the Circle of Promoters of Ukrainian Art, and in 1931 helped organize the Association of Independent Ukrainian Artists, whose journal, Mystetstvo, he edited (1932-6). His graphic art was displayed at exhibitions in Lviv, Warsaw, Prague, Brussels, Berlin, Rome, and Naples, and had a major impact on book graphics in Western Ukraine. Kovzhun ranks with Heorhii Narbut as the leading Ukrainian graphic artist of the 20th century. He was thoroughly modern and yet closely bound to Ukrainian artistic traditions. His early work was influenced by symbolism, futurism, and to some extent by Narbut, but after 1924 he developed his own style, which was at first expressionist and then constructivist. Kovzhun was also a noted muralist and painted a number of churches in a modernized neo-Byzantine style…

SELSKY, ROMAN, b 21 May 1903 in Sokal, Galicia, d 4 February 1990 in Lviv. Painter, graphic artist, and teacher; husband of Margit Selska. He studied under Oleksa Novakivsky in Lviv, graduated from the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts (1927), and made several trips to Paris, where he studied with Fernand Leger. Upon his return to Lviv in 1929, he was instrumental in establishing Artes (1929-36), an association of experimental artists, and was its first president. He taught at the Lviv Applied Arts High School (1935-47) and the Lviv Institute of Applied and Decorative Art (1947-72). Surrealist influences are apparent in his early works, such as Seashore in Hel (1932). After the Second World War, under the Soviet rule, Selsky was initially forced to paint in the style resembling socialist realism. He painted some realist landscapes and paintings depicting peasants at work. However, he abandoned that style in the late 1950s. In the late 1960s Selsky returned to painting the seashore, in works such as At the Seashore (1969), which show some influence of Leger, but especially that of the postimpressionist Pierre Bonnard. Selsky painted numerous landscapes, particularly of the Carpathian Mountains. The Carpathian environment is also reflected in his still lifes and compositions of interiors; many of them include views through windows and open doors. Except for a few realistic landscapes and somber still-life compositions from the 1940s and early 1950s, Selsky managed to avoid the narrow confines of socialist realism. His sensitive and vibrant palette and organization of flattened forms and space are in the Western European art tradition…

SELSKA, MARGIT, (also Mariia, nee Reich), b 23 June 1903 in Kolomyia, Galicia, d 3 February 1980 in Lviv. Painter; wife of Roman Selsky. She studied at the Cracow Academy of Arts (1924-5), the Vienna Academy of Arts (1926-7), and the Academie moderne in Paris (1928-30) under Fernand Leger. In the 1930s she was one of the key members of Artes (1929-36), an association of experimental artists in Lviv, as well as a member of the Association of Independent Ukrainian Artists. Selska’s works executed before the Second World War showed influences of constructivism (akin to Fernand Leger), cubism (especially that of Alexander Archipenko), and, to some extent, surrealism. However, most of her prewar paintings were lost during the Holocaust when her entire family was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. Her relatives perished, but Selska was saved thanks to an escape organized by the Ukrainian underground. Under the Soviet rule after the war, Selska and her husband were initially forced to paint in the style resembling socialist realism. She painted realist landscapes and paintings depicting workers and peasants at work. However, in the late 1950s she abandoned that style and painted landscapes (such as Akkerman [1959] or Crimea [1961]), portraits (such as Violinist [1960s] or A Child by the Table [1960s]), and still lifes that are grounded in the modernist esthetics, in particular that of constructivism and cubism…


The preparation, editing, and display of the IEU entries about Ukrainian artists in Western Ukraine in the first half of the 20th century were made possible by the financial support of the CANADIAN FOUNDATION FOR UKRAINIAN STUDIES.

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