Ukraine Special

Mykola Pymonenko: An Idyllic View of Ukraine

Jimena Escoto 28 March 2022 min Read

Mykola Pymonenko (1862-1912) was a Ukrainian Realist painter. He spent almost his entire life in Kyiv and dedicated his career to painting genre scenes. Truly, his works are a window into the life and culture of the Ukrainian people in the 19th century. His talent led him to meet other artists such as Ilya Repin and Kazimir Malevich. Today, he is considered one of the most important artists of his country. Even then, he gained widespread recognition both nationally and internationally.

Mykola Pymonenko as an Icon Painter

Mykola Pymonenko, Self-portrait, 1886, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv, Ukraine.

Mykola Pymonenko, Self-portrait, 1886, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv, Ukraine.

On March 9, 1862, Mykola Kornylovych Pymonenko was born in the village Priorka, Kyiv. At the time, that territory was part of the Russian Empire. For this reason, he is often cataloged as a Russian painter. Actually, he is not the only artist in this situation. Therefore, it is important to emphasize that he was Ukrainian.

He was the son of a woodcarver and an icon painter. Often, he accompanied his father who made altars and paintings for churches. Most probably, this contact with the country led him to decide on a career in genre paintings. Later, he began assisting at his workshop. And, in 1873, he entered the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Kyiv Monastery of the Caves) to study icon painting.

Kiev-Pechersk Lavra Complex.

Kiev-Pechersk Lavra Complex. Photo by Falin via Wikipedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Pymonenko’s Artistic Education

While his economic situation kept him from formal artistic education, his talent opened doors for him. Right away, in 1876, Mykola Murashko noticed his works. Truly, he must have been very impressed with what he saw. Indeed, he offered Pymonenko a place at his Drawing School in Kyiv. Luckily, he managed to waive his tuition. Quickly, he stood out as one of the best students.

Then, he briefly studied at the Russian Academy of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg (1882–1884). Additionally, they allowed him to give classes to lower-secondary schools. Moreover, he received three silver medals for his accomplishments. Nevertheless, health problems and financial hardships forced him to go back to Kyiv.

Work as a Portraitist

During his career, Pymonenko made portraits of his family and close circle.

AdVertisment

Back in Kyiv

Back at home, he returned to the Mykola Murashko Drawing School. This time, he was the teacher. Sadly, the school had to close after a few years. As a result, in 1901, he went to work at the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute and gave drawing classes to engineers. Simultaneously, he was one of the founders and teachers of the Kyiv Art School. However, he never abandoned painting. As a matter of fact, he was part of numerous groups and associations. For instance, he joined the Peredvizhniki (“Itinerants”) society at the invitation of Ilya Repin. Also, he joined the Society of South Russian Artists in Odessa. And, in 1904, he obtained the title of Academician by the Imperial Academy of Arts.

AdVertisment

History Through Pymonenko’s Eyes

Meanwhile, Pymonenko also created historical paintings. For example, he focused on the Cossacks. In fact, this militia is still a national symbol for Ukrainians since the 15th century.

Mykola Pymonenko. Mykola Pymonenko, Camping. Seeing the Cossacks, 1902, The National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv, Ukraine.

Mykola Pymonenko, Camping. Seeing the Cossacks, 1902, The National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv, Ukraine.

Added to it, he also depicted social problems. For example, the canvas Victim of Fanaticism illustrates a tragic moment in the town of Volyn in Kremenetz. Here, a young Jewish woman is cornered by an angry mob. Simply, her crime was being in a relationship with a Ukrainian man while refusing to abandon her faith. Interestingly, Pymonenko was Christian Orthodox. Nonetheless, the Jewish community accepted his work. Contrary to other works, this represented their struggles in the Russian Empire. In fact, having a critical stand was part of the Itinerants principles.

Mykola Pymonenko. Mykola Pymonenko, Victim of Fanaticism, 1899, Fine Arts Museum, Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Mykola Pymonenko, Victim of Fanaticism, 1899, Fine Arts Museum, Kharkiv, Ukraine.

The Volodymyr’s Cathedral

Later on, he participated in painting the interiors of the Volodymyr Cathedral. Certainly, it was a bit of a return to his beginnings as an icon painter, as well as his father’s profession. Specifically, he painted the images of Saint Anne and Nicholas of Myra. Additionally, he made some images on the pediment. Consequently, he received the Order of St. Anne III degree in 1897.

Interior of St Volodymyr's Cathedral in Kyiv. Photo by Robert Broadie.

Interior of St Volodymyr’s Cathedral in Kyiv. Photo by Robert Broadie via Wikipedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Western Recognition: The Salon of 1909

Besides, in 1909, he made it into one of the most prestigious exhibitions in Europe. Indeed, the Paris Salon accepted his painting Hopak, titled after a traditional Ukrainian folk dance. Furthermore, he received a gold medal from the Society of French Artists. In fact, the Louvre quickly acquired the canvas. Moreover, he exhibited in London, Berlin, and Rome. Equally important, he joined several organizations in those cities.

Mykola Pymonenko. Left: Mykola Pymonenko, Hopak, 1909. Photo by Francois Antoine Vizzavona. Right: M. Pymonenko in his studio next to the picture Hopak, c. 1909.

Left: Mykola Pymonenko, Hopak, 1909. Photo by Francois Antoine Vizzavona. Right: M. Pymonenko in his studio next to the picture Hopak, c. 1909, Wikipedia Commons (public domain).

In fact, one of his students, Kazimir Malevich saw the painting during one of his visits to Pymonenko’s studio.

There were a great many easels with paintings depicting life in Ukraine.

Kazimir Malevich

Autobiography. Cited in Jean-Claude Marcadé’s Kyiv: The Capital of Modernity at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, 2019.

Pymonenko as a Teacher

Now, one of his most notable students was Malevich. Of course, he adopted a very different style. Nevertheless, there are a few paintings that clearly reveal Pymonenko’s influence. For instance, as Jean-Claude Marcadé notices, the poses of Floor Polishers are similar to those of Hopak. Likewise, he depicted peasants. Aside from him, he taught many of the later avant-garde painters such as Sergei Kostenko, Olexander Murashko, and even Lesya Ukrainian.

Kazimir Malevich, Floor Polishers, 1911, Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Kazimir Malevich, Floor Polishers, 1911, Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The Legacy of Mykola Pymonenko

Unfortunately, his health problems continued, and in 1912, Pymonenko died and was buried in the Lukyanivka Cemetery. Although his life was short, the legacy he left was huge. Aside from his paintings, there are illustrations for Taras Shevchenko’s poems. Moreover, the year after his death, the Academy of Arts organized an exhibition. There were hundreds of his works, from oil paintings to sketches and drawings.

Finally, in 2012, the National Art Museum of Ukraine commemorated the 150th anniversary of his birth with an exhibition and there is the Pymonenko Museum in Malyutyanka, Kyiv.

Pymonenko is dead. What a loss for the Itinerants! He was a true Ukrainian; will not be forgotten by the country for his truthful and lovely, like Ukraine, paintings, (…)

Ilya Efimovich Repin

Museum of Ukrainian Paintings, Dniper. Museum’s website.

Bibliography

1.

Kotlyar, Eugeny, “Painting “Victim of Fanaticism” by Mykola Pymonenko in the Context of Jewish Art and the “Jewish Question” in the Russian Empire”, Judaica Ukrainica 2 (2013): 126–141. Accessed on 8 March 2022.

2.

Marcadé, Jean-Claude, “Kyiv: The Capital of Modernity at the Turn Ofthe Twentieth Century.Harvard Ukrainian Studies 36, no. 3/4 (2019): 275–306. Accessed on 7 March 2022.

3.

Mykola Pymonenko: Biographical sketch”. Ukrainian art library, 2016. Accessed on 6 March 2022.

4.

Nikolay Kornilevich Pimonenko”. Arthive. Accessed on 6 March 2022.

5.

Pimonenko Mikola Kornilievich. On the 150th anniversary of his birth”. The National Technical University of Ukraine. Accessed on 6 March 2022.

6.

PIMONENKO Nikolai Kornilovich”. Museum of Ukrainian Paintings, Dnipro. Accessed on 7 March 2022.

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