Forgotten Ukrainian Impressionist artist gets rediscovered
When Russian tsar Nicholas II visited France in 1909 he was expected to present something valuable and memorable to French President Armand Fallieres.
So he brought Fallieres two paintings by Ukrainian artist Mykhaylo Tkachenko.
Tkachenko was an Impressionist artist, born in 1860 in Ukraine. After studying in Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts, he moved to France in 1887 to continue studying and work there. Several years later, in the 1890s, he was recognized in Paris as an exceptional Impressionist artist, winning gold medals at the biggest art exhibitions.
He spent the last years of his life in Ukraine, and died in his home city of Kharkiv in 1916. When Ukraine became a part of Soviet Union, Tkachenko was forgotten. Yet his legacy still exists, and the BritishUkrainian Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the Yale Club of Ukraine, the Cambridge Society of Ukraine, the Harvard Club of Ukraine and the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council organized a series of events in Kyiv, Lviv and Kharkiv to restore the memory of the artist.
They invited James Rubin, one of the leading experts on Impressionism from France, to remind Ukraine about Tkachenko.
Professor Rubin gave a lecture on Nov. 1 at the Hyatt Regency Kyiv, where 20 paintings by Tkachenko were presented in a special one-evening exhibition organized by the Korners Art Gallery.
Rubin specializes in history, theory and criticism of 19th century European art, especially French art, yet when he saw Tkachenko’s paintings for the first time, he could not take his eyes off them and was very surprised that he had never heard of Tkachenko before. Rubin decided to make the painter well-known again.
“It is exciting to rediscover an Impressionist painter of such a fine quality, who was so highly recognized during the Impressionist period, but who, due to historical circumstances, has since been forgotten,” says Rubin.
Rubin is convinced that if Tkachenko had stayed in Paris and made it a center of his career, he would not be forgotten. But the artist spent a lot of time in Ukraine and that is why he disappeared from the European view.
During his speech, Rubin showed pictures of Tkachenko’s paintings and explained their value. Most of the drawings presented at the exhibition at Hyatt Regency Kyiv were Ukraine’s 19th century countryside landscapes, with typical for Impressionism small, thin yet visible brushstrokes. However, in France Tkachenko was mostly known for his waterscapes.
Susanna Chakhoian, the soloist of National Opera of Ukraine, was among the guests who came to listen to Rubin and to look at Tkachenko’s paintings. She could not stop herself from comparing Tkachenko's artworks to other world-known artists.
“My favorite place in Paris is Musée d’Orsay with its collection of artworks by (Claude) Monet, (PierreAuguste) Renoir and (Edgar) Degas, so Impressionist esthetics are very close to my heart,” says Chakhoian. “Yet I was impressed how precisely Tkachenko reflected even the smallest details in his works, they are full of love to his motherland.”
How it all started
The first one to rediscover Tkachenko’s art was the Chairman of the British Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce Bate C. Toms. In 2012, he found his initial inspiration by visiting Korners Gallery in Kyiv, where he saw Tkachenko’s pieces for the first time.
“I was actually looking for something else, but was astonished by the quality of the Tkachenko’s painting,” recalls Toms.
The British-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce then invited James Rubin to Kyiv in 2013. He confirmed the high standard of Tkachenko’s paintings and expressed his astonishment that he had never heard of this artist before.
“After professor Rubin spoke to us in the summer of 2013, the BritishUkrainian Chamber of Commerce created its Tkachenko project,” recalls Toms. “However, with the invasion of Crimea, we suspended this initiative — which we are now restarting.”
Toms expressed regret that very often Ukrainian artists are only exhibited in obscure art galleries in the West.
“Our project is for a Ukrainian artist to be exhibited in major museums and galleries abroad.”
The next step for the BritishUkrainian Chamber of Commerce is publishing of a new comprehensive book on Tkachenko and his paintings in English, French and Ukrainian, for which Rubin plans to write an essay as a preface. The second step is to bring together all of Tkachenko’s works, with a catalogue in all three languages. They plan to take this exhibition to London, Paris and New York.
French expert on Impressionism James Rubin gives a lecture in Hyatt Regency Kyiv about Ukrainian painter Mykhaylo Tkachenko on Nov.1. (Kostyantyn Chernichkin)