Art & Ukraine (Part 2)

NAMU Kiev Sunday, 15 August 2010

Dear Diary,

See also Art & Ukraine (Part 1)

The nucleus of Kiev’s three major art museums was formed approximately around the same time, in the second half of the 19th Century.

Two of the most important collections in Kiev belonged to the Tereshchenko and Khanenko families, rich sugar magnates and industrialists, who were also related by marriage. While the Tereshchenkos mainly concentrated on collecting Russian and Ukrainian art, the Khanenkos had a more international focus, purchasing Old Masters and Oriental works of art. Both housed their collections in neighbouring purpose-built mansions, and from time to time opened their homes to the public.

Sts Anastasia & Uliana, Ukraine, c. 1740, NAMUAlexandra Exter, Mist, 1912, NAMUThe origins of Ukraine’s National Museum of Art were slightly different inasmuch as it was founded as a purpose-build and designed public art museum, along the lines of other major public collections around the world. While the Tereshchenko and Khanenko families were among the major donors and supporters of the museum, it remained a public and independent museum of art.

After the Communist Revolution of 1917, all three collections had undergone at least twenty years of major upheavals, which have left an indelible mark on the focus and composition of their holdings.

Shishkin, Oak Trees, 1887, KMRIIn 1919, the Tereshchenko and Khanenko collections were expropriated from their owners and nationalised. The centralised governmental museum system designated them as the Museum of Russian Art and Museum of Western & Oriental Art respectively, while the National Art Museum was re-focused as the Museum of Ukrainian Art.

The holdings of these three newly-minted museums were significantly enriched with artworks coming in from other “nationalised” collections. However, in the process, the integrity of their original holdings had been lost, as works by Russian and Ukrainian artists from the former internationally-focused Khanenko collection were transferred respectively to the Russian and Ukrainian collections, and vice versa. The National Art Museum was likewise stripped of works by Ukrainian-born artists who attained their fame in Russia (such as portrait painters Borovikovsky and Levitzky), and those who were born elsewhere, though whose life and art was inextricably bound with Ukraine (such as Vrubel, Repin, and Ge).

Riangina, Ever Higher, 1934, KMRGabriel Gluck, Loggers, 1954, NAMUFurthermore, following the governmental decision to establish art museums in all (and even the most remote) centres of the Soviet empire, comparable works by same artists were re-distributed among the country’s other collections. (To put in an Australian perspective, say, the National Gallery of Victoria might have 50 or so works by Fred Williams, yet numerous other regional centres have none. So the Government would requisition ‘spare’ works by Williams from the NGV’s collection and permanently deposit them at other regional galleries).

Further still, the Western & Oriental Museum of Art lost a number of its important works when the cash-strapped Soviet Union started selling off its art collections on the international art market in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Collection of Early Soviet Porcelain, KMRIAnd if that was not enough, the adoption of the national arts policy in 1934 had resulted in the removal from the Russian and Ukrainian collections of works by the artists, who did not toe the Communist Party’s Social Realist aesthetics line. (The National Art Museum’s archives record a loss of nearly 1,700 works during this ‘cleansing’ process, which is eerily reminiscent of the Nazi Germany’s Ertantete Kunst policy.)

Further inestimable damage was sustained by all three museums during the Second World War. While the most important works were evacuated from Kiev as a matter of priority shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the remaining works were looted; most of them still remain untraced to the present day.

Khanenko Museum Interior 2The next forty or more years, however, were relatively prosperous for Kiev’s three major art museums. The Soviet system kept them supplied with a steady flow of contemporary art (as described in Part 1), and the collections were also enriched with donations from remaining private collections.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the declaration of the independence of the Ukrainian state in 1992 signalled momentous changes in the lives of the three museums. The importance of Tereshchenko and Khanenko families in the foundation of these collections was being prominently and proudly acknowledged. The street, on which the Museums of Russian and Western & Oriental art are located, now bears the name of the Tereshchenko family; while the Museum of Western & Oriental art was renamed as the Khanenko Museum of Fine Art. The museum of Ukrainian art was once again given its former name of the National Art Museum, and regained its prominence as the focal point of Ukrainian art and culture.

Khanenko Museum Velazquez InfantaAlthough the governmental financial support inevitably diminished during the period of political upheavals, and the established chain of supply of artworks was broken, important donations began to arrive from international collectors and philanthropists.

For more information:

www.namu.kiev.ua [National Art Museum]

www.museumru.kiev.ua [Kiev Museum of Russian Art]

www.khanenkomuseum.kiev.ua [Khanenko Museum of Fine Art]

… to be continued …

[© Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgement.]

3 Responses to “Art & Ukraine (Part 2)”

  1. August 16, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    I have been in Kiev from July 16 to July 20 for the first time to visit the formal belonging of my family – I visited the Museum of Russian Art ( 9 Tereshchenko st… where I have been welcomed very nicely by the Lady manager – this place beeing one of the buildings made by my Grand-father family and where Mummy used to play as a child.It was really exceptional to be welcomed like this !!! on the other hand when I went to the KHANENKO oriental and western Museum, where Mummy used to go as well as a child, the welcome was very very bad – the answer was : we had already a Tereshchenko person this morning …. so, I paid the entrance for a place which used to belong to my grand-father… There was only one person who showed some interest and kindness to me, it was an old lady who kept an eye on the last room where there was many japanese and chinese arts…It is really a pity for foreign tourists, and mainly for former owners of the place, to be welcomed like this !!! if KIEV wants to make money with their Museums, they have to change the behaviour of the emplyees who are at the entrance it’s just a shame !!!! Irina Princess Schirinsky-Schikhmatoff (grand child of Fyodor Fyodorovitch Tereshchenko)

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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

August 2010


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