Painting Ukrainian Life: the Captivating Art of Mykola Pymonenko

Yuletide Fortune Tellers (1888), Mykola Pymonenko

Yuletide Fortune Tellers (1888), Mykola Pymonenko

In addition to offering Ukrainian recipes, Taste of Ukraine reveals the wider world of Ukrainian cuisine and its connections with literature, history and art. The works of some outstanding Ukrainian artists, in particular Mykola Pymonenko, illuminate the fascinating story of Ukraine’s cuisine. Taste of Ukraine includes two of Pymonenko’s works: Yuletide Fortune Tellers (1888) on page 237 and Easter Morning Prayer (1891) on page 290. This also provided the opportunity to introduce many readers to Pymonenko’s beautiful, timeless artworks.

Mykola Pymonenko was born in March 1862, according to the old style Julian calendar, and died fifty years later at the height of his artistic powers. He dedicated many of his 700 works to his motherland, Ukraine. Like ‘freeze-frame’ episodes from the lives of Ukrainian villagers, his paintings depict in depth daily life in Ukraine at the end of 19th and beginning of the 20th century. The artist’s major works include: Idyll (1908); Off to War (1902); Ukrainian Night (1905); A Seller of Cloth (1901) and A Ford (1901).

The son of an icon painter, Pymonenko grew up in Kyiv and studied at the Kyiv Drawing School. Later he studied at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts and joined the Peredvizhniki Society in 1899. This St Petersburg group worked in the realist and naturalist styles and organised travelling exhibitions in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, focusing on landscape art, portraiture and genre painting. Like the earlier Pre-Raphaelites in Britain and the Realists in France, the Peredvizhniki artists rejected the prevailing academic conventions of the art world. Their art revealed both the poverty and beauty of everyday life.

Easter Morning Prayer (1891), Mykola Pymonenko

Easter Morning Prayer (1891), Mykola Pymonenko

Pymonenko’s main subjects were Ukrainian peasants and he portrayed their daily chores and their celebrations, their sufferings and joys with great empathy.

His oil on canvas works glow with light and colour. Pymonenko studied the effects of sunlight on colours and in nature. He was a master of painting scenes set in twilight and evening light. He employed plein-air techniques for his landscapes.

From 1888 to 1911 Pymonenko lived in the attractive village of Maliutianka, Kyiv region, which today hosts the Pymonenko Museum. Local natural features inspired his landscapes and the village inhabitants appeared as the characters in his paintings.

Pymonenko’s works were widely admired and one of his paintings hangs in the Louvre Museum. He was a member of art societies in Paris, Munich and Berlin and in Kyiv he taught a new generation of painters who included Kazimir Melevich.