Painting Ukrainian Life: the Captivating Art of Mykola Pymonenko


Books are often best illustrated with works by classical artists. Looking back at the books we have already published, it is interesting to note that the Ukrainian painter whose works we use most often is Mykola Pymonenko. For example, reproductions of his wonderful “Yuletide Fortune Tellers” (1888) and “Easter Morning Prayer” (1891) appeared in our debut book Taste of Ukraine (2013).

Pymonenko’s works appear in several books in our “Tradition on a Plate” series: Ukrainian Christmas Eve Supper, Traditional Velykden: Ukrainian Easter Recipes and Ancient Grains: Ukrainian Recipes.

Both The Witches of Kyiv and Other Gothic Tales, a collection of Orest Somov’s short stories, and our non-fiction publication The Story of Pysanka: A Collection of Articles on Ukrainian Easter Eggs also contain images of Mykola Pymonenko’s works.

(The following passages are re-published from Sova’s old website.)

Mykola Pymonenko was born in the Kyiv suburb of Priorka, on 9 March 1862. He died fifty years later at the height of his artistic powers. Pymonenko dedicated many of his 700 works to his motherland, Ukraine. Like ‘freeze-frame’ episodes from the lives of Ukrainian villagers, his paintings depict daily life in Ukraine at the end of 19th and beginning of the 20th century. This 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 Fine Art 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. They 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 the beauty of everyday life.

Pymonenko’s primary subjects were Ukrainian peasants. In particular, he portrayed their daily chores, celebrations, sufferings and joys with great empathy. Also, his illustrations of some of Taras Shevchenko’s narrative poems are renowned.

His oil on canvas works glow with light and colour. Pymonenko studied the effects of sunlight on colours and in nature, and he became 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, and where local natural features inspired his landscapes. Inhabitants of 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. In Kyiv, he taught a new generation of painters, including Kazymyr Malevych.

(Featured copies of Mykola Pymonenko’s artworks supplied by the National Art Museum of Ukraine.)

At the River (1893), Mykola Pymonenko



Yuletide Fortune Tellers (1888), Mykola Pymonenko