Sometimes when I’m researching artists and their paintings, I come across images that are so breathtaking that they make me want to drop everything and go to see that painting in the flesh. This month’s surprise comes from the brush of Oleksandr Murashko (1875–1919). I just wish I could see and show more of his work.
Murashko was born in Kyiv, although it’s claimed that he spent much of his childhood near Chernihiv. His stepfather, with the same name apart from the patronymic, painted icons and the interior of Saint Volodymyr’s Cathedral in the city. He seems to have been a precocious artist, and by 1894 had gained sufficient recommendations to enter the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg, where he was taught by Ilya Repin, who was born in Chuhuiv, Ukraine.
This undated Self-portrait is one of several he made.
Burial of a Kish Otaman, painted in 1900, is an early history painting in traditional style. The Kish otaman, or Koshovyi otaman, was the head of government of the Zaporozhian Sich in Ukraine, a post that vanished when the Sich was liquidated in 1775.
That painting earned the young artist travel funds to enable him to go to France and Germany in 1901, where he studied in Munich and became a member of the Secessionists there. He continued to visit Paris following his return to Kyiv, and was there influenced by Impressionism and its exploration of the effects of light.
Murashko was first and foremost a figurative painter, and a successful portraitist.
Of his portraits, it’s perhaps this Girl with a Red Hat from 1902-03 which is now best-known, although he was in great demand from the more wealthy in the city.
His Near a Cafe from 1903 is one of a series showing the nightlife in Paris.
Winter (1905) is more obviously Ukrainian, showing an affluent couple out walking in the snow.
During 1905, he worked on a large painting of two girls on one of the rides at a fair, seen here in this Sketch for Carousel (1905). The finished painting Carousel won Murashko a gold medal when exhibited in Munich in 1909. I regret that I’ve been unable to locate a suitable image of it.
It’s Murashko’s Annunciation, probably painted in 1907-08, or perhaps 1909, that takes my breath away. Apparently, he was first inspired to paint this when he saw a girl part light curtains to enter his house from the terrace outside. He saw a parallel with the entry of the Archangel Gabriel in the Annunciation.
I doubt whether he had seen either Rossetti’s 1849-50 interpretation of the same scene, or that by Vittorio Matteo Corcos from 1904, shown below.
From 1909, Murashko taught at the Kyiv Art School, then in 1913 opened his own teaching studio in the city. In 1916, he founded the Association of Kyiv Artists, and the following year was one of the co-founders of the Ukrainian State Academy of Arts.
Woman with Flowers (1918), with its vivid colours, was one of his last portraits.
On 14 June 1919, amid the widespread turmoil then taking place in Ukraine, Murashko was shot in the back of his head by a gang. To this day, no one knows who was responsible, nor their motive. In the 1930s, Murashko’s widow is believed to have been arrested and sent to a camp. Even more tragically, his paintings have also struggled to survive. Many were in a private collection that was largely destroyed by war, and today others are under constant threat of destruction in collections in Ukraine.
Andrey Kurkov and others (2022) Treasures of Ukraine, A Nation’s Cultural Heritage, Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978 0 500 02603 8.
Konstantin Akinsha and others (2022) In the Eye of the Storm, Modernism in Ukraine 1900-1930s, Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978 0 500 29715 5.