Ukrainian Painters: Rufin Sudkovsky

Rufin Sudkovsky (1850–1885), Clear Water (1879-85), oil on canvas, 78 x 125 cm, Kyiv National Picture Національний музей «Київська картинна галерея» (Київська національна картинна галерея), Kyiv, Ukraine. Wikimedia Commons.

This week’s artist from Ukraine was a controversial figure in his sadly brief life, and a contemporary of Arkhyp Kuindzhi, the maritime painter Rufin Sudkovsky (1850–1885), who came from the Black Sea coast near the city of Kherson.

Sudkovsky was born in Ochakiv, a town on the north of the mouth of the River Dnipro where it opens onto the Black Sea, midway between the cities of Odesa to the west and Kherson to the east. As the son of an Orthodox priest, he studied at the seminary in Odesa, but became more attracted to the city’s Drawing School. He therefore left for Saint Petersburg, where he gained admission to the Imperial Academy of Arts, and studied for three years, sharing accommodation with his contemporary Arkhyp Kuindzhi. He returned to Ochakiv in 1871, where he started sketching the local coast.

In 1874, he visited Germany and France to improve his technique, and was accepted as a ‘first degree’ artist by the Academy in 1879.

Rufin Sudkovsky (1850–1885), Surf at the Pier (1879), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Taganrog Museum of Art Таганрогский художественный музей, Taganrog, Russia. Wikimedia Commons.

Surf at the Pier (1879) shows some steamers heeling in gale-force winds as they fight to remain offshore of the remains of an old jetty, probably near his home town of Ochakiv. This short, steep sea is typical of storms on this section of the Black Sea coast.

Rufin Sudkovsky (1850–1885), Naval Battle Between “Vesta” and “Fetkh-i Bulend” on the Black Sea, July 11, 1877 (1881), oil on canvas, 75 x 130 cm, Central Naval Museum Центральный военно-морской музей, Saint Petersburg, Russia. Wikimedia Commons.

Sudkovsky’s painting of the Naval Battle Between “Vesta” and “Fetkh-i Bulend” on the Black Sea, July 11, 1877 (1881) shows the Ottoman ironclad Feth-i Bülend, on the left, which had been built in Britain, in combat with the Russian light warship Vesta, in the centre foreground. This took place during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. The result of this engagement was inconclusive, with both vessels suffering minor damage before the faster Vesta escaped. At the time of this engagement, Sudkovsky was probably based in Ochakiv or the nearby port of Odesa, but is unlikely to have witnessed it himself.

Rufin Sudkovsky (1850–1885), Marine View (1881), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Primorye State Picture Gallery Приморская государственная картинная галерея, Primorye, Russia. Wikimedia Commons.

This Marine View from 1881 is most probably a dawn view looking east along the coast near Ochakiv.

Rufin Sudkovsky (1850–1885), Ochakov Pier (1881), oil on canvas, 135 x 203 cm, Tretyakov Gallery Государственная Третьяковская галерея, Moscow, Russia. Wikimedia Commons.

Sudkovsky’s Ochakiv Pier from the same year is a similar view along the same stretch of coast during another storm.

Rufin Sudkovsky (1850–1885), On the Seashore (1882), oil on canvas, 72 x 128 cm, Irkutsk Regional Art Museum Иркутский областной художественный музей им. В.П.Сукачева, Irkutsk, Russia. Wikimedia Commons.

On the Seashore, painted in 1882, shows a moment of calm in the late afternoon, with the sun sinking in the west, as a couple of fishermen cook their meal on an open fire on the beach.

In 1883, Sudkovsky married Elena Petrovna Besnard, a Russian painter and illustrator who had trained in Helsinki. He then became embroiled in controversy, when he was accused of plagiarising the paintings of his former colleague Arkhyp Kuindzhi.

Rufin Sudkovsky (1850–1885), Darial Gorge (1884), oil on canvas, 178 x 125 cm, Russian Museum Государственный Русский музей, Saint Petersburg, Russia. Wikimedia Commons.

Sudkovsky’s Darial Gorge from 1884 shows this long and narrow gorge carving its way through the granite of the centre of the Caucasus Mountains, connecting Russia and Georgia. It’s one of only two crossings of the Caucasus Mountains. He shows its dramatic and near-vertical rock walls towering above a small group of travellers on the road next to the River Terek. The mountain peak vaguely visible towards the top may be Mount Kazbek, rising to 5,034 metres (16,515 feet).

Rufin Sudkovsky (1850–1885), Seascape (1884), oil on canvas, 124 x 178 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Seascape from the same year shows more fisherfolk on the beach in more peaceful weather.

Rufin Sudkovsky (1850–1885), Clear Water (1879-85), oil on canvas, 78 x 125 cm, Kyiv National Picture Національний музей «Київська картинна галерея» (Київська національна картинна галерея), Kyiv, Ukraine. Wikimedia Commons.

His undated Clear Water shows the crystal-clear water on the coast, with an old fishing boat being used as accommodation.

Sudkovsky had put the debate about copying behind him, and painted prolifically. Whatever the case over Kuindzhi’s paintings, Sudkovsky’s work more closely resembles that of the great marine artist Ivan Aivazovsky, whose studio was in Feodosia on the Crimean Peninsula. Kuindzhi had been a pupil there, and Aivazovsky’s paintings were well-known.

In early 1885, when he was only thirty-four, while attending an exhibition in Kyiv, Sudkovsky caught typhus. He was taken back to Ochakiv and died there on 4 February. Following her husband’s death, his wife moved to Paris, where she became a private pupil of Jules Bastien-Lepage, shortly before his untimely death. She later married the Ukrainian painter Mykola Samokysh, so becoming Elena Petrovna Samokysh-Sudkovskaya.



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.