Ukrainian Painters: Abraham Mintchine

Abraham Mintchine (1898–1931), Self-Portrait as Harlequin (1931), oil on canvas, 73 x 50.2 cm, The Tate Gallery, London. Wikimedia Commons.

Among those who studied at Kyiv Art School in the early twentieth century was Abraham Mintchine (1898-1931), whose only surviving work comes from the last five years of his tragically brief life.

Mintchine was born in Kyiv, where he first started his apprenticeship to a goldsmith. Around the end of the First World War he started to study painting in the city, both at its Art School and with Alexandra Exter, a former pupil of Mykola Pymonenko, who had graduated from the School just over a decade earlier. I will look at her life and work in a future article in this series.

Little is known of Mintchine’s work before he left Kyiv for Berlin in 1923, and travelled on to arrive in Paris in 1925-26. By this time he had married and had a child, and the family lived in extreme poverty, at least until his discovery by the prominent dealer René Gimpel in 1929. He suffered from tuberculosis, and died suddenly in 1931, three weeks after his thirty-third birthday. Currently his catalogue raisonné contains a total of 362 oil paintings, almost all of which were painted between 1925-1931.

Mintchine’s surviving paintings are mostly figurative, but include a few cityscapes. Although my small selection is dominated by the themes of Pierrot and Harlequin, he painted a wide range of portraits, some nudes, and more diverse motifs.

Abraham Mintchine (1898–1931), Pierrot (1928), oil, 92 x 60 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Pierrot (1928) is rich in symbols. Against a hilly landscape background, a figure dressed as this character from the Commedia dell’Arte is wearing a winged cap suggestive of the god Mercury. Resting in front of him are three large seashells.

Abraham Mintchine (1898–1931), Girl with Dog (date not known), oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, location not known. Image by Massimo Di Veroli, via Wikimedia Commons.

His undated portrait of a Girl with Dog includes a floral still life painting.

Abraham Mintchine (1898–1931), Child with Harlequin (date not known), oil on panel, 54 x 40 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Child with Harlequin, also undated, shows an older child holding a doll dressed in a Harlequin costume with a black mask.

Portrait of the Artist as a Harlequin 1931 by Abraham Mintchine 1898-1931
Abraham Mintchine (1898–1931), Self-Portrait as Harlequin (1931), oil on canvas, 73 x 50.2 cm, The Tate Gallery, London. Wikimedia Commons.

Mintchine’s Self-Portrait as Harlequin is thought to have been painted shortly before his death in early 1931, and shows another variant of the costume, this time with an exuberant ruff and a starched white linen hat, similar to those worn by Breton women.


Abraham Mintchine Society, with an online catalogue raisonné

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.