Two brothers, Vasyl and Fedir Krychevskyi (1879–1947), were important influences in the development of modern Ukrainian art. Vasyl, the elder, was a major graphic designer, and Fedir a prolific painter with decorative tendencies.
Fedir Krychevskyi was born in Lebedyn in the north-east of Ukraine, near the city of Sumy. He trained initially at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in the first decade of the twentieth century, then went on the Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts. After that he travelled in Europe and studied with Gustav Klimt in Vienna, Austria.
Girl’s Head, from 1907, is one of his student paintings from his training in Moscow showing his early decorative style.
His Lamentation of Christ from 1910 shows a more classical influence that may have resulted from his transfer to the academy in Saint Petersburg.
Krychevskyi painted this Self-Portrait in 1911, soon after he had started at the Academy.
In 1914, he returned to teach at the Kyiv Art School during the First World War.
His Portrait of the Artist’s Wife against a Golden Background (1914) combines the decorative with the use of gold in icons and religious images, and the influence of Klimt.
In 1917, when the Ukrainian State Academy of Arts was being formed in Kyiv, he was one of its founding staff, and became its rector in 1920. He continued teaching there as it changed first into the Institute of Plastic Arts, then the Kyiv Art Institute in 1924.
Krychevskyi painted this triptych of Life in the latter half of the 1920s, and its centre panel was the most acclaimed work among paintings by Ukrainian artists shown at the Venice Biennale in 1928. From the left, its panels are titled Love, Family and Return. It blends his own distinctive approach with Art Nouveau, Klimt and mediaeval wall painting, and was completed in 1929. Family was the only one of many works by Ukrainian artists to be pictured in the official catalogue.
Mother (1929) is perhaps a sequel to that triptych, and features wonderful golden light.
The best-known of his self-portraits is this Self-Portrait in a White Coat (1926-32), from this period of international recognition.
Dovbush from 1931 might appear puzzling if you’re unfamiliar with the exploits of Ukraine’s equivalent of Robin Hood, Oleksa Dovbush (1700-1745). He was born a Hutsul in the Carpathian Mountains, and came to lead a band of nearly fifty outlaws who earned the reputation of being protectors of the poor, usually by robbing the rich. They operated from a base near Bolekhiv, to the south of Lviv, now known as the Rocks of Dovbush. Although he managed to survive a Polish expeditionary force of two thousand soldiers, he was finally shot and killed by the husband of his lover Dzvinka. I’m afraid that I don’t know which of his folk tales this scene depicts.
Krychevskyi painted Miner’s Love in 1935 following a visit to the coalfields of the Donbas. It was intended as the first in a series titled Youth of Donbas, but never progressed beyond this painting.
His Merry Milkmaids from 1937 turns more to genre scenes, although it was deemed insufficient to toe the line of Soviet official narrative.
In the Second World War, Krychevskyi remained in occupied Kyiv where, despite his Jewish origins, he escaped the massacre of Babi Yar in 1941. He then joined his older brother in Königsberg in 1943, and they tried to flee west in advance of Soviet forces. When they overtook his train, he was arrested by the NKVD as a collaborator and interrogated. Although innocent, he was stripped of his awards and exiled in Irpin, just outside the northern outskirts of Kyiv. He died there of starvation in the summer of 1947, during the Soviet famine of 1946-47. He wasn’t ‘rehabilitated’ until 1959, when the first exhibition of his work was held in Kyiv.
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.