The famous Ukrainian painter Antin Manastirsky (1878—1969) is one of those artists whose métier evolved at the juncture of two centuries and two social-historical epochs.
Antin Manastirsky was born in the village of Zavaliv (now Ternopol Region) into the family of a minor post office official. He lived and worked mostly in Lviv. From 1900 to 1905 he studied at the Cracow Academy of Art, whose staff — noted Polish painters such as Jan Stanisîawski, Stanislaw Wyspianski, Leon Wyczôlkowski, Julian Faïat and Ferdynand Ruszczyc — had such a beneficial influence on many of the Academy students, Manastirsky included.
The artistic interests of the young Ukrainian painter were not associated with Cracow, Paris or Rome — then the main attraction points for young artists seeking new impressions — but rather with his native Galicia and its people. After his studies he returned to Lviv and immediately devoted all his energy to developing Ukrainian national art which at that time was practically at a standstill.
Manastirsky travelled extensively throughout Galicia and studied the people’s life and mores in all their manifestations, acquiring a sympathetic attitude toward their hapless fate and discovering for himself the beauty and spiritual riches of the ordinary labourer. Even in his small but skilfully executed miniature landscapes, he not only projected the intoxicating beauty of Galicia’s natural scenery, but was also unequivocally articulate in accentuating the social inequality and injustice reigning in the old Galician countryside (e. g., Hutsul Huts, A Poor Peasant’s Dwelling, Old Schoolhouse in the Village of Borki, Sunlit Cottage, and The Old Mill).
In his productions devoted to the First World War, the artist frankly expressed his anti-imperialist sentiments and condemned brutal violence (e. g., his graphic works Refugees Near a Village, At the Crossroads, and By Her Son’s Grave). Manastirsky held folk art in high esteem. For him it was a great source of inspiration, a criterion for judging factual reality and his own creative work during the years he spent in artistic quests, and also for gauging the struggle for realism while formalism and modernism were rife in the arts in the 1900s. It is scarcely surprising that Taras Shevchenko’s works, as an expression of popular artistic perception, served the artist as models for imitation. Epic literature, folklore, music, folk songs, architecture and applied art — all this found its interpretation in many of Manastirsky’s paintings and graphic works, as, for instance, in his By the Grove, A Maid Went Walking by the Shore, The Reapers Work Upon the Hill, On the Barrow, Death of a Friend, At the Watering Place, and In Pursuit of a Tatar.
Manastirsky’s preference for motifs from history, folk music, folklore and ethnography, and the public-minded spirit underlying his works were in tune with the artistic searches of other Ukrainian painters of his day, particularly Serhiy Vasylkivsky, Mykola Murashko, Mykola Pymonenko, Porfiriy Martinovich and Fotiy Krasitsky who tended to follow the St. Petersburg school and its traditions in painting. Such a community of interests strikingly expressed their aspiration for a united Ukrainian nation, which had long been divided by arbitrarily imposed borders.
The best portraits done by Manastirsky — Peasant Types, Head of an Old Man, Portrait of Mother, Two Friends, The Sacristan, and Zaporozhian Cossack — reveal his high level of portraying definite types and the many facets of their psychological traits, as well as his great skill as a portraitist who had mastered not only the world traditions of the art, but those of the Russian realistic school represented by Ivan Kramskoi and Ilya Repin.
As a graphic artist, he created his own unique collection of national life in his numerous illustrations to children’s books and textbooks for Ukrainian, Polish, Byelorussian and Lithuanian schools; a collection that established his wide erudition and knowledge of the life of other nations and a deep respect for their culture. Along with such Western Ukrainian artists as Yulian Pankevich, Olena Kulchytska, Yaroslav Pstrak and Osip Kurilas, he made a considerable contribution to the development of realistic graphic art in book and magazine design in the 1900s.
Manastirsky is also credited with making a serious contribution to Ukrainian landscape painting. He produced a series of lyrical landscapes of the Carpathian highlands which he knew intimately, conveying their manifold beauty with remarkable sensitivity (e. g., Mountain Stream, Prut River Valley, Waterfall at Yaremche, Source of the White Tisza, and The Varatin River).
The lyrical quality and grandeur of mountainscapes has been caught and translated into the pictorial language which Manastirsky built up by studying the finest classics in art and the best works in Ukrainian painting. Light, delicate brushwork, dominant greens and blues with silvery tones, a real sense of colour balance, a well-conceived compositional arrangement, consummation of form, laconic and restrained treatment, and poetic feeling — these are probably the most distinctive features of Manastirsky’s best landscapes.
The artist lived most of his life in Western Ukraine. His works have been on show in more than forty exhibitions. More than ten one-man shows were staged in Ukraine, and his oils have found their way to many museums throughout the country. Antin Manastirsky died at the age of 90. Today his best productions have become part of Ukraine’s cultural treasure-house, and represent a vivid page in the history of Ukrainian painting.