Vasyl Sedliar, illustrations of Shevchenko`s “Kobzar”

Exclusive by Ukrainian Art Library

“His artistic manner is very close to folk style of painting with “kvatch”*

In 1937 “boychukist” (follower of boychukism), V. Sedliar, was arrested by NKVD and then shot. For long years his name disappeared from the history of the Ukrainian art and culture. He and his fellow artists were characterized as “enemies of the Soviet people, that distorted the Soviet way of life, whose works must be liquidated.”

In our days, after the reedition of Sedliar`s “Kobzar” by “Дух і літера” in 2009, his illustrations were recognized as real masterpieces. The editors illustrated the book with the graphical works of the second edition (1933). Ukrainian Art Library presents to the readers 44 illustrations of the first edition (1931). The second edition was partially in colour, while the first one was black and white.

*a kind of home made brush

In 1920-1930th there used to be some special traditions of illustrating Shevchenko`s poetry. Several artists (V. Shternberg, P. Martynovitch, K. Trutovsky, O. Slastion) illustrated only separate pieces of poetry. One of Sedliar`s innovations was illustrating “Kobzar” in whole.

In Sedliar`s letters to his muse. Oxana Pavlenko, he described the obstacles and problematic points of his work. In the letter he also mentioned that one of his passionate supporters was Vadym Meller, an avant-gardist painter. At that time he was the head of the State Publishing House in Kharkiv.

After Meller had been dismissed from his job, the work was continued in Kyiv where the it was published first in 1931 and then in 1933. The editor in chief of both editions was V. Waisblat whose nickname was Ol. GUER.

“My work is moving ahead very hard. I have been busy with a lot of guests lately and I am a bit tired with all the images of the project in my mind. There is a significant tension, very sudden,” – this is one of Sedliar`s epistolary complaints. He completed his work in September of 1929. It included the cover of the book, 50 big illustrations and 26 small ones. In the spring of the following year in the newspaper “Харківський пролетарій” (Proletarian of Kharkiv) his illustrations were called “a real monument to the poetry by Shevchenko and a great contribution into the Ukrainian artistic culture” by Meller`s students.

“This masterpiece is striking by its epic description of the topic and penetration into the inner world of the poet. All 75 graphic illustrations have been united into a complete artistic panorama just like the poems of “Kobzar”. The illustrations represent the image of Shevchenko – rebel, not a kind of romantic and lyric poet.”

The book was out in February of 1931 supplied with 54 white and black illustrations (from this edition – illustrations in this Ukrainian Art Library Exclusive). The circulation was 5000. Sedliar got very satisfied with the edition. In one of his letters he wrote: “Glushchenko sent me a cutting from “Prader Presse” with a very positive review on my “Kobzar” illustrations.”

After that V. Sedliar took a decision of designing another edition of “Kobzar” but with the illustrations in colour. It was out in May of 1933 (the circulation was 10000 copies) to mark the 120th anniversary of Shevchenko’s birth. There were 65 illustrations (18 in colour) in that edition.

Some years later started the campaign against “boychukism”, a long and sad story. Boychuk, Sedliar, Padalka and other artists were arrested and shot dead on the 13th of May of 1937. Sedliar`s artistic legacy was destroyed, “Kobzar” was withdrawn from libraries and bookshops.

Only in 1960th the process of returning the name of the artist started. The reedition of the unique “Kobzar” was carried out only after the proclamation of the Ukrainian independence.

An art critic and collector Ihor Diachenko wrote comprehensively about Sedliar`s illustrations: “His compositions are full of expression, they represent culmination points in all the episodes. His graphic drawings have much in common with the folk style: every touch does not caress paper, it “pushes” the material, marking it with tense not regular lines. In this way the artist creates the image with ascetic drawing, looking like a sketch. His illustrations of “Kobzar” demonstrate high, european level of Sedliar as an artist”.

Illustrations of Shevchenko`s “Kobzar” by Vasyl Sedliar

44 illustrations from 1931th edition – Exclusive by Ukrainian Art Library.