Fedir Krychevsky is an outstanding representative of Ukrainian artistic culture of the twentieth century. His name may be listed alongside with the prominent masters of European national schools of modern times. Krychevsky is part and parcel of the Ukraine as Kustodiev of Russia or Saryan of Armenia. The national originality of Krychevsky’s creative work marked its special significance for Ukrainian art.
The moulding of Krychevsky as a painter took place at the turn of the century, when new tendencies in art became fairly obvious. According to his creative aspirations, searches of vivid, large pictorial form Krychevsky certainly belonged to the modern times. He was not “swallowed up” by the numerous artistic trends and tendencies of the beginning of the century, that is he did not lose his identity. Krychevsky selected his own path which he followed during his whole life.
Being a child of his time, he was first and foremost a son of the people. He felt a deep and indissoluble connection with the people. His “passport” is his creative work. It unfolds the character and spirit of the people and, above all, the people’s wholeness of disposition. This was primarily the decisive factor in the formation of his style.
Having chosen the people as the main theme of his art, Krychevsky introduced many new traits in the development of this genre. For him, the same as for many painters of the beginning of the twentieth century, the theme of the people was a desire to establish firm and positive principles of life. This loyalty to the people was inherited by the artists from the nineteenth century, but applying different monumental means for its assertion. Krychevsky was not a portrayer of morals and manners or an illustrator of folk life. He did not search for a mere ethnographic likelihood or colour of everyday life, which was a frequent interest of his predecessors or contemporaries. He also rejected any illustrative descriptiveness, he did not resort to cheap popular paintings and stylization. Krychevsky strived to impart a monumental importance to the folk theme. He brought it out from the minor genre art into the epic sphere.
Krychevsky exalted the ordinary man consciously and purposefully. He asserted the strength and beauty of folk nature as a source of physical and spiritual health.
The folk character of his art takes its deep roots from his native soil. Krychevsky grew up in Malaya Vorozhba, a small Ukrainian village in the Kharkiv region, and the folk environment, masterpieces of folk craftsmen, were the strongest and most vivid impressions which left a deep imprint on his creative work. They formed in the artist’s heart a powerful layer of folk character which was not shaken by any later features and influences. The Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture was Krychevsky’s first thorough training in mastership (1896-1901). He completed his artistic education much later in the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts in Rubo’s studio (1907-1910). Krychevsky’s programme painting “The Bride” (1910), which he exhibited at the Academy exhibition, was in essence his artistic programme. This is a mature work of art, in which the painter expressed his views, peculiarities of his creative work. The traditional topic of everyday life has been interpreted in a new manner. The generalized decorative form of the painting, based on a lofty statical rhythm, large pictorial spots, strong and rich proportions, scrupulous selection of details, acquires the significance of a monumental pictorial system. It determined the principal landmarks on Krychevsky’s creative path in creating cheerful and strong folk images with a broad generalization of life. Krychevsky’s connection with folklife was constantly strengthened and enriched by new impressions. The village Shishaki, in the Poltava region, served as a source for the painter’s observations. This picturesque place, which retained the poetical colour and wisdom of folk tenor of life, played an important role in the painters fate. This place became the painter’s poetic symbol of his native country. In addition to inspiration and themes for his creative work the artist also drew here a “supply” of spiritual health. Precisely this closeness to folk, healthy sources of perception helped the painter to overcome all influences of quickly passing fashion. Symbolic abstractness or affectedness of the modernist trend were foreign to Krychevsky. He was wholly under the influence of vital images, drawing his inspiration from the beauty of full-blooded real life. Love of the “earthly” flesh of things, an aspiration for strong form not subject to deformation are expressed by him with absolute sincerity and ingenuousness. This is vividly manifested by the peculiarity of the painter’s cheerful world outlook, which determined the life-asserting force of his art.
It is true that in the 1910 period Krychevsky did not escape the influence of decorativeness of the Munich trend. But Krychevsky did not become a follower of society refinement of the Munich secessionists. The course he followed was of full-blooded folk art, and he paved this way with great determination and strictness. Krychevsky’s optimistic style was shaped under the influence of severe and simple forms of folk life. His palette absorbed decorative richness and restrained tact of ornamentation of Ukrainian carpets, embroidery, ceramics. These factors enriched Krychevsky’s creative art and rendered it an original character.
Krychevsky is noted for a broadness of artistic views. During his travels he studied carefully everything new in the field of art of his time. He paid close attention to everything new which was near to him, but not contrary to his own convictions. In those years Krychevsky took a great interest in Whistler and Hodler. The fine harmony of colour and originality of composition of the first one, as well as the monumental laconicism of the second one had a certain influence on the painter. But the artist’s imagination was at the time under greater influence of the Renaissance masters, whose work he studied carefully in Italy. The grandeur and beauty of form won Krychevsky’s admiration; they were close to his aspirations.
The important thing is that everything that Krychevsky liked and studied at the time he invariably reworked into his harmonious artistic system, without being subjected to any particular influence. His individuality was very strong and firm, not surrendering to any fashion nor to other’s tastes.
The roots which linked the painter with folk art were very strong in him. However Krychevsky’s individuality and his hand seemed to have been formed, important progress took place in the painter’s creative work in the twenties. The Revolution attracted Krichevsky, already a mature artist, by a irrepressible rhythm of vivification and reconstruction. Art of the twenties was inspired by ideas of the Revolution, it lived an impetuous and strenuous life. The boiling stream of events put monumental art in the forefront, it was considered as the leading form, it occupied a prominent place. Krychevsky did not keep aloof from the requirements of the period, lie was among those who laid the first stones in the foundation of the new art culture. Even though he continued to work in the sphere of easel painting, he was irrepressibly attracted to monumental forms of art.
The completeness of artistic expression as well as a clear maturity of skill developed together with the purposefulness of new and bold searches. Capacious lapidary style, strict architectural constructivism of composition, which gained strength in those years, imparted a particular monumental perfection to Krychevsky’s style. Many of his easel works, painted in tempera, resemble mural painting in their nature.
One of the most outstanding creations by Krychevsky of those years, the triptych “Life” (1925-1927), is based on the principles of fresco construction. The painter takes the ways of ancient monumental art as his starting point. Krichevsky strives to master the principles of monumental laconicism used by the ancient masters, but remains faithful to his creative positions. Krychevsky makes a study of tradition, which enriches him, but it does not make him a slave or imitator. The painter succeeded in attaining in his work an organic just proportion and completeness of expression of the artist’s intention.
Triptych compositions are impressive and lofty, they contain the wholeness of large generalization of the fresco style. Richness of linear rhythms, musicality of elastic and flexible silhouettes, restrained nobleness of local colour spots — all of this is synthesized in a single powerful sounding of the whole. The central part of the triptych “The Family”, which was exhibited with success at the Biennale International Exhibition in 1928, is noted for particular harmony and just proportion of inner rhythm.
The final part of the triptych, “Homecoming”, disclosed a new side in Krychevsky’s creative work. The tragedy of its content, the depth of conveying human suffering are expressed powerfully with genuine artistic force and tenseness. Thus, Krychevsky appears as a versatile painter who mastered not only cheerful images, but also the dramatic nature of expression, psychological tenseness of characters. His talent unfolded itself much deeper and more ponderable.
The triptych summed up a new stage in Krychevsky’s creative work. The new and significant which he achieved was not a chance occurrence or an episode. This is a natural result of his line in art, of his continuous aspiration for enrichment and expressiveness of monumental and plastic pictorial means. The artistic principles of triptych received their continuation in a series of monumental compositions based on Shevchenko’s poem “Kateryna”, which was created later, during the prewar years. In Krychevsky’s subsequent creative work seem to prevail two lines: work of the fresco style with linear rhythmics and expressiveness of sharply outlined silhouettes, as well as paintings, vivid and decorative in colour, with a pasty picturesque texture and juicy voluminous modelling. These are not in contradiction, they contain common principles based on the painter’s single creative method.
In the paintings “Match-Makers” and “The Mother” of the late twenties the full-weight pictorial transmission of proportions, festive richness of colour, is once again triumphant. The enlarged forms are strictly balanced and architectonically organized, plastically complete and monumental. Krychevsky achieved richness of colour, intensive sounding of colour which is permeated with light and air, and at the same time does not upset the strong monumental forms, does not destroy the strictness of constructive construction.
Krychevsky had a gift of harmonic vision, a talent for bringing all components of artistic expressiveness to a stable equilibrium. His inspiration is combined with strict orderliness and logic. Utmost strictness and exactness of colour construction is the principal trait of Krychevsky’s method. By means of colour he constructed powerful and strong proportions of picturesquely combined matter, at the same time revealing clearly the structure of the subject. He resolutely excluded all that was superfluous, secondary, which hindered to convey a strong and expressive form. Krychevsky never tolerated any gaudiness, or showy decorativeness. All of his work was imbued with a distinct form of great monumental generalization.
In the thirties the painter’s leading theme sounded as before brightly and optimistically. Krychevsky created outstanding historic paintings, such as “Dovbush” and “Conquerors of Wrangel”, noted for special monumental breadth of realization. The mighty gallery of folk characters is painted with rare artistic force, which was hardly attained at the time by anyone in Ukrainian art. The inner epicism of characteristics has much in common with the images created by the motion picture producer Oleksander Dovzhenko. Krychevsky can be called a master of strong and manful characters. The people appeared to him, the same as to Dovzhenko, strong and unsubdued, Krychevsky glorified the people’s cheerful and resolute spirit. All of Krychevsky’s paintings represent a development of a common cycle about the people’s manful beauty. They embodied a definite aesthetical and ethical ideal of the painter. This is a harmonic image of our contemporary, full of strength and energy. Krychevsky did not strive to depict his characters as an abstract “scheme” of positive traits. His images are products of life, they bear an imprint of its completeness, its colouration.
Krychevsky developed his line in art consistently and profoundly. His theme broadened, acquiring new “distinctive marks” of the time. His paintings embodied ever more the bright and cheerful rhythm, which was observed in contemporaneity. These are “The Native Land”, “Coal Miner’s Love”, “Grandfather’s Story”, “Merry Milkmaids”, “Blooming Ukraine” which were painted by him in the thirties.
Krychevsky’s paintings possess another distinctive feature: they are national, but not due to outward ethnographic effect. His images seem to convey a spirit of the people’s ancient history. Krychevsky portrayed the people’s character in its formation and development. His generalizations are therefore not outside of time, they are linked with life, with contemporaneity. At the same time Krychevsky selects strong, vitally staunch and positive traits which comprise the strong side of folk character. He raises it to a wide plan common to all mankind, rendering it a general significance. A painter of large scale, he was a genuine national painter.
Krychevsky did not cover all aspects of life, he did not strive to universality. He had favourite topics, his own range of images. Krychevsky created a unique and original realm of artistic images, sufficiently capacious and vivid to embody his impressions, his ideals. This is why Krychevsky’s creative work is deeply individual. The painter is of a pronounced individual quality, the expressed the peculiarities of his world outlook completely and vividly.
As a painter and teacher Krychevsky took a very active part in the art life of the Ukraine. His name is closely connected with the creation of a national art school in the Ukraine.
Krychevsky added a most vivid and original page to the history of Ukrainian Soviet art. He reflected in his creative work the most vital and strong humanistic principles. By means of his art he opened new path to monumental synthesis, to full-blooded artistic form. His power lies in the mighty and ardent assertion of life.