The creative work of the prominent Ukrainian artist Mykola Pymonenko (1862–1912) occupies a place of note in Ukrainian genre painting of the late 19th and early 20th century.
Mykola Pymonenko was born on the 9th of March, 1862, in a suburb of Kyiv, Priorka, into the family of an icon painter. He first learned drawing from his father. From 1878 to 1882, he was a student at Kyiv Drawing School. After finishing the school, he entered St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts, but due to a poor health he had to stop studying and return to Kyiv in 1882. From the very beginning of his creative career Pymonenko was attracted by genre painting.
The works of the artist made in 1885—1887 are quite diverse thematically. From the end of the 1880s and on, the life of Ukrainian peasants became the main theme in his creativity. Scenes of various rites prevail in paintings done in the late 1880s—early 1890s: Fortune-Telling on Christmastide, 1888; Wedding in Kyiv Gubernia, 1891; Matchmakers, 1892; Fortune-Telling, 1893. With great authenticity, and often poetically, these works, as well as others done during the same period, reflect rural customs typical of the time.
The canvas Wedding in Kyiv Gubernia (1891) marked the beginning of Pymonenko’s creative maturity. It was the work which for the first time so vividly demonstrated the artist’s skill and ability to elaborate a subject so interestingly and in detail. It showed his skill in achieving a great convincingness while representing a certain situation or character, in conveying truthfully and expressively the feelings of the personages portrayed, in finding a natural pose and an individual characterization for each of the persons depicted.
In the late 1890s, as well as in the early 20th century, Pymonenko often painted fairs (At a Fair, 1898; A Fair, 1904; The Row of Pottery Stalls, 1911; and others); and also many pictures in which he portrayed rendezvous of girls and young men, treating such works in a lyrical vein. Also at that time he began turning to urban themes (A Kyiv Flower-Girl, 1897 and 1908; Meeting with a Fellow-Villager, 1908).
A special mention should be made of the canvases devoted to acute social problems (Seeing Off a Recruit, 1893; A Victim of Fanaticism, 1899; Mob Law (Horse Lifter), 1900; The Call-up of Reservists, 1910), pictures which set one thinking over the hard lot of people, over the social conditions on which they depended. A number of Pymonenko’s paintings are, in fact, generalized portraits which are the embodiment of a popular ideal of the working man (A Young Woman; A Reaper, 1889; A Linen Seller, 1901). The artist also turned to the theme of peasant labour, depicting typical scenes from every-day life against the backdrop of a landscape (Harvest-Time, 1896; A Reaper, 1889; A Ploughman, FIay making in the Ukraine, 1907). Sometimes, and in the 1890s in particular, Pymonenko executed certain paintings whose subject and personages are of a comical or sugary character (Don’t Trifle, 1895; and other canvases representing scenes of dates of girls and young men).
In most of the artist’s works, the action of the picture unfolds amidst a landscape and more often than not his paintings are noted for their lyrical, poetic and optimistic mood. There are only a few of his pictures which show nature in a dramatic and joyless state (Before a Thunderstorm, 1906; The Call-up of Reservists, 1910).
Because of somewhat monotonous technique of painting, the state and mood of nature are not conveyed expressively enough in the canvases of the 1890s. But from the very beginning of the 20th century, Pymonenko began treating most of his works in a different manner. Their colour gamut became richer, and painting technique freer. The landscape became more inspired and the role it played in the emotional system of a picture conspicuously increased. At the same time the importance of a subject worked out in detail and meant to reveal the content of a picture diminished; the subject as such became simpler.
Pymonenko also created several paintings on historical themes (Taking the Field, two versions—1901 and 1902; Returning from the Campaign) and made a few sketches (The Cossacks Drinking Water, The Cossacks Having Rest, Bogdan Khmelnitsky, and others). The artist’s approach to all these works is that of a genre painter, genre motifs being specially stressed.
Pymonenko painted portraits as well, depicting mainly the members of his family and his acquaintances. The best of these speak of the artist as an experienced master who could expertly convey the age, appearance and character of a sitter. From time to time the artist turned to book illustrations. He made illustrations to Taras Shevchenko’s poems The Bewitched, Drowned Woman, The Water-Nymph, Maryana the Nun.
During all his life Pymonenko worked much, taking an active part in the artistic life of Kyiv. From 1885 to 1892 he showed his works at the exhibitions of St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts; from 1893 and up to the last day of his life at the exhibitions of the Society of Itinerary Art Exhibitions, a full member of which he was elected in 1899. In addition, he took part in the exhibitions of the Society of South-Russlan Artists from 1891 to 1896.
In 1907 Pymonenko began exhibiting his works abroad — in Munich, Paris, Berlin, London. In 1909 he became member of the Paris International Union of Art and Literature. A number of the artist’s works were purchased by foreign art galleries.
Pymonenko devoted much effort to upbringing and training gifted youth. He was an instructor at Kyiv Drawing School (1884—1900) and Kyiv Polytechnlcal Institute (1900—1912). In 1900 he took an active part in the organization of Kyiv Art School where he worked till 1906.
Pymonenko died on the 26th of March, 1912, when he was in the prime of his life. The artist’s creative works and activities were generally recognized and highly appreciated during his life by such progressive Russian and Ukrainian cultural workers as V. Stasov, M. Murashko, I. Repin. His accomplishments were also highly appraised by St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts when he was elected Member of the Academy in 1904.
Throughout his whole creative career, Pymonenko upheld realistic and democratic principles in art. His paintings are distinguished by profound humanitarianism, close links with the people, and poetic nature. They speak of the artist’s good knowledge of Ukrainian peasants’ life, his skill in rendering national peculiarities of the mode of life and in creating highly expressive characters from common people.
As a master of genre painting, Mykola Pymonenko ranks among outstanding Ukrainian artists of the late 19th — early 20th centuries. His creative works have preserved their artistic value and continue to play an Important role in the development of Ukrainian painting.