Leonid Perfecky is best known in the Ukrainian community as a painter of battle scenes. Traditional battle painting portrays soldiers and horses in direct contact with the enemy, firing at close range or engaged in hand-to-hand combat with sabers or bayonets.
Perfecky’s family originated in Galicia in Western Ukraine but moved to Eastern Ukraine long before the First World War. Leonid Perfecky was born on February 23, 1901, in Ladyzhyntsi in the district of Kiev. During the war his parents lived in Kazan. Perfecky finished his secondary education at Orel and entered the university in Moscow. His studies were interrupted when, along with other students, he was mobilized. He completed officer cadet school in Peterhof, near Petrograd. Perfecky served in the reserves and, after the Bolshevik revolution, chose to enlist in the army of the Independent Tatar Republic, He was able to continue his studies at the University of Kazan.
When the Bolshevik forces began to exert pressure on the Tatar Republic, Perfecky moved to Kiev and began to serve in the Ukrainian army. Until 1921 participating in battles was a full-time occupation for Perfecky. He commanded a cavalry company and, as he himself writes, refuting the words of General Krai, had no time to “note down” any armed encounters or battle episodes. Indeed, the artist had no materials in his possession with which to do so. His extraordinarily detailed rendering of events, executed some years later, he attributed to a keen visual memory, a good knowledge of the anatomy of the horse, his constant companion, and the practical knowledge acquired from his experience in the conduct of campaigns and battles.
After the final seizure of Eastern Ukraine by Soviet forces, Perfecky emigrated with the remnants of the Ukrainian National Army to Poland. He entered the Cracow Academy of Arts and studied with Professor Dembicky. He also became a close friend of the Polish artist Wqjciech Kossak, the leading master of battle scenes, and often visited his atelier. However. Perfecky developed his skill of depicting battle scenes on his own; he never took lessons in this area from any artist.
In 1925 Perfecky moved to Paris, taking with him, as a token of his military past, a Turkish saber with the emblem of the “Zalizna Diviziya” — the Iron Division of the Ukrainian National Republic. In Paris Perfecky studied, with other Ukrainian artists, in the art school of Andre Lhote. He remained in Paris, earning his livelihood as an artist and displaying his works at various European exhibits until the outbreak of the Second World War. He was deported to Germany as a laborer but managed to move to Lviv, where he worked as an illustrator and teacher at the local art school. When the infantry division “Galicia” was formed, Perfecky joined its ranks as a military artist and produced a series of works on the life and experiences of the division.
After the war Perfecky emigrated to Canada, where he decided to live in solitude in a building owned by the Cathedral of Montreal. He devoted the last years of his life to religious painting. Perfecky was a master of both watercolor and colored pencil. Occasionally he combined the two techniques. He painted relatively fewer works in the oil medium, but this is not to say that his oil paintings are of lesser artistic quality. Sadly, few survive; because of their large size, they were easy targets for destruction.
In all of Perfecky’s works, whatever the medium, the drawing dominates. This is due to the artist’s keen visual memory, which enabled him to note and recreate complicated scenes in exquisite detail. Perfecky’s works are of great value both artistically and historically. His legacy should be carefully preserved as an indispensable document of historical events as well as an eloquent testimonial of a fearless participant in one of the greatest struggles of our time.