Samokysh was born on September 25, 1860, in Nezhin, Chernigov region. He spent his childhood in the village of Nosivka where he first became acquainted with Ukrainian folk art, songs and legends.
From 1868 he attended the Nezhin two-year elementary school and then the Nezhin Classic Gymnasium of Kushelev-Bezborodko. In the Gymnasium, Samokysh took his first drawing lessons from R. Tsibulsky, a graduate of the Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts.
Eleven years later, Samokysh entered the Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts and joined the battle-painting class headed by B. Villevalde, a representative of the academic school of painting. The young artist was strongly influenced by P. Chistyakov, V. Yakobi, M. Klodt, V. Orlovsky and several other noted artists who were instructors at the Academy.
In 1880 Samokysh obtained his first award — a Small Silver Medal for his etude portraying a horse. A year later he was awarded another Small Silver Medal for his sketch “Return of Troops to Their Homeland”, and in 1883 — a Great Silver Medal for an academic drawing and an etching. Shortly after, an important event in the artist’s life took place: his oil “Out for a Drive”, painted during his summer holidays in the Penza Gubernia, was bought by the famous Russian collector and connoisseur P. Tretyakov.
After winning the required number of Silver Medals, Samokysh took part in the competition for a Small Gold Medal. The painting presented was his “Battle of Maloyaroslavets”, based on an episode from the Patriotic War of 1812. For his diploma work — “Return of Russian Cavalry After Attack at Austerlitz” — Samokysh was awarded a Great Gold Medal and granted a maintenance allowance for four years to study abroad in Paris, Beilin and Italy. After his return in 1889, he made three big paintings commissioned by the Tiflis Historical Museum: “The Battle at Avilyar in 1877”, “Battle at the Jori River” and “Defence of the Naura Stanitsa”. Concurrently, he painted tho picture “Watering Herd of Horses” which in 1890 brought him the honorary title of Academician of painting. In 1900 Samokysh was awarded a Great Silver Medal in Paris for his painting “Four at the Bend in the Road”. The most distinctive feature of this canvas is brilliant portrayal of horses racing at full gallop.
In the nineties Samokysh particularly excelled in the medium of graphic art and produced quite a few illustrations to classic literary works. During a trip to India and Egypt, he made a great deal of pen drawings depicting the hard labour endured by national tribes enslaved by colonizers. About the same time he made a series of drawings depicting the defence of Sevastopol.
In 1900 he and the artist S. Vasilkivsky collaborated in publishing the album “Old Ukraine”. Later, he prepared for publication another album, “Ukrainian Ornaments”, which came out in Prague. Shortly before the war, already 80 years old, Mykola Samokysh was still actively working as an artist and instructor at the Kharkov Art Institute.
Mykola Samokysh died at the age of 84, in Simferopol, on January 18, 1944. The creative path of the artist was made up of burning, tireless work, and of unselfish service for the good of the people. His legacy will always be a valuable contribution to Ukrainian art.