Serhiy Vasylkivsky was one of the most popular Ukrainian artists at the turn of the 20th century. His works are displayed in the major museums of our country and abroad as well.
Vasylkivsky was born on October 19, 1854, in the picturesque town of Izyum on the Donets River, Kharkov Gubernia. The fascinating natural beauty of the Ukraine evoked in the painter-to-be an urge to represent all he saw in vivid colour. After graduating from the gymnasium, Vasylkivsky studied at the Kharkov Veterinary School, but soon abandoned it for the Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts, which he entered in 1876. At the Academy, he studied landscape painting (1879—1883) and also attended classes in battle painting. Later, he turned to history and genre scenes and portraiture. Landscape, however, was his forte, the scope of his works being rather broad — from miniature to monumental painting. Nature in various seasons constitutes the main theme of his paintings. The winter scenes feature mostly motifs of snow-covered roads, frosty dawns and icy twilights; summer is depicted by willow trees mirrored in the water, harvest time and hay making; there are spring thaws and flood plains; autumn is a blaze of leaves deep in the forest and lakes in rainy weather.
In 1886 Vasylkivsky went abroad, chiefly to visit Paris. There, the artist was especially attracted by the art of the Barbizon painters who mostly worked in plein air. He made copies of works by Corot, Rousseau, Daubigny and Diaz, visited art museums in Spain, Italy, England, and studied paintings by the great masters. And everywhere he painted from nature. Canvases of the foreign period brought the painter European recognition. The Paris Salon favoured him with the rare honour for a foreign artist of exhibiting his works in its halls without the approval of the jury.
In 1888 Vasylkivsky returned to the Ukraine to work at home for the remainder of his scholarship. He travelled widely in Kharkov and Poltava gubernias, went down the Dnieper to Zaporozhye, everywhere drawing and painting from nature with great inspiration. The works dating from 1890—1900s executed in Kharkov became his greatest achievement — classic Ukrainian landscape paintings. They are, first of all, A Cossack Picket (1888), Cossack Meadow (1893), Chumak Romodan Road (1902) and Cossack in the Steppe (1900s). All of them, despite the variety of motifs, techniques of execution and dimensions showed certain common traits — national motifs and accurate representation of nature.
Living mostly in Kharkov, Vasylkivsky was at the centre of artistic life in all the regions of the Ukraine east of the Dnieper. For many years he headed the Kharkov Art Society. At the artist’s first one-man show, held in the autumn of 1900 in Kharkov, Vasylkivsky presented 120 works, the majority of which were landscapes: boundless steppes, the sunlit Dnieper, shady village streets with cherry orchards in bloom, mysterious dark lakes overgrown with rushes, and calm Ukrainian nights.
To the last days of his life, despite serious illness, the artist continued to work on his last painting Ballad of Three Brothers. On October 8, 1917, Vasylkivsky died. The legacy of the artist includes about 3,500 works, mostly landscapes. His finest paintings are lyrical and epic songs where the emotional and the rational have merged to glorify the natural beauty of the Ukraine.
Books about Serhiy Vasylkivsky:
- O. Nikolayev. Serhii Vasylkivsky: life and work. Kharkiv, 1927.
- M. Rutkovskiy. Serhii Vasylkivsky. Prague, 1927.
- A set of postcards by Serhii Vasylkivsky. Kyiv, Mistectvo, 1984.
- Serhii Vasylkivsky. Album. Kyiv, Mistectvo, 1987.
- Serhii Vasylkivsky: Ukrainian fate of Wild Field. Exhibition catalogue. Kyiv, 2013.