Legendary Leopolitans No. 13: Olena Kulchytska, Arts without borders
Olena Kulchytska is indisputably one of the most prominent Ukrainian artists of the 20th century. During her lifetime her paintings were exhibited at nearly sixty shows in Ukraine and abroad in cities including Kyiv, Lviv, Berlin, Brussels, Warsaw, Vienna, Helsinki, Cracow, Moscow, Paris, Poznan, Prague, Rome, Toronto, and Chicago. A 1987 UNESCO resolution, commemorating the 100th anniversary of her birth on an international scale, points to her outstanding talent
The Olena Kulchytska Art Memorial Museum was founded in 1971 in the former apartment and studio of the paintress. According to the will of O.Kulchytska the apartment and all her creative work was bestowed to the Ukrainian people in the form of a gift to the National museum in Lviv. The highlights of her variegated work are displayed in the four spacious rooms of the museum.
Her early works were characteristic of Modern Secession, a movement where artists threw off the bonds of academic judgment. She then integrated elements Ukrainian folk art and thereby formed an artistic individuality with a strong national character whose creativity ranks with the best artists of the world. Oil-paintings, graphics, samples of decorative and applied art, personal writings, memorial pieces and archives, showed on display, manifest multifaceted talents and achievements of this great Ukrainian artist of the 20th century.
Olena Kulchytska demonstrated her talent in a variety of artistic mediums. Her output in oil paintings, watercolors, graphics, weavings, clothing designs, sketches for ceramics, carpets, and interiors, enamel, metal, and small-form sculptures shows the depth of her talent. While this variety could result in weaker works when attempted by a lesser artist, Kulchytska demonstrated an uncanny ability to achieve mastery in all these mediums.
Kulchytska was born in Berezhany (Ternopil region) on the 15th of September 1877 in the family of a clerk. She received her primary art education in the private studio of popular Lviv artists Stanislav Batovskyj and Roman Bratkovskyj from 1901-1903.
After 5 years study at the art-and-trade school in Vienna she received her diploma. She then travelled around Western Europe, getting acquainted with the museums of Paris, London, Munich.
But soon she returned to Lviv, where her parents lived. In Lviv she got acquainted with the best representatives of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, such as Ivan Trush, Ivan Franko, Lesya Ukrainka, Vasyl Stefanyk, Mychailo Kotsiubynskyj. She couldn't devote herself to her art work because of her family situation. Her parents were old and needed every kind of support from her. So in 1909, when her father died, she started to work as a teacher of drawing first in a Lviv gymnasium for girls and later in Peremyshl'.
Kulchytska is known for her great achievements in the book illustration, examples of which are also part of the Lviv exhibit. She illustrated many books written by Ukrainian writers, both contemporary ones and those which were already considered classics of Ukrainian literature. These included illustrations for Vasyl Stefanyk’s short story “The Road” (1917), and Ivan Franko’s long poems “Fox Mykyta” (1922) and “Moses” (1939).
Kulchytska also did the illustrations to Ukrainian Demonology by Volodymyr Hnatiuk and Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky. Besides creating numerous bookplates, the artist did portraits of the most outstanding Ukrainian writers, such as Hryhorii Skovoroda, Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko, Ivan Kotliarevsky, Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky, Lesia Ukrainka, Ivan Franko, and Taras Shevchenko.
She did the illustrations for children’s books including Bukvar (ABC Book) and Chytanka (Reader) and was also responsible for the design of the Svit dytyny (Children’s World) magazine (1919-39). This magazine’s first illustrator was Kulchytska, and has now been revived. A special issue will feature her illustrations. This may be the best way to promote Kulchytska and familiarize children with her works. Even though she never married, much of her life was linked with children and young people, and for many years she worked as an educator.
In 1938 Kulchytska started to work in the museum of ethnography, developing her artistic views and deepening her knowledge. Ten years later, in 1948 she became a Professor of the Ivan Fedorov Lviv Polygraphical Institute.
Her pursuit of creativity in a variety of mediums seems tireless: together with her sister Olga they worked on national furniture, improving its decoration and also engaged in carpet-making thus contributing to Ukrainian national decorative art. Her works were exhibited both in Europe and America.
Throughout the decades various researchers and admirers of Kulchytska’s art bestowed many superlatives on her: creator of unforgettable images, master of treasures, master of Ukrainian etchings, artist-ethnographer, and people’s artist. The last description was bestowed on the artist not because she received a corresponding title (People’s Artist) in 1956, but because to a large extent her creative work was based on folk art.
Olena Kulchytska died in 1967 when she was almost 90 and was buried in Lviv in Lychakiv cemetery. She left a rich heritage of her works, changing Ukrainian art forever: oil canvases, water-colour, graphic works, engravings and even hand-made carpets. She bequeathed them to the people through the Lviv State museum of Ukrainian art.
You can see her work of this great artist here in Lviv.
The Olena Kulchytska Art Memorial Museum
Working hours:10:00-17:00; closed on Friday and Saturday.
7, Lystopadovogo Chynu str., Lviv
Tel. : (032) 261-07-06