Mykola Azovksy Paintings

A Retrospective Exhibition

Mykola Azovsky was born in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 1903, into a privileged family. He was the grandson of the prominent nineteenth-century Russian painter Vasily Vereshchagin and the son of a distinguished army officer of Ukrainian Cossack descent. Azovsky began to study painting and applied arts at the Kyiv State Art Institute in the 1920s and graduated in 1928. During his academic years Azovsky’s main teachers were Mykhailo Boichuk and Fedir Krychevsky, and he closely associated with great contemporaries such as Ivan Padalka, Mykola Rokytsky, and Vasyl Sedliar. Azovsky’s oeuvre of portrait, landscape, and monumental works of art combined a Modernist view of the monumentalist tradition of icon painting with expressionist motifs. The artist enjoyed working in stage design and particularly excelled in tapestry making which from the 1920s through the 1930s was reinterpreted as a modern art form in Ukraine. Azovsky's tapestry technique expanded both the West European tapestry tradition and the use of textiles in Ukrainian folk art.

Azovsky was presented along with Boichuk, Padalka, Rokytsky, Sedliar and other prominent Ukrainian artists, at the national exhibition of applied arts in Ukraine in 1936. The exhibition received international acclaim but the fate of the *Boichuk School rapidly deteriorated. By late 1936, the atmosphere of Stalin’s terror worsened and Boichuk, Padalka, Sedliar, and several other masters were arrested. In 1937, they were all executed, accused of participating in a “terrorist organization” fabricated by Stalin’s henchmen. Azovsky was fortunate in having his life spared as he had moved from Kyiv to the Donbas area of Ukraine. He went on to became one of the rare Ukrainian artists whose work was featured at the Soviet pavilion of the 1937 World Fair in Paris and at the Venice Biennale.

In 1939, when western Ukraine was annexed to the Soviet Union, Azovsky moved again to Lviv, the regional capital of that part of Ukraine. He made the daring transit along with Mykola Nedilko and Mykhailo Dmytrenko, both prominent representatives of neo-impressionism in Ukrainian art. Azovsky went on to become an important member of the vibrant artistic community of Lviv for several years.

Azovsky witnessed first-hand the horrors of Stalinist terror. Like many other important Ukrainian artists and intellectuals, he lost close friends and loved ones to it. He emigrated to the West a few years later during World War II, along with many other prominent members of the Ukrainian intelligentsia. The journey to the west was often perilous and tragic. While trying to reach Western Europe, Azovsky was arrested by the Gestapo and spent four months in a Nazi prison in Vienna. He was released upon the intervention of Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church hierarchs in Rome and moved to Italy in 1945 with his young daughter, the only surviving member of his family. The years in Italy were among the most fruitful in his artistic career. By 1947, Azovsky made his last journey with his daughter and immigrated to Argentina. Sadly, he passed away two weeks after their arrival in Buenos Aires. Azovsky’s work has been exhibited internationally since 1930, and in 1977, a major posthumous retrospective of his work took place.

*From 1910 through the early 1930s, the Boichuk School was the most influential group of modernist painters in Ukraine. It was named after its founder and leader, the prominent artist Mykhailo Boichuk (1882–1937). Boichuk’s work reflected his extensive art training in Paris and incorporated Byzantine icon painting tradition and Ukrainian folk art. Boichuk’s friends, associates, and students, who came to be known collectively as the Boichuk School, created an original movement in art by uniting elements of monumentalism and expressionism. The works rivaled that of great masters of their time such as Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, and Clemente Orozco. The Boichuk School artists received high acclaim both in the USSR and internationally. Their aesthetic independence quickly proved undesirable to the Bolshevik regime and as a result most of the members of the Boichuk School perished during the Stalinist terror in the late 1930s. The overwhelming majority of their masterful works, especially murals and oil paintings, were physically destroyed.

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