Maria Primazenko: Her work miraculously survived the Russian bombing

  • Although Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall admired the works of Maria Primachenko in the 1930s, over the years the artist has become somewhat forgotten. She came back to the public’s mind right after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine
  • On February 26, the Russian army bombed the village of Iwanko in the Kyiv region. One of the missiles hit the local museum where the works of Maria Primachenko are located. Thanks to the heroic attitude of the residents, it was possible to get some paintings out of the burning building
  • In her works, apart from fascinating themes, one can see a sociological subtext. Primachenko chose the main themes of her time and provoked their absurdity
  • At the beginning of May this year, the painting by Maria Primazenko “Flowers grew on the fourth square” from 1990 was sold at auction for the Armed Forces of Ukraine for 500,000 zlotys. Gap.
  • Text published thanks to the courtesy of Meduza website. Please support the work of freelance Russian journalists
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On February 26, Russian troops fired on the village of Ivankov in the Kyiv region – as a result, the local museum, which houses the works of Ukrainian artist Maria Primachenko, was destroyed. Residents saved 12 paintings from a fire, after which the whole world learned about the artist. Her works are sold at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars, some of which have become a symbol of the struggle for peace.

On that day, the museum keeper, Anatoly Charitonenko, and a resident of Ivankov, Igor Nikolaenko, did not hear any explosions, but noticed smoke rising from the roof of the museum. Together with another young man, whose name is not known Mikowazhenko, they set out to save the paintings of one of the most famous Ukrainian artists, Maria Primachenko, from the fire. The guard didn’t have the keys, but the villagers who were nearby managed to crack and break the bars of the windows. They took 12 Primachenko paintings from the fire, grouped together (they were not on display at the time) and standing in the same room.

When the museum’s roof later collapsed, many artworks remained in the building and could not be saved. After the fire, only the walls remained from the museum. According to Nadia Biryuk, head of the Department of Culture, Tourism, Youth and Sports of the Ivansk Municipal Council, an unknown philanthropist has already volunteered to rebuild the burned-down museum.

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At the same time, according to the granddaughter of Maria Primachenko – Anastasia, who runs the institution in the name of the artist – all her works that were in Ivanovo are preserved. The institution does not specify where it is stored now, but it is known that the painting “Scarecrow” (1967), drawn on paper with gouache (water-based paint with a mixture of chalk – ed.), was shown at the Venice Biennale. We requested comment from Anastasia Primachenko on this matter. But until this article was published, we didn’t get it.

Who was Maria Primachenko?

The artist was born in 1908 in the small village of Bołotnia, Kyiv region. Her father, Awksenty Grigoriewicz, was considered skilled in carpentry – he made fences in ancient Slavic patterns. Her mother, Praskowia Vasilievna, was engaged in needlework and taught this craft to Maria, who all her life wore handmade and decorated shirts.

As she remembers, she painted in the sand as a child, then painted her house with bluish clay and “then she didn’t stop drawing.” As a teenager, she painted her neighbors’ house, which – as Primazenko’s friends recall – was rewarded with a pig that helped her family survive starvation.

From 1925, Primazenko studied embroidery in Ivanovo, and in 1936 the artist, weaver and embroiderer Tatiana Flor invited her to participate in experimental workshops at the Kyiv Museum of Ukrainian Decorative Arts (later turned into the School of Masters of Folk Art), where she began. Deals with embroidery and ceramics.

Bright works with strong patriotic motifs were shown at the Ukrainian Folk Art Gallery and then sent to Paris for the Expo in 1937. There they were seen by Pablo Picasso, who was said to have “worshipped the talent of this genius Ukrainian woman”. Later, Primachenko’s paintings were appreciated by Marc Chagall.

In the 60s, a new wave of popularity began with Primachenko – thanks to an article written by Yuri Rost in “Komsomolka”. The journalist visited her hometown and wrote an article about the artist. It helped her a lot later. He even held an exhibition for her in Moscow (she did not answer the phone calls to the journalists of “Medusa”). In 1966, Primachenko was awarded Taras Shevchenko, and four years later she became the Honorary Worker of Art of Ukraine. In 1988 he became People’s Artist.

Despite her fame, Maria Primachenko did not intend to leave her village. She lived her whole life “in a thatched hut in the country”, raising pigs, goats and geese. She did not like to sell her business. She distributed it to her friends and neighbors (apparently after the exhibitions, her work was simply not returned).

Pictures of Maria Primachenko

In addition to the fascinating theme and the large color scheme of “Marusi Primachenko”, as the Soviet press calls it, there was also an important sociological text in the artist’s work – she chose the main themes of her time and raised their absurdity to a surreal level.

One of her pre-war works is Animal Manor. A black monkey is writing a protocol on the table, and two wolves are standing on tiptoe in front of it. An important place in her work is occupied by the war (her husband died in the foreground) and the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (her native village was only 20 km from the exclusion zone). Primachenko reportedly refused to leave her home at the time.

One of the most famous works from the “Chernobyl series” – “Old grandfather herded a cow near the fourth building and put on it bags of kapron so that it would not get sick. But he eats grass and does not listen to his grandfather” (1987). The photo shows a cow with cellophane bags on its legs, apparently so that it does not touch the radioactive soil.

Maria Primazenko has in her productions other series, such as “Kukurydza” and “Kosmos” of the 60s. The artist claimed to be inspired by the nature and fauna of her native village, but her work features dogs, oxen, magpies, such as plus animals she’s never seen before (she’s never been to a zoo, never seen crocodiles or elephants she’s cut), and even fictional animals Which she chose her names herself: Gorbutros, Wallach and others. It is generally accepted that the earlier the work is completed, the closer the themes are to reality, but after the war and the Chernobyl disaster, the subjects became more magnificent and the colors more vibrant.

Since 1968, Maria Primachenko has worked on illustrations for books (“Oy, koniki-sivashi”), and sometimes composed her own texts (“Tovche baba poppy”, 1970).

After her death, Maria Primachenko left a legacy of two thousand people. Paintings, many of which are preserved in Ukrainian museums – for example, in the National Museum of Ukrainian Folk Decorative Arts in Kyiv, there are about 600 of them.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Maria Primachenko “Blue Ball” from 1947 on a Ukrainian postage stamp (2020)

Streets and avenues of Kyiv, Barware and Kramatorsk are named after her. The works of Maria Primachenko were used on Ukrainian stamps and coins, and in 1998 an asteroid was named after him. Despite the popularity and influence on Ukrainian art of the twentieth century, Primachenko did not establish her own art school. Her only and persistent student of the tradition of painting was her son Fedor.

On the centenary of the artist’s birth, UNESCO declared 2009 the “Year of Primachenko” in Ukraine. Her exhibitions in recent years have ranged from Iceland to Thailand. Art historians have devoted columns to art journals. In August 2021, a playground with sculptures of Primachenko’s animals was opened in front of the residence of the President of Ukraine.

“The dove spreads its wings and asks for peace”

News of the bomb attack on the Ivanovo Museum and the possible loss of the works of Maria Primachenko quickly spread throughout the world. Activists began publishing the artist’s work on their websites as a gesture of support and solidarity.

In particular, on the street in St. Lewis, Missouri’s 1982 painting “The Dove Spreading Its Wings and Renewing for Peace” appeared, although it was not in the museum in question. In California, the art group Justice Murals placed a screening of “Dove” at the end of the building, among other works by Primachenko. In San Francisco, more than a hundred protesters painted a seven-meter version of the picture in front of the city’s railway station, calling for an end to the war in Ukraine.

At the beginning of May, Primachenko’s painting “Flowers Grown in the Fourth Square” from 1990 was sold at auction for the Ukrainian Armed Forces for 500,000 zlotys. Gap. (The starting price was 5000). In the case of Primachenko’s works, this is an absolute record. For example, at the Italian auction last year “Wannenes Art Auctions” her work cost 2-3 thousand. Gap. (But the painting has not been sold.) After the outbreak of the war 110 thousand. Euro at the charity auction “Benefit to the Ukrainian people and culture” at the Venice Biennale, another work of the artist, “My Home, Our Truth” (1989) was sold.

The income from the sale of “flowers” was allocated by the charitable foundation of the Ukrainian bidder and presenter Serhiy Pritwa to support the army. Seven Volkswagen minibuses were purchased for the defenders of Mikowagio. The second batch of cars was transferred to the Eastern Front. The hood is decorated with a painting of Maria Primachenko.

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