Parallels in Ukrainian and Jewish Approaches to Creating “National Styles” in Art in the First Third of the Twentieth Century

Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed the creation of “national styles” in art, which built on the contemporary penchant for historicism, even while searching for a new art style and responding to a certain social demand by peoples who were in the process of active nation building. Jewish and Ukrainian “national styles” in art took shape under similar socio-historical conditions, around the same time, and in the same geographic places. An important motivation they shared was resistance to suppression of their culture and heritage by empires and dominant nations. Both believed that a national style should be founded on form rather than on themes, and that form should be based on national heritage—in particular folk art—while reflecting contemporary sensibilities. Artistic "schools" emerged for both the Ukrainian and Jewish "national styles" (known as Boichukism and the Kultur-Lige respectively). There was a degree of collegiality and interaction between the Ukrainian and Jewish artists who were at the forefront of developing the respective "national styles" and one can observe similarities in their works, as is evident in the illustrations featured below.

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1 & 2_Ukrainian Muse_Abraham_Isaac
Fig 1. (left) I. Buriachok, cover for the poetry anthology The Ukrainian Muse, 1908; Fig. 2 (right) E. Lilien, Abraham and Isaac, illustration to the Bible, reproduced in the catalogue of the personal exhibition by E. Lilien in Lviv in 1914


Fig 3. M. Boichuk, Ukrainian Girl. Early 1910s. Tempera on cardboard. Lviv Art Gallery, Yaroslava Muzyka Fund.


Fig 4. M. Boichuk, Yaroslavna (Daughter of Prince Yaroslav the Wise). Early 1910s. Tempera on cardboard. Lviv Art Gallery, Yaroslava Muzyka Fund.


Fig 5. B. Aronson, Illustration to the poem “The Plucked Flower” by Z. Shneur. Xylograph, 1920 (reproduced in the book B. Aronson, Sovremennaia evreiskaia grafika. (Berlin: Petropolis, 1924), 19.


6_7_Barvinok cover_Mischievious Boy
Fig 6. (left) T. Boichuk, I. Padalka, cover of the collection of children’s stories Barvinok, 1919; Fig 7. (right) El Lissitzky, book cover for The Mischievous Boy by M. Leib, 1919.


8_9_Zori cover_Ridne
Fig 8. (left) H. Narbut, cover of the journal Zori (Stars), 1919; Fig 9 (right) I. Rybak, cover of the volume Ridne, (Our Own) 1920.


Fig 10. (left) J. Chaikov, cover of the catalogue of the Jewish Exhibition in Kyiv, 1920; Fig 11. (right) H. Narbut, the titular page to the book Hallelujah by V. Narbut, 1919, ink, National Art Museum in Kyiv.


12_13_Solntse truda cover_Molodniak
Fig 12. (left) H. Narbut, cover of the journal Solntse truda (The Sun of Labor) 1919, ink, National Art Museum in Kyiv; Fig 13. (right) N. Shifrin, cover of the journal Molodniak (Youth), 1923, ink, The Russian State Archive of Literature and Arts in Moscow.


14_15_Adventures_Torah sheild
Fig 14. (left) M. Boichuk, book cover for The Adventures of Tartarin from Tarascon by Alfonse Daudet (Lviv, 1913), Lviv Art Gallery, Yaroslava Muzyka Fund. Fig 15. (right) Torah-shield, Western Ukraine, second half of the nineteenth century. Lviv Museum of History of Religion.


16. M. Shekhtman, Victims of a Pogrom, 1927, National Art Museum in Kyiv.




by Vita Susak

Vita Susak is director of the department of European Art Collection at the Lviv National Art Gallery in Ukraine