March 24 — A Farewell to Kuindzhi

“Portrait of Aristrakh Kuindzhi,” Grigoriy Kalmykov (1910)

On March 11th, we rang alarm bells about the danger to the Arkhip Kuindzhi Art Museum in Mariupol.

Unfortunately, on March 23rd, our dire prediction came true: the museum was destroyed. This charming building in the Secession style no longer exists.

According to press reports, three paintings by Arkhip Kuindzhi, including “Red Sunset on the Dnieper,” were removed from the museum before its destruction. If this proves to be the case, it will be cause for a small celebration. However, the Arkhip Kuindzhi Art Museum housed 650 paintings, 960 works on paper, 150 sculptures, and more than 300 objects of applied art. It also had a collection of documents, letters, and memorabilia relating to the artist’s life. As we understand it, all of this has been destroyed.

Aristarkh Kuindzi’s palette

Many works of 19th-Century Russian art — Russian art! — were exhibited on the museum’s first floor. Among them were pieces by Ivan Shishkin (1832 – 1898), Alexey Bogolubov (1824 – 1896), Vasily Vereshchagin (1842 – 1904), and Lev Lagorio (1826 – 1905).

A gallery on the first floor of the museum

Among the most important paintings lost to the fire are the portrait of Arkhip Kuindzhi painted by his pupil Grigoriy Kalmykov (1873 — 1942) and the sketch of Ivan Aivazovsky’s (1817 – 1900) “Sunrise on the Shore of the Caucasus.”

“Sunrise on the Shore of the Caucasus,” Ivan Aivazovsky
“Portrait of S. A. Tsurikov,” Vasily Vereshchagin

Paintings by the Ukrainian artists Mykola Hlushchenko (1901 – 1977) and Tetyana Yablonska (1917 – 2005) were also destroyed.

We have no updates on the fate of other Mariupol museums, such as the Local History Museum, the Museum of Folk Life of Mariupol, and the Museum of Ethnography and History of Azov Greeks.

The Mariupol Regional Museum

If Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukrainian museums in general — and Russian art in particular — continues at this pace, I wouldn’t be surprised if the discussion about “restitution in kind,” so cherished by Russian cultural officials and museum directors, takes an ironic turn. Since 1991, the Russians have defended the secret removal of museum collections from Soviet-occupied former Nazi Germany as “legal compensation” for cultural losses during the Second World War.

Does this mean that the Russians will be footing the bill for the destruction of Ukrainian culture? This begs a question: what is proper restitution for exploded architectural landmarks and burned paintings?