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The Fidelity of Ukraine (1972)

The text of the leaflet which accompanied the display Feodosiy Humeniuk's drawings in the University Library Entrance Hall is provided below. Images of the drawings can be accessed through this link.

'I am for stillness', declares the Ukrainian artist Feodosiy Humeniuk. 'I am for an art that is deep and peaceful, like the soul of my people'. In the works on display here at the Cambridge University Library, Humeniuk evokes a Ukrainian rural idyll, a human community at one with the natural world. Yet his peace is not repose. It is a quickening of the soul and the senses brought about by vibrant colour, rich symbolism, and dynamic composition.

Humeniuk executed these works in coloured pencil between 2003 and 2011. For an artist whose corpus abounds in oils and watercolours, they are in part an exercise in speed and portability. Each of the works on display situates the semiotic elements of Ukrainian folk tradition within a highly modern compositional architecture. Diagonal arcs crisscross the canvas, while an absence of depth cues causes figures to float freely on its surface. Symbols at the centre - a stork, invoking fertility, or a garland of wheat and poppy, representing the unity of Ukraine - exercise centrifugal force, radiating meaning and energy outward to the margins, where women gather water and men ride horses to unseen horizons. Like the master Mykhailo Boichuk (1880-1932) before him, Humeniuk overcomes the boundaries between past and present, between the provincial and the progressive, to collapse time and space and gesture toward eternity.

Cockerel with Poppy Heads (1974)

The beating heart of Humeniuk's creativity is Ukraine. The oil paintings shown on this page, composed during the Soviet period and given here to contextualize the works on display, offer insight into Humeniuk's mythopoetic vision of Ukrainian history and culture. They also demonstrate the artist's radical divergence from Soviet-mandated Socialist Realism and testify to his emergence as a prominent Ukrainian dissident in the Brezhnev era. In The Fidelity of Ukraine (1972), produced soon after the artist's graduation from the Ilya Repin Institute in Leningrad, Ukraine is depicted as a woman whose classical features recall Byzantine mosaic portraiture. Before her stands the cockerel, which embodies in Humeniuk's universe a call for Ukraine's national awakening and rebirth. The motif is repeated in Cockerel with Poppy Heads (1974), a work that marks Catherine II's 1775 destruction of the Cossack Zaporizhian Sich, a polity remembered by Ukrainians as a bastion of freedom and independence. Here Humeniuk couples the cockerel with a shock of poppy heads symbolising the unity, integrity and autonomy of Ukraine. The painting constitutes a declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.

Humeniuk explores the legacy of Ukrainian Cossackdom in his rendition of the Kozak Mamai (1974), which captures with lithe lines and in luminescent colour the ancient, iconic image of a lone Cossack wanderer. A similar rhythm and tone can be felt in The Masked Performers (1975), a homage to the traditions of Ukrainian vertep theatre, which are alive today.

Kozak Mamai (1974)

The pictorial formula behind the works on display in the University Library is evident in The Fair at Sorochyntsi: The Potter (1982), in which sinuous lines, mimicking the movement of the potter's wheel, conjoin human and animal figures. The painting is a meditation on the role of the artist, who gives shape to the world around him and generates, like Humeniuk himself, material objects that enrich and enliven the soul.

R. Finnin


Feodosiy Humeniuk (b. 1941) is one of Ukraine's great artists, a visionary master who brings legends to life. He is an Honoured Artist of Ukraine and winner of the prestigious Shevchenko Prize (1993). In 2009 he was given the title of People's Artist of Ukraine.

Humeniuk was born in the village of Rybchyntsi, near the city of Vinnytsia in central Ukraine. He studied at the Dnipropetrovs'k Art College where he was a pupil of Iakiv Kalashnyk. In 1971 he graduated from the Ilya Repin Institute for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in Leningrad.

The Masked Performers (1975)

In 1975 he organised an exhibition of nonconformist artists in Moscow, a seminal event that defied the enforced tenets of Socialist Realism. After participating in another exhibition of nonconformist art in Leningrad in 1976, he was accused of nationalism and denied the right to reside in Leningrad. Together with his wife Natalia and his daughter Ulyana, Humeniuk moved to Dnipropetrovs'k, where he lived for six years. In 1983 Humeniuk returned to Leningrad, where he was invited to participate in the exhibition of the Group of Fourteen. In 1989 his work was exhibited abroad at the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa, York University in Toronto, and the Ukrainian Museum in New York. His work was later exhibited at the Grand Palais in Paris. In 1993 Humeniuk began to direct a studio at the National Academy of Art devoted to historical painting, a genre he has sought to revive in Ukraine. In 2000 he was named professor of painting and composition.

Humeniuk has held over twenty solo exhibitions and participated in over forty group exhibitions. His work, skillfully combining folkloric content and avant-garde form, is a cornerstone of contemporary Ukrainian art.


This exhibition is hosted by the Cambridge University Library in partnership with Cambridge Ukrainian Studies, a programme of the Department of Slavonic Studies at the University of Cambridge.

The Fair at Sorochyntsi The Potter (1982)

Cambridge Ukrainian Studies aims to promote and contribute to the study of Ukraine in the United Kingdom and beyond. It is committed to deepening public understanding of Ukraine and to advancing fresh, innovative approaches to research on the largest country within Europe, a critical crossroads between 'East' and 'West' with a rich historical, linguistic, and cultural inheritance.

This exhibition is the latest in a long line of collaborative projects between Cambridge University Library and the Slavonic academic community. Others include the Library's online bibliographical notes on the seminars hosted by CamCREES, the Cambridge Committee for Russian and East European Studies, and the forthcoming Library exhibition and related academic conference on the Catherine Cooke collection and Soviet design.




Pictures copyright Feodosiy Humeniuk and Rory Finnin.