Home Silhouette Listening to my Ukrainian Silhouettes

Listening to my Ukrainian Silhouettes


Watching the information of Russian forces rolling into Ukraine a fortnight in the past I used to be embarrassed to grasp simply how little I knew in regards to the nation. I needed to look it up on a map! What’s the historical past, I puzzled. Why is that this taking place? I discovered I knew nearly nothing about both Ukrainian tradition or historical past.

Listening to so many horrific studies shortly started to take an emotional toll. I switched the information off and, out of curiosity, started to surprise if there have ever been any Ukrainian silhouettists? For me, silhouettes can present a singular window into different cultures. They offer me a connection, one thing I can perceive and relate to. If I might discover some, I hoped they may assist me perceive what was happening.

I used to be stunned and delighted to seek out a minimum of two units of Ukrainian silhouettes hiding in my very own assortment!

Silhouettes from Kyiv and Odessa

I say “hiding” as a result of in my ignorance I had mis-labelled them as Russian. I’ve collected quite a lot of silhouettes with Russian-seeming labels, however as I couldn’t learn the script it was exhausting to seek out out a lot about them. I put them in an envelope marked “Russian” and thought little extra about them.

Silhouette of a girl, facing right with a white ribbon in her hair
Silhouette of a lady with elaborate initials, inscribed “Kyiv twenty first July 1953”

I introduced them out and did what I might to translate the labels. Right here’s what I discovered.

I’d prefer to introduce a few artists whose names I don’t know. It’s doable they’re the identical artist, however as most their silhouettes are unsigned it’s exhausting to make sure. One among them had the behavior of embellishing their silhouettes with elaborate initials, along with the place and date of reducing. The primary time I noticed this I assumed the initials had been these of the artist; however quickly different examples turned up, clearly by the identical artist however with totally different initials. It follows that these are the initials of the sitter (maybe added for an additional price) and that the silhouettes are unsigned.

I’ve seen quite a lot of these silhouettes courting from the late Nineteen Forties to the mid Sixties, so the artist was working for a while. The labels inform me the artist labored in each Kyiv and Odessa in Ukraine, in addition to Kislovodsk and Sochi in Southern Russia (simply north of Georgia). This was the period of the USSR and the Individuals’s Republic of Ukraine (URSR) was firmly underneath this umbrella.

The silhouettes are lower in typical street-art fashion, some with particulars added in ink. I think about (however can not show) that the Odessa and Sochi silhouettes had been made within the summer-holiday season close to the seashores of the Black Sea. These in Kyiv had been doubtless made as souvenirs of visits to the Golden domes of that stunning metropolis.

Who’s the artist? Reduce close to Kyiv College Metro Station

I’ve no concept to what extent vacation making and tourism had been a characteristic of life within the USSR, however the the truth that silhouettists might make a dwelling this fashion tells me it did exist. One other artist (or presumably the identical artist working a couple of years later) did signal their silhouettes, however not in a fashion I can learn. Are you able to assist me decipher it?

The silhouettes are all mounted on folding playing cards, every with a preferred view of Ukraine on the quilt. They’re all signed the identical manner, which tells me that is the artist’s signature reasonably than the title of the sitter.

Three examples of the same signature, dated from 1963 to 1967
Who is that this artist? Are you able to assist me decipher their title?

Are you able to assist me learn the artist’s signature? I’m guessing … Ulebrenno or … Ulebrenna, however I don’t know if this can be a Ukrainian title or not. Click on on the picture to enlarge it.

The again of the playing cards have a label in Russian which I translated with the assistance of Google. The quilt simply says “A Memento of Kyiv” whereas the again says the cardboard was revealed by the State Publishing Home of High quality Artwork & Music of the URSR, priced 2 kopek. The engraving of the College Metro Station is by an artist referred to as KS Kozlovsky, however this isn’t the title of the silhouettist who I think about was merely utilizing these playing cards as a lovely and economical strategy to mount their silhouettes.

Monument to Taras Shevchenko on the quilt of a silhouette card from Ukraine

Different playing cards present on the quilt a memorial to the nineteenth-century Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, who performed a number one position in a burgeoning motion for Ukrainian independence, Shevchenko has the curious distinction of getting statues erected in his reminiscence each by the Soviets in Ukraine in addition to by the Individuals in Washington DC. Each cultures regarded him as a hero!

Kyiv College (and therefore the Metro station) is known as after the identical poet.

A pair of silhouettes from Odessa

Two silhouettes of a man and woman face to face and the initials "EM"
A pair of silhouettes by the identical artist inscribed “Odessa ninth August 1949”

I purchased the above pair of Odessa silhouettes just some months in the past from an eBay vendor in Kyiv. I do hope he’s OK! Just one is inscribed, so I can’t actually make certain these are a pair, however they arrived collectively so I preserve them collectively. Stylistically they every resemble each the artists above, which is why I ponder if they’re the identical artist. Each silhouettes are broken, however I actually like these basic Ukrainian profiles, particularly that of the person. Together with his lengthy white shirt and imposing forehead, he seems to be like any individual you wouldn’t need o mess with!

The Ukraine All-Russian Exhibition, 1913

Winding the clock again one other 40 years or so, I’d prefer to introduce you to the silhouettist Ok. Smejkal. Over time I’ve collected a variety of silhouettes by Smejkal from totally different sources, all of which had been lower in Kyiv in 1913.

Silhouettes of two military men and two women with elaborate hats, all mounted on postcards from the Kyiv exhibition
Silhouettes by Ok. Smejkal lower on the Ukraine All-Russian Exhibition, Kyiv, 1913
Exhibition poster with an angel holding a lily in one hand and a re/yellow shield in the other
Poster for the Kyiv Exhibition, Could-October 1913

The label underneath every silhouette signifies they had been lower on the Ukraine All-Russian Exhibition which befell that 12 months in Kyiv. A second label on the again reads: “Ok. Smejkal, Silhouettiste Artistique, Prague”

These silhouettes are clearly lower by a proficient silhouettist of a few years expertise, but I’ve by no means seen another labelled silhouette by Smejkal. The label on the again signifies he was based mostly in Prague, but his use of French signifies he in all probability labored throughout Europe.

This was the age of the “Grand Tour”. Individuals had been keen on travelling from metropolis to metropolis throughout Europe in what appeared, simply previous to the First World Conflict, like an age of unbreakable European peace. Ukraine on the time was a part of the Imperial Russian Empire, whose Royal household had connections throughout Europe. Moscow itself was then thought of a European metropolis.

The All-Russian Exhibition befell in Kyiv from Could to October 1913. I haven’t been capable of finding a lot out about it; Wikipedia (a minimum of the English language model) is silent on the topic. But I do know that many European capital cities held massive “Expositions” in the course of the first a part of the 20 th century. A poster for the exhibition offers info in each Russian and French, making the worldwide nature of the occasion clear. It will have included pavilions dedicated to artwork, science, literature and Ukrainian tradition.

View across a river showing fountains and classic buildings
Postcard displaying the exhibition website in Kyiv

Many of those grand European Expositions had silhouette artists working at them. Because the contract would have been substantial it was worthwhile for the artist to print a card for mounting their silhouettes. Due to this fact, it’s commonplace to seek out silhouettes on exhibition playing cards by artists who in any other case stay invisible. It merely implies that the remainder of the time Smejkal mounted his silhouettes on plain, unsigned playing cards. That is disgrace, as his work was clearly glorious.

Ukrainian Silhouettists at this time

Silhouettes artists at this time are all linked by social media. I do comply with quite a lot of Russian silhouettists, one in all whom @siluetistka I now realise relies in Odessa, Ukraine. The title on their their Instagram profile, Художник-силуэтист, simply interprets as “Silhouette Artist” which isn’t very useful.

Their final put up (a silhouette which seems to be unnervingly like a youthful model of me) is dated July 2019, so clearly they’re even worse than I’m at preserving updated on social media! Sadly, the web site on the silhouette card is at present down, so I haven’t been capable of uncover anything about them or discover out in the event that they’re OK.

What do these silhouettes inform me?

It will be optimistic to anticipate an excessive amount of from this assortment of obscure Ukrainian silhouettes. Nonetheless, the actual fact that almost all of what I assumed to be Russian silhouettes are in reality Ukrainian does inform me one thing. Silhouettes have all the time been a European artwork and these silhouettes level to a rustic with deep cultural connections to each Russia and Europe.

Black-paper original silhouette signed & dated 2022
On the market on Instagram in assist of Ukraine

From a European silhouettist working on the All-Russian Exhibtion in Kyiv to native silhouettists working across the Black Sea in each Ukraine and Russia, the latter referencing monuments to a well-know Ukrainian poet. Ukraine appears to look each East and West concurrently.

To me, this understanding appears to imbue the atrocities at present being dedicated by Russian troops in Ukraine with a good larger sense of tragedy. It has a number of the feeling of a civil struggle: individuals who had been so just lately neighbours and good mates all of a sudden discovering themselves as enemies.

It’s exhausting to know what a silhouettist can do to assist. In fact, I can all the time lower a silhouette or two and am comfortable to take action if it helps to boost funds. I’ve begun by providing the unique silhouette of the Ukrainian harp (used on the e high of this text) as a part of the #ukrainesupportpledge on Instagram. You possibly can message me from my Ukrainian Harp put up should you’d like to purchase it!


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