Protecting Ukrainian Art

Painting by Joshua Reynolds - The Laughing Girl

An exhibition of old European masters from two national museums in Ukraine opened at the Vilnius Picture Gallery on April 18. The exhibition continues the cooperation of the Lithuanian Art Museum with its Ukrainian counterparts to preserve the most valuable collections during the war.

The exhibition features treasures from the Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery, Ukraine’s largest art museum with almost 20 branches. A small part of the Gallery’s collection is on display in Vilnius, in the recently opened new building of the Radvila Palace Art Museum. And the Vilnius Picture Gallery displays works from one of the gallery’s subdivisions, the Lozinski Palace.

According to Aistė Bimbirytė, one of the curators of the exhibition, the works on display at the Picture Gallery follow the typical profile of the old collections accrued by the magnates of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which included much of present-day Ukraine. The collections of Ukrainian museums give a sense of what could have been on display in the courts of Lithuanian noble families.

Photo ELTA / Dainius Labutis

“We are showing works that could have been in any other place, that in one way or another relate to Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine. [Artists] who have worked here, or foreigners who were invited, perhaps by nobility. There are artists such as Józef Oleszkiewicz, who linked to the Vilnius School, Jan Rustem and others,” says Bimbirytė, Director of the Vilnius Picture Gallery.

The exhibition also features works made in the workshops of Western and Central European Old Masters from the Khanenko Museum in Kyiv, including half a dozen works from the 16th century.

One of the highlights of the exhibition – featured on its posers – is the Laughing Girl by the 18th century British painter Joshua Reynolds. “Notice the light in this painting, which is similar to Rembrandt’s work, and art historians say it pays homage to the old masters,” according to Anastasia Matselo, curator of the exhibition.

Another gem of the exhibition is a work by François Boucher, an 18th-century French painter, printmaker and one of the most famous exponents of Rococo, entitled Cupids.

François Bouchers’ painting Cupids                   

“Our museum has the largest collection of works by old masters – around 25,000 from antiquity to the 21st century,” says Matselo of the Khanenko Museum. “Today in Vilnius, we exhibit 49 different genres: religious paintings, portraits, landscapes, still lives, and genre scenes. Some of the paintings were on permanent display in our museum before the war, others were in storage and had never been shown to the public before this project.”

This exhibition is part of the Lithuanian Art Museum’s cooperation with Ukrainian museums to preserve their most valuable collections during the war. In May, the Museum will host two more exhibitions of miniatures and prints from Ukrainian collections, while the Museum of Applied Arts and Design currently hosts the exhibition Ukraine: the Spiritual Treasures of an Invincible Nation.

The exhibition continues until September 17.