Forty years ago, on a gloomy November day, talented artist and Mykhailo BOICHUK’s pupil Yaroslava MUZYKA passed away and was buried in the family crypt at the Lychakivske Cemetery. But until recently, the name of this talented artist was rarely mentioned in Ukrainian art literature.
“The fate of the artist is a vivid example of how we cannot keep neither talents, nor memory of those whose creative work is genuinely national in content and spirit, modern in shape and restless in search for innovation,” wrote art critic Vira STETSKO in the Obrazotvorche mystetstvo (Fine Arts) magazine in 1995.
The future artist was born on January 10, 1894, in a picturesque town Zalistsi near Ternopil. After moving to Lviv with her parents, young Yaroslava Stefanovych studied at Stanislaw Batowski’s private art studio for two years.
In 1909, the family moved to the building of the Taras Shevchenko Scientific Society on Charnetsky Street (now 26 Vynnychenko Street). Here the girl visited Ivan TRUSH’s studio, which was located on the floor above, meets the brother’s friends, young representatives of Lviv bohemia, adepts of art at the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts Mykola FEDIUK and Mykhailo OSINCHUK, as well as head of the student society “Medical Community,” bacteriologist Maksym MUZYKA.
The next significant meeting was with Mykhailo Boichuk, who returned from Paris in 1910 and to whom the Shevchenko Scientific Society gave the apartment just vacated by Trush. Art critic Olena Ripko wrote: “Yaroslava just turned 16. She is impressed and deeply excited by visits to the fanatic artist’s gallery, who has been living nearby for four years. He... passionately expresses his goal: creation of such high, noble art forms which would be eternally understandable... to the people and would serve their spiritual revival. Now she is seriously into it. The decision to study art is conscious.”
The artist remembered for her whole life Boichuk’s methods of teaching and his artistic guidance. She also admired her favorite teacher’s human qualities. She preserved photographs, letters, and some of the teacher’s works as valuable relics until her death.
At the same time, she attends drawing and painting classes at Batowski’s Free Academy. Graphic artist Vitvitsky was her teacher. But as the artist herself wrote later, “I could not attend the university after my father’s death.” She continues self-education, which was based on notes of conversations with Boichuk, and turns her room into an art and alchemy workshop.
In 1924, Yaroslava marries Muzyka, who was vice-president of the Secret University in Lviv. The artist starts working for the restoration department of the National Museum, where she meets Volodymyr Peshchansky, a restorer and keeper of Ukrainian icon painting, who became the second “most authoritative teacher” for Yaroslava Muzyka.
After studying at Andre Lhote’s private academy in Paris, the artist comes back to Ukraine, full of fresh artistic and organizational ideas. The first one was of a group exhibition, displayed at the Industrial Museum. It was done jointly with the leader of the formists Andrzej Pronaszko, writer and neoclassical graphic artist Bruno Schulz, and representative of “Jewish expressionism” Frederick Kleinmann. The artist’s experimental works Fish, Conches, Crawfish, Corn caused a sensation in Lviv’s artistic life.
Having flawlessly mastered the technology of icon painting and learned the conceptual basics of style creation in the late Byzantine and early Ukrainian mosaics and frescoes, Yaroslava Muzyka invented her own artistic style, which she successfully implemented in painting, graphics, and enamel art. One can feel the coordination of conceptual foundations of Boichuk’s neo-Byzantine art with elements of avant-garde styles of the first third of the 20th century: expressionism, futurism, art-deco, and secession in her works Portrait of a Man in the form of an Icon, Old Man with a Beard, Hutsul with a Pipe, Horses, Adam and Eve.
Besides artistic work, Yaroslava Muzyka develops active organizational and creative activity. The artist becomes close with the great art enthusiast Pavlo Kovzhun, supports his efforts in consolidation of the Ukrainian artists scattered all over Europe. The result was a powerful artistic organization Association of Independent Ukrainian Artists, which was led by Yaroslava Muzyka from 1939. But the efforts and initiatives of the national artistic elite became fruitless with the coming of the “golden September” of 1939, troubles of the World War II, and the return of the totalitarian Soviet regime.
Yaroslava Muzyka did not use the opportunity to leave her native land, for which she was punished with repressions, arrest, and an exile to Siberia. She was arrested in the summer of 1948 at the House of Creativity in Hurzuf and sentenced for “criminal national” activity to 25 years in a prison camp on July 18, 1949. Yaroslava Muzyka served six years until the famous amnesty of the unjustly convicted and was prematurely released on June 6, 1955. A series of drawings and watercolors “Siberian Notes” has survived since then, among which a number of psychological portraits of female inmates should be noted.
After coming back from Tayshet, the artist gradually returns to artistic work: oil canvas, graphics sheets, and monotypes: portraits of her husband, Vira Svientsitska, Leopold Levytsky, Mykola Fediuk, cycles “Siberian Notes,” “People-Types,” “Cossack Mamai” appear.
During Khrushchev’s “thaw” of the 1960s the Yaroslava Muzyka’s friends and supporters often gathered at her place: painters Mykola Fediuk, Okhrim Kravchenko, Hryhorii Smolsky, Oleksa Shatkivsky, historian Ivan Krypiakevych, other intellectuals and artists. This was the time when Muzyka created a great series of paintings, linoleum engravings and xylographs, enamel miniatures and pictures on glass. Among them the cycle “Kateryna” and mosaic compositions Kniahynia Olha (Princess Olga) and Maly Heroi (The Little Hero) stand out. Muzyka’s name grew to become a true symbol of unconquered, free art for the young people of Lviv: Ihor Bondar, Stefania Shabatura, Ivan Ostafiichuk, and others.
Yaroslava Muzyka’s retrospect exhibits at the Lviv Art Gallery (1968) and the Museum of Ukrainian Art (1970, Kyiv) enjoyed great success. Her cycle of linoleum engravings “Symvoly Skovorody” (Skovoroda’s Symbols, 1969), celebrating the magic image of the Apple tree (a “gift” from the philosopher to Boichuk, which the latter later passed on to his disciples) became Muzyka’s swan song, her spiritual message to the next generations of Ukrainian artists.