Our Notes & References
Lovely production of Ukrainian avant-garde, richly illustrated and with attractive constructivist wrappers by Yermilov; among “his famous and most laconic works” (Lagutenko), “which still remains fundamental in the studies of the artist’s legacy” (Rudzitsky).
Rare: only two holdings in the West (Getty & Harvard), and a couple of copies in Ukrainian institutions; one copy at auctions over 10 years ago.
The art by the Ukrainian avant-garde painter, monumentalist and designer Vasyl Yermilov (1894-1967) was “never restricted to any particular movement but rather reflected the multistylistic character of Ukrainian art in the first third of the twentieth century” (Lagutenko). His “synthesis of formalist esthetics, folk designs, and traditional painting methods was an important contribution to the development of Ukrainian design of the 1920s. His distinctive style of constructivist collage and typographic design, called constructive-dynamism or spiralism, developed distinctly and in parallel with Russian constructivism” (Mykytyn).
This first edition of the first substantial study of Yermilov’s art was published in a series about Ukrainian artists, “Ukrainian Painting”, with attractive illustrations throughout, many full-page, portraying the originality of his constructivist experiments. Its author, Valerian Polishchuk, was a vivid representative of the Ukrainian leftist art movement, a writer and a literary critic; together with his friend Yermilov and other artists, he co-founded the “Avanhard” group in Kharkiv — then the capital of Soviet Ukraine — promoting constructivism as the main style and approach to art.
Around this time, Kharkiv became “the centre of constructivism in Ukraine, and Yermilov was the key figure of Kharkiv constructivism” (Rudzitsky). Polishchuk calls this period in the city history “Yermilov’s”: “All the streets and houses [of Kharkiv] were screaming with colours, slogans, flowers, panels and arches by V. Yermilov. It was the pathos of the revolution in colours. There was nothing like it before that time and, unfortunately, it was not left as a legacy. It was a unique style of the epoch”.
By the mid-1930s, Stalin’s repressions had intensified and formalism was categorised as useless and hostile to Soviet principles. In 1934 Polishchuk was arrested and executed in Gulag several years later; Yermilov was removed from his teaching position at the National Art Institute in Kharkiv, and in 1949 he was expelled from the Union of Artists on charges of cosmopolitanism.
Mikhail Krasnov (notable collector of Russian literature).