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A Homey Museum


Very few streets in any city of Ukraine, or for that matter in the world, can boast two art museums to grace it Tereshchenkivska Street in Kyiv is thus honored. Oleksa PANIV tells a story of one museum and its collection.

Mykhailo Andreyev


Its a short street, just one block, on one end of which one finds the Kyiv National Museum of Russian Art, and on the other end the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko Museum of Arts, also known as the Museum of Western and Oriental Art.

The location is also distinguished by a park and a monument in it (both commemorate the great nineteenth-century Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko), a university (several buildings of a remarkable architectural design), liberalities and a big bookstore in other words, its a location of condensed culture.

The museum is not of the size of the Louvre in Paris or of the National Gallery in London but it does have works of art that elevate its status to the level of international importance.

Suffice it to say that among its treasures the museum has Byzantine icons of the 6th century CE, of which only a few are known to have survived to the present day, and they are treasured as unique works of religious art of that time in Byzantium.

The museum offers the visitors to see art works in its various and spacious halls from ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the European Middle Ages, the Renaissance, Holland, Flanders, Spain, France, the Arab world, India, China and Japan. Quite a lot for a museum which used to be a private collection!

The museum is named after Bohdan Khanenko (born in 1850), and his wife Varvara, who had the good fortune to put together a collection of refined works of art of a great artistic (and market) value at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Bohdan Khanenko was a Ukrainian industrialist among whose ancestors were hetmans and Cossack leaders, he was educated in Moscow and then worked in St Petersburg and Warsaw. His travels in Europe and his interest in art, plus his growing wealth, easily turned him into an avid collector of art works.

Settling down in Kyiv at the end of the 1980s, he continued to prosper as a successful industrialist who, among other things, financed archeological excavations. As one of the leaders of the Kyivske Tovarystvo Starozhytnostey (Kyiv Society of Antiquities), Bohdan Khanenko was instrumental in founding the Art-Industrial and Science Museum. His versatile activities and his vast knowledge of culture promoted him to membership of two academies one of art and the other one of sciences.

His own collection never stopped growing while he lived and it was not only paintings or sculpture that Bohdan Khanenko was purchasing. His refined taste and good knowledge of the history of both the fine and decorative arts, backed up by his considerable fortune, made it possible for him to buy excellent works from a wide spectrum of the fine and decorative arts.

The collection, which later suffered great losses during the time of revolutions and wars, included works by such great masters as Gentille da Fabriano, Perugino, Rubens, Zurbaran, de Ribera, Velasquez, S. Rosa, Strozzi, Poussin, to name but a few of the most prominent ones.

Such a collection needed a proper place to be kept in and Bohdan Khanenko built a mansion which could, in fact, be called a palace. He commissioned artists and architects, mostly foreigners, to do the exterior and interior design of the house. As a result, the design turned out to be rather eclectic and combined elements of various architectural styles of different epochs, but it reflected the variety of works of fine and decorative arts of Khanenkos collection. The palace, if anything, was indeed an imposing sight at the time of its construction (now it is flanked by buildings of much blander architecture and its originally dignified appearance is somewhat subdued).

In spite of the fact that the mansion has been used as a public museum, when you walk through its halls, ennobled by many works on its walls and in museum showcases, you can still feel the homey atmosphere it once had and with but a little effort of imagination one can easily imagine the proud owner and his wife strolling around, enjoying the art or showing it to their guests.

The happy and active life of Bohdan Khanenko came to an end in May of 1917, a couple of months after the collapse of the Russian Empire, of which Ukraine was a part.

The independence movement, the Bolshevik coup and the civil war that followed were not kind either to the collection or to the people like Varvara Khanenko, Bohdans widow, who did her best to save the collection from multiple dangers.

In 1918, she bequeathed the collection to the newly formed Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, hoping this move would help preserve the collection for posterity.

In 1921, the Bolshevik power that had gotten the upper hand in the civil war, took care of the collection, and after the death of Varvara Khanenko in 1922 (she was buried in the territory of the Vydubetsky Monastery, her grave next to that of her husband), the collection was given the status of a museum. In the 1920s and 1930s there were some purchases made for the museum and some acquisitions, but the losses outweighed the acquirements by far the soviets kept selling museum pieces to foreign museums and private collections, with not only Khanenkos collection but such major collections as of the Hermitage in St Petersburg (which the soviets renamed Leningrad to honor their deceased leader) suffering great losses.

The Nazis, who occupied Kyiv for over two years during the Second World War, helped themselves liberally to art collections, the Khanenko collection not being a happy exception (luckily, most of the collection had been evacuated from Kyiv to some cities in the east of the Soviet Union).

After the war, the museum came back to life with most of the evacuated works being returned to it. The new purchases and acquisitions were rare and far between, but the museum lived on, and even had a new section opened next door, to which the collections of Arab and Oriental art were moved.

The most representative collection among those that are in the museums possession is that of European art, which includes paintings, sculpture and graphic works.

The paintings include works created over a wide span of time, from the sixth to the twentieth centuries. Italy, Holland, Spain and France are represented particularly well.

The sculptures that one can see in the museum date mostly from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with the range of works wide enough to give the visitor a pretty good idea of the major trends and movements in European sculpture of those times, with marble, wood and bronze being the principle materials used. A general idea of what the sculpture of ancient Greece and Rome was like can be obtained thanks to a number of bronze and plaster of Paris replicas which were created in the nineteenth century.

The graphic works section contains drawings dating to the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth and ninetieth centuries and a great many prints done in various techniques by artists from several countries. Some of the prints rank among the greatest created in the field of graphics.

Decorative arts are represented by wonderful pieces of porcelain, china, bronze, ivory, textiles and furniture which help create a very special homey atmosphere which is one of the museums special features that attract visitors.

A visit to a museum like that is more than enjoyment of art in its various forms, shapes and genres its a trip to the world of beauty, so different from the bustling life around it, and though you cant help feeling you are paying a visit to someones home, at the same time you dont feel you have come uninvited the owners were and spiritually are happy to welcome art lovers to share the appreciation of beauty with their guests.




Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts is the third volume in a series of books, State Collections of Ukraine, devoted to visual arts. The series was launched by Oleksiy Danilov and Mykhailo Andreyev. Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts is a result of a two-year collaborative effort of the museum staff and of all those who have been involved in editing the book and preparing it for publication.




Bohdan Khanenko. Photo of a lost portrait by N. Nevrev.


Varvara Khanenko. Photo of a lost portrait by A. Kharlamov.



Quilin, a mythical beast that brings luck. Bronze, height 15 cm. China, 17th century.


The carefully reconstructed study of Bohdan Khanenko now one of the halls of the Museum (The Memorial Hall).


Coat of arms of the Khanenko family.


Goddess Durga~ on a Bull. Bronze, gilding, height 29.5 cm. Thailand, 19th century.


Miraj (the Miraculous Ascension) of the Prophet Muhammad by Unknown painter. Paints, gold on paper, 22.3 x 12.5 cm. Iran, 16th century.


Geisha Ureshino by Isoda Koryusai. Color xylography, 22 x 15 cm. Japan, c. 17641788.


White Tara, Bodhisattva, Protectress from all Unfortunate Circumstances. Distemper on silk, 42.5 x 30cm. Mongolia, 19th century.


Bravissimo! by Francisco de Goya. Etching, aquatint, 21.6 x 15.1 cm, 1799.


The Promenade by Albrecht Durer. Engraving, 12.1 x 19.5 cm, ca. 1487.


A Negress gueridon by French (?) master. Wood, polychrome painting, height 154.5 cm, 18th century.


Portrait of Lazar Hoche by Jacques-Louis David. Oil on canvas, 61 x 50 cm, 1794 (?).


Madonna and Child by Giovanni Bellini. Tempera and oil on panel, 93.5 x 77 cm, ca. 1490.


Orpheus and Euridice by Jacopo del Sellaio (Jacopo di Arcangelo). Oil on panel, 59 x 175.5 cm, ca. 1483.


Portrait of the Infanta Margareta of Spain by Diego Velazquez. Oil on canvas, 80 x 62.5 cm, circa 1658.


Still Life With Dead Hare by Jan Weenix. Oil on canvas, 1704.


God of the Scheldt River, Cybele, and the Goddess of the City of Antwerp by Pieter Paul Rubens. Oil on panel, 28 x 37 cm, ca. 16131618.


Winter Landscape by Gysbrecht Leytens. Oil on panel, 49 x 64 cm, ca. 16181628.


St. John the Baptist. Encaustic on panel, 46.8 x 25.1 cm. Byzantium, 6th century.


Mourners. Ritual statues. Clay, polychrome painting, height 91 cm (left), 87 cm (right). Southern Italy, 3rd century BCE.




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