You may never have heard of her but Maria Prymachenko is one of the 20th century’s great self-taught artists. She is also a Ukrainian national icon of Ukrainian national identity with a boulevard named after her and her work has been featured on postage stamps and coins.
Her colourful, art naïf paintings, which won praise during her lifetime by Pablo Picasso, are now found in some of the country’s most important museums.
But the Russian invasion of Ukraine is threatening its cultural heritage. Last week, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry tweeted that several of the artist’s paintings were destroyed, following an attack by Russian forces, on a museum in the region of Ivankiv where she is from, about 50 miles northwest of the capital Kyiv.
“As a result of Russian invasion, about 25 works by outstanding artist Maria Prymachenko were burned. The paintings were stored in Ivankiv Museum, Kyiv Region,” he said.
“She created world-famous masterpieces. Her special gift and talent captivated Pablo Picasso,” he added, sharing a painting titled ‘Two-headed chicken, 1977’ by Prymachenko.
The one-story institution, which had previously described Prymachenko’s work as the “pride of the museum”, was seen in flames. Her brightly-colored, depictions of the countryside, flowers and animals were among the items initially thought to have been lost.
However, reports have now emerged suggesting that an act of bravery. The Maria Prymachenko Family Foundation, which manages the artist’s work and is run by her great-granddaughter Anastasiia, believes that all the museum’s Prymachenko paintings were rescued from the building by a local resident in a heroic act of bravery.
The foundation’s partner, lawyer Natalia Gnatiuk said, “One heroic man managed to take the paintings away from the fire. There are 14 of them, but they are still not safe.” Sadly, two ceramic works are believed to have been burned during the attack on the museum.
When news of the Ivankiv museum attack spread around the world last week, activists and arts organizations started to publicize Prymachenko’s work as an act of solidarity. In particular, her 1982 painting “A Dove Has Spread Her Wings and Asks for Peace” (our feature image) has been adopted as a symbol of hope for the country.
In St. Louis, Missouri, artist Maria Carmen Knecht recreated the image as a street mural. A group called Justice Murals, meanwhile, projected a picture of the painting, among a selection of Prymachenko’s other works, onto the side of a building in Oakland, California.