Finland’s largest art museum, Ateneum, corrected the nationality of the artist Illia Repin from Russian to Ukrainian in the descriptions of paintings, as reported by the local publication Suomen Kuvalehti. [NB: “Ilya” is a Russian transliteration of the artist’s name, while “Illia” is a Ukrainian one.]
In 2021, the Finnish museum held a major exhibition of Repin’s works in collaboration with Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery and the Russian Museum of Art. At that time, the organizers wrote that Repin was born in the territory of modern Ukraine but presented the artist as Russian.
The Ukrainian authorities requested the museum to restore historical accuracy. Furthermore, journalist Anna Lodyhina from UP. Culture publication, conducting research on Repin’s life, sought additional information from Finnish museum professionals regarding the artist’s life in Finland.
“Exactly one year ago, I wrote my first letter to the largest Finnish art museum, Ateneum, requesting an interview with the chief curator, Timo Huusko, for one of my projects. I was researching Repin’s life in Finland – little is known about this period in Ukraine,” shared Anna Lodyhina from UP. Culture.
The exhibition organizer sent the journalist an article stating that Repin’s parents were Russians born in Moscow Oblast. In response, Lodyhina provided the museum with church documents refuting this information.
“In one of the letters, he sent a link to his material, which stated that Repin’s parents were Russians born in Moscow Oblast. I contacted the deputy director for scientific work at Repin’s museum in Chuhuiv, Olha Shevchenko, asking her to send copies of the artist’s family metric books as evidence that his roots are Ukrainian, not Russian. Shortly afterward, I learned that under Repin’s painting in the exhibition’s new display, it is written that he is a Ukrainian artist,” the journalist shared.
Currently, the museum has not publicly commented on the changes. The decision took almost two years to be adopted. Museum officials first referred to Repin as Ukrainian when preparing the exhibition “Questions of Time,” which included one of the artist’s works, said Timo Huusko, the curator of Ateneum. The exhibition opened at the museum after its restoration in 2022–2023.
Cover: Nadiia Fedorova / LK