Finland’s largest museum recognizes Repin as Ukrainian

January 31,2024 1285
Finland’s largest museum recognizes Repin as Ukrainian

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.

The Ukrainian Association in Finland, a full UWC member organization, has engaged in combatting Russian cultural propaganda. Nataliya Teramae, the Association’s cultural project coordinator, states:

“Our involvement began during a significant exhibition in the summer of 2021. We collaborated with the Ukrainian Institute and the Ukrainian Embassy, and together, we ensured that when the exhibition moved to the Petit Palais in Paris in the fall, it included more comprehensive information about the significance of Ukrainian culture in Repin’s work. Additionally, we corrected inaccuracies, like the Finnish description of “Cossacks Write a Letter to the Turkish Sultan,” that wrongly claimed the scene was set in Russia in 1676.

The Repin exhibition showcased a subtle form of Russian cultural appropriation. It depicted Repin, born in what is now Ukraine, as Russia’s most renowned artist, primarily recognized for his psychological portraits and depictions of Russian folklore. This misrepresentation of Ilya Repin’s life and art sparked rightful outrage among the Ukrainian community in Finland. People expressed their discontent by writing to the museum and voicing their opinions on social media, where the museum persistently labeled Repin as solely a ‘great Russian artist.’ Finnish-Ukrainian musician and filmmaker Lukas Stasevsky openly contested the Ateneum’s narrative in his Helsingin Sanomat columns, highlighting the inaccuracies in their portrayal of Repin.”

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

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