NewsMarch 6, 2022

In Honor of Ukrainian Artist and Painter Tetyana Yablonska

By Stefanie Zechner, PhD – Founder and Director, Science. People. Business.

The enormous tragedy of Russia’s military invasion in the Ukraine right after the Covid-19 pandemic leads millions of civilians to trauma, in fear of their own lives and those of their loved ones. And even if the invasion would stop immediately and any further material and economic damage could be prevented: the scars in the hearts and minds of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters on either side of the conflict will keep hurting for many years to come. The solidarity for the Ukrainian refugees unites people and governments around the world. In honoring the people and the beautiful country of Ukraine, I decided to raise awareness of Ukrainian artists and scientists whose work remains of undefeatable beauty and importance and will prevail forever.

Today’s episode is dedicated to the Ukrainian artist and painter Tetyana Yablonska (1917-2005). Her love for life and for the beauty of her country and the Ukrainian people inspired her to paint productively until the very end of her life.

Tetyana Yablonska was elected as a Member of parliament of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialistic Republic in 1951–58, and became a member of the Ukrainian Artists’ Union in 1944, a member of the board of the USSR Artists’ Union in 1963, and a member of the Academy of Art of the USSR in 1975. (1)

Yablonska was awarded the honorary title “Peoples’ Artists of the USSR” in 1982, “Artist of Year” (UNESCO) in 1997, “Woman of Year” (International Biography Centre, Cambridge) in 2000. She was the winner of the USSR State Prize (Stalin prize: 1949, 1951 and State Prize: 1979), and winner of the Shevchenko state prize of Ukraine (1998). She also received the Order of the Red Banner of Labour (1951), the Order of Friendship of Peoples (1977), order Award for merits (1997) and the highest state award of Ukraine – title Hero of Ukraine (2003). (1)

One of her most famous paintings, “Grain” (1949) is in permanent display at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, Russia. (2)

Yablonska was born into a family of intellectuals. Her father, Nil Yablonsky, was a graduate of the Moscow University Department of History and Philology, and in the 1920s and 1930s worked as an educator, taught art and was engaged in museum management. According to his wishes, Tetyana and her sister Elena were to become artists, and studied at the Kiev Art School, later the Kiev Art Institute. (2)

Tetyana’s young successful career was interrupted by the outbreak of the WW2 and she was evacuated to a collective farm in the Saratov region where her daughter Yelena was born. It became impossible for her to paint under such circumstances. For these three long years of war, a “city girl” by birth and upbringing, she, in her own words, turned into “Tan’ka the peasant” and a collective farm worker, like everybody else at the collective farm, she pulled weeds, mowed, stacked hay, threshed, and pulled a cart with water for the vegetable gardens. (2)

By April 1944, before the war was over, Yablonska was back in Kiev, which by then had been liberated by the Soviet Army. Returning to her profession proved to be a difficult undertaking, filled with self-doubt, attempts to make up for time lost, and searching for her own theme in art under difficult political and social circumstances. Her most notable work from this time is called “Before the Start” (1947). (2, 7)

Before the Start, 1947, by Tetyana Yablonska
Before the Start, 1947, by Tetyana Yablonska

In summer 1948 whilst she was teaching art at the Kiev Art Institute, her students were sent to a “training workshop” at a collective farm in Letava, a village in the Chemerovets region of the Kamianets-Podilskyi province, a region that had become famous throughout the Soviet Union for its remarkable harvests of grain and beets. (2) Yablonska’s students, already in Letava, sent her a letter describing the place as “awfully dreary, with nothing beautiful, interesting or picturesque; the landscape is unvaried, and the people are working all the time, and refuse to pose. Why don’t we go to the collective farm next door – it is located on a picturesque river bank…” (3) Yablonska answered them firmly: “It is impossible for a place where so many good people work to be boring.” (3)

Grain, 1949, by Tetyana Yablonska
Grain, 1949, by Tetyana Yablonska

It was in Letava that Tetyana Yablonska conceived her future painting “Grain”, she finished it in 1949 and showed it first at the 10th Ukrainian Art exhibition, and later at the All-Union Exhibition in Moscow, in November 1949. (8)

In an article which Tetyana Yablonska published in 1949 she spoke about her work on the painting “The vast scope of work performed by the united, happy workers at the collective farm astonished me. Being there made me clearly realize what a big debt our art still owed to our great people, how little it had done to reveal all the greatness and dignity of the Soviet people, and the vastness of the Socialist reconstruction that our country was going through… The way I saw art changed entirely after my visit to the collective farm.” (4)

As an artist, I wanted very much to glorify their work. I felt a great duty to these people. I wanted to tell with my painting about these wonderful people and about my new thoughts and feelings.

In her first letter she wrote to artist Yakov Romas, she wrote “I did not come to the collective farm with a set composition in mind. It came to me as a synthesis of my impressions from the visit… I do not think it is right to go somewhere with a preconceived idea, or rather a preconceived subject matter. It has to emerge from life, from studying it thoroughly and completely. I believe that an artist should not only prepare studies for a painting, but also before a painting, for a future painting, for it to be born. To study those aspects of life that we do not know well enough… To find ‘the typical’ in life, an artist has to sift through a lot of material, and with a brush and pencil ready. It would be impossible to deny that preparing studies is essential here, even though they may or may not come in handy for a particular painting. Otherwise, the result may be a work that is accidental, atypical and unnecessary, or trite and farfetched. Am I right?” (5) In line with Tetyana’s description, she created more than 300 studies and sketches during the four months that she spent in Letava prior to painting “Grain”. (2)

“I did not paint individual people or details of the landscape, I tried to capture whole groups, along with trucks, sacks, and structures, naturally forming a unique composition that one can only find in real life.”Yablonska “wanted to show the communal energy of work, the joy of collective labour… Happy, always accompanied by song, shared work. Its vigorous pace and joyous cadence left a strong impression on me, and I tried to express it in all my studies, and especially in my sketches and drawings.” (3)

“I wanted to create an epic image… to make the painting real, full of movement, sound and sunlight. At the same time, I wanted it to be very balanced, powerful and substantial, to express the significance of the image. Compositionally, I was striving to make it inimitably authentic as well as seemingly accidental and fresh, clear, simple and consistent with the message.” (3)

Tetyana Yablonska maintained her love for life and positive outlook up to old age. Restricted in her movements after a heart attack she suffered in 1989, she learned to love her shrinking world; she would impatiently wait for the sunny afternoons to “quickly pour the golden light onto the canvas.” (6)

A stroke in 1999 left Yablonska unable to use her right hand, so she learned to paint with her left one; with her wheelchair by the window, so as to see the sky that she painted so rarely, she worked on her pastels until the last day of her life.



This article would not have been possible without the great work by Olga Polyanskaya (2) – who described the artists’ upbringing, translated letters and set the foundation of my work here.

  2. Olga Polyanskaya, Article and Portrait on the Artist, Tatiana Yablonskaya. 1949. The artist’s “true heart”, The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine, Nb. 4, 2014 (45)
  3. Yablonskaya, T.N.”How I worked on my painting’Grain'” // “An Artist’s Experiences”. Edition 3. Moscow, 1957.
  4. Kiselev, A.”For Socialist Realism in Painting” /”Kultura i Zhizn” (Culture and Life), No. 30, October 31 1949.
  5. Letter to Y.D. Romas. Tretyakov Gallery Manuscripts Department, Fund 134. Inv. item 218.
  6. Letter to M.N. Gritsenko of March 1 1955. Tretyakov Gallery Manuscripts Department, Fund 134. File 1. Inv. item 2902.
  7. Painting “Before the Start”, 1947 – National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kiev
  8. Painting “Grain”, 1949 – on permanent collection of the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

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