Traditional Ukrainian Decorative Painting

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Kosiv style Ukrainian decorative painting

Painting on walls and decorating different every-day-use items has been very popular in Ukraine since the ancient times. In fact, even Cossacks from Zaporizh Sich used to carve various motifs on their weapons. Here’s how to tell apart four major styles of Ukrainian decorative tradition.

One of the first things one might notice about traditional houses in Ukrainian villages is the whiteness of their walls. In fact, bleaching such a large area paved the way for the decorative painting to grow so popular on the whole territory of the country. Traditionally, female members of families gathered to decorate the walls with ornaments of fantasy trees with birds. This motif dates way back to the Pagan times and up to the roots of the Christian history, where tree usually symbolized the “tree of life”, giving fruits to people.

Later, naturalistic motifs were more widespread — leaves of oak, maple, hops and grapes, as well as paintings of owls and peacocks, could be found in many homes. While each region had its unique ways of decorating, traditionally scholars highlight four main schools of decorative painting:

Petrykivka Style

Decorations by Fedir Panko
Decorations by Fedir Panko
Peacocks by Tatiana Pata
Peacocks by Tatiana Pata
Petrykiv style decorations in a traditional Ukrainian house. Circa 1930s
Petrykiv style decorations in a traditional Ukrainian house. Circa 1930s
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The style is named after the village Petrykivka it originated at. According to the spoken evidence of the villagers, decorating walls in this particular manner was popular way back at the beginning of the 18th century. Naturalistic motifs and flora are the basis of Petrykivka style: garden flowers like dahlias, asters and tulips, and field flowers like daisies are often combined with berries, ferns, as well as flower buds.

Traditionally, all decorating was made on white background, be it walls or paper. Contemporary masters, however, paint on blue, black and even red. In 2013, Petrykivka painting style was included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. To witness the works of art in real life, you may visit the Center of folk art ‘Petrykivka’ and a museum located in the village. Local masters often hold workshops for those who want to try themselves at Ukrainian decorating.

Opishnia Style

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The ancient Opishnia village located in Poltava region is often called the capital of Ukrainian pottery. Its traditional décor is recognized as one of the key Ukrainian schools of decorative painting. Various pottery items are made of local clay, which initially is grey but after kilning, it becomes light yellow. Nowadays, traditional shapes have mixed with the modern ones, creating a wide array of décor — vases, large dishes and tableware are among the most popular ones.

Besides, masters from Opishnia traditionally make clay penny whistles for kids. As for the motifs, flowers, spikes and branches draws in bouquets are the basis of the painting. As a rule, ceramics in Opishnia are painted in simple geometrical shapes without sharp lines. Adding contrasting blue, dark brown, bright green or black traditionally enhances the color of the pattern.

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Kosiv Style

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Kosiv city is located in the Ivano-Frankivsk region in the west of Ukraine. This traditional decorative painting is a part of the Hutsul heritage and cultural pride of the region. In fact, Hutsul ceramics dates back to the 15th century and is well-preserved nowadays. The motifs include plant ornaments, images of birds, animals like bears, deer, horses and scenes from folk stories or daily life.

Painting saints, namely St Nicholas and St George was incredibly spread as well. Masters often used a limited color palette, consisting of white, green and different shades of ochre. Kosiv style is mostly present on items like utensils, household décor, toys and souvenirs. Decorated tiles have been recognized as works of art centuries ago — the oldest of them are kept in museums in Vienna and Bucharest.

Bubnivka Style

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The tradition of this ornamental painting was formed in the middle of the nineteenth century in the two neighboring villages of Novoselivka and Bubnivka, located on the Southern Buh. Thanks to Herasymenko brothers, who popularized this style, it is still preserved nowadays. Masters usually chose pots and pitchers for decorating. Various dishes in the form of sheep, as well as toys and lamps, are popular as well.

The main feature of Bubnivka style is a thorough filling of the background with many details. The color palette includes bright red mixed with white, often of yellowish shade, green, and dark brown. Many examples of Bubnivka style décor are a part of the main exhibition in the Museum-Estate of Herasymenko Brothers in Novoselivka village.

Sources: skrynya.ua, petrykivka.dp.ua.
Photo sources: petrykivka.dp.ua, vocnt.org.ua, kraina-ua.com, Sun_Shine / Shutterstock.com. All images belong to their rightful authors.

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