April 6, 2020

This week I would like to start introducing our exhibition “Leaders and the Masses: Mega Paintings from Soviet Ukraine” that we have installed but haven’t yet had a chance to open because of the pandemic. I will be talking about various details that are often left behind the scenes when the exhibition opens – things that curators deal with when they install a show. For example: painting titles.

This impressive painting by Mykhailo Antonchik is called “Triumph of Women.” You will see it when we reopen the museum. This, however, is an English name. When I looked on the back of the painting, the artist’s writing said it was “Podvig (‘a heroic deed’) of Women.” And this makes sense – the painting is clearly about WWII and women’s immense contribution to it. The three women portrayed here are daughter, mother, and grandmother. The mother (in the center) has two medals, both very high national awards for participation in combat and for work. The absence of the male is conspicuous: father, husband, and son, probably one person, either has not yet returned from the war or was killed in combat. Otherwise, he would be doing the sowing. The brunt of the country’s reconstruction after a devastating war is on women. No men, no machines, no help. But the country needs bread, and no matter what, fields need to be cultivated. These three are sowing seeds of the future harvest.

But changing a painting’s name is not that easy. Like people, works of art have a biography, and if a name changes it would be impossible to trace a painting’s life story in auction records, books, exhibition catalogues (that have often no pictures), letters, and other archival materials. So, the question is: what name should appear on the exhibition signage for this painting? Most likely, I will have to use both – to set its meaning straight and to keep the historical continuity for future records.

-Dr. Masha Zavialova, Chief Curator & Head of Collections, The Museum of Russian Art

Mykhailo Antonchik.
Triumph of Women, 1965
Oil on canvas
Gift of the Jurii Maniichuk and Rose Brady Collection