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2 Feb, 2024 16:21

Russia slams EU state for changing nationality of legendary artist

Finnish media have reported that a major museum in the country decided to list Ilya Repin as ‘Ukrainian’
Russia slams EU state for changing nationality of legendary artist

The decision by a Finnish museum to change the stated nationality of 19th-century Russian artist Ilya Repin to ‘Ukrainian’ “runs counter to common sense,” Moscow’s diplomatic mission in the Nordic country has said. Last week, local media reported that the Ateneum Art Museum had changed the description of the artist after being contacted by Ukrainian activists. 

In March 2023, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York also started listing the renowned realist as Ukrainian. Around the same time, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands began describing one of the pioneers of the Suprematist art movement, Kazimir Malevich, as “born in Ukraine to parents of Polish origin” as opposed to “Russian.”  

In a statement released on Thursday, the Russian Embassy in Finland said it was surprised to learn about the Ateneum’s decision, which was simply based on the fact that Repin was born “on territory that Ukraine now considers its own.”  

The diplomats noted that the Finnish museum had no problem referring to Repin as ‘Russian’ when a major exhibition of his works opened in Helsinki in 2021. The embassy characterized the move as “Russophobic” and an example of “Russian culture cancelation.” 

Repin was born in 1844 in the Kharkov Governate of the Russian Empire. He studied at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, being accepted for his paintings of a tour on the river Volga. He eventually became a renowned member of the Russian cultural scene, through which he maintained a long friendship with Leo Tolstoy, among others.

His painting of Ivan the Terrible holding his dead son was removed from exhibition in 1885. Repin welcomed the revolutions of 1917 but opposed the violence unleashed by the Bolsheviks. He is buried on his estate in Repino, outside St.Petersburg, where his home is a museum and UNESCO heritage site.

Apart from revising the nationality of several artists, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art last spring changed the name of an 1899 painting by the French impressionist Edgar Degas from ‘Russian Dancer’ to ‘Dancer in Ukrainian Dress’. 

A year prior, the National Gallery in London altered the name of a series of Degas works from ‘Russian Dancers’ to ‘Ukrainian Dancers’, citing the depicted costumes which are deemed to be Ukrainian. The museum told The Guardian at the time that it was “an appropriate moment to update the painting’s title to better reflect the subject of the painting.” 

Commenting on the developments last March, Mikhail Shvydkoy, the international culture envoy to Russian President Vladimir Putin, lamented that “this lame political gesture has trumped all legitimate cultural considerations.”