Arkhip Kuindzhi, a 19th century Russian landscape painter, has been re-designated as a Ukrainian national, according to an update on the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website. The news comes as a number of museums around the world are rebranding classical Russian artworks as Ukrainian amid the ongoing military conflict between Moscow and Kiev.
In the description of Kuindzhi’s 1905 painting ‘Red Sunset on the Dnepr,’ the artist is now listed as “Ukrainian” with the added clarification that he was born in Mariupol “when the Ukrainian city was part of the Russian empire.”
Previous versions of the webpage had designated him as “Russian.” In archived snapshots of the webpage, the Met even described Kuindzhi as “one of the most talented Russian landscape painters of his generation” and noted that his works are “celebrated in both Ukraine and Russia.”
The museum, however, failed to mention that Kuindzhi was actually an ethnic Greek, born in 1842 in a small village near Mariupol. At the time, the city was part of the Yekaterinoslav Governorate, a province in the southwest of the Russian Empire, while the first iteration of an independent Ukraine, the short-lived Ukrainian People’s Republic, emerged only during the Russian Revolution in 1917.
The city of Mariupol was liberated by Russian forces last spring amid the military operation in Ukraine. In September, the Donetsk People’s Republics, which incorporates Mariupol, along with Lugansk People’s Republic and Zaporozhye and Kherson regions, officially became part of the Russian Federation after holding public referendums.
The rebranding of Kuindzhi comes after the Met, on demands from Ukrainian activists, also renamed the painting ‘Russian Dancer’ by French artist Edgar Degas into ‘Dancer in Ukrainian Dress.’ The UK’s National Gallery made a similar move last April when it also re-titled Degas’ ‘Russian Dancers’ into ‘Ukrainian Dancers,’ stating that the women in the painting were “almost certainly Ukrainian rather than Russian.”
The gallery acknowledged, however, that the change of title was due to the current political situation and after a public pressure campaign on social media rather than due to any new facts discovered about Degas’ work.