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Vassil Khmeluk

Vassil Khmeluk: European Art Sensation

In Europe, there is currently a high demand for the paintings of Vassil Khmeluk, with collectors seeking to acquire his works for tens of thousands of pounds or euros. Khmeluk's paintings are highly valued due to the artist's upbringing by the 'Paris school' of painting in the first half of the twentieth century, which emphasized the use of pure colors, and the incorporation of bright colors in his works.

After the artist's death, his archives were inaccessible as his widow had hidden them and had not been in contact with anyone. It was only after her death that the heirs were able to access the archives and Khmeluk's legacy. It is worth noting that the heirs organized an auction in the suburbs of Paris where they sold all his heritage. Representatives from Ukraine were also present at the auction, and many of Khmeluk's works are now in private Ukrainian collections.

Currently, the Malab'Art gallery is showcasing one of Khmeluk's paintings, which demonstrates the artist's unique style that continues to fascinate admirers and collectors of paintings. Recently, a painting titled 'Lawyer' by Khmeluk was sold for 50,000 pounds sterling at an auction in London.

Heinrich Thyssen, a German entrepreneur and collector, invited Khmeluk to work in Switzerland in 1939. Thyssen, the youngest son of the industrialist August Thyssen, got married to a Hungarian baroness in 1906 and was given the title of Baron Bornemis de Cason. In 1932, Thyssen moved to Switzerland where he became a renowned collector. In 1993, the Spanish government acquired Thyssen's collection, which continued to be collected by his son after his death, for $350 million. Today, the collection is known as the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and is one of Madrid's famous museums. Khmeluk lived in Lugano for several years, and in 1942, a major exhibition of his works was held in the halls of the Thyssen Institute.

The French government also started buying Khmeluk 's paintings, continuing to do so even in the difficult post-war period. Comparing the artist's colourful palette in chronological order, one can see how it changed from gloomier, darker tones in the 1930s to more vibrant and brighter tones in the 1950s-60s. Some of the famous paintings by Khmeluk are 'Evening in the South' (1940), 'Still Life' (1940), 'Jester in Blue' (1949), 'Landscape over the Sea' (1949), 'Concert' (1951), 'Pheasant' (1959), 'Still Life on a Red Background' (1960s), and others, according to historians.In 1939, the German entrepreneur and collector Heinrich Thyssen invited Khmeluk to work in Switzerland. Thyssen, the youngest son of the industrialist August Thyssen, married a Hungarian baroness in 1906 and acquired the title of Baron Bornemis de Cason. In 1932 Thyssen went to live in Switzerland, where he became famous as a collector. In 1993, Thyssen's collection, which after his death continued to be collected by his son, was acquired by the Spanish government for $350 million, and today, under the name of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, is known as one of Madrid's famous museums. For several years Khmeluk lived in Lugano, and in 1942 a major exhibition of the artist was held in the halls of the Thyssen Institute.

The French government also began to acquire Khmeluk 's paintings, continuing to purchase canvases for French museums even in the difficult post-war period. Comparing the artist's colourful palette in chronological order one can notice how it changed from more gloomy, dark tones in the 1930s to more saturated and bright tones in the 1950s-60s. Among the famous paintings historians name: ‘Evening in the South’ (1940), ‘Still Life’ (1940), ‘Jester in Blue’ (1949), ‘Landscape over the Sea’ (1949), ‘Concert’ (1951), ‘Pheasant’ (1959), ‘Still Life on a Red Background’ (1960s) and others.

Vassil Khmeluk was a talented young artist who was associated with the Ukrainian National Republic (UNR). During the second wave of artistic emigration, he and his older brother Ilya, who was a warrior of the UNR, were forced to leave their homeland. At the age of 17, Ilya went to Prague, while Vassil went to Krakow, where he got his first professional studio at the Academy of Arts.

Vassil Khmeluk was a gifted expressionist painter who spent more than fifty years of his life working in Paris. He is buried in Montparnasse. Although he is renowned among experts, his name may not be familiar to the general public.

Khmeluk was faced with a decision between two passions - poetry and painting. He began drawing when he was just nine years old, and his father, a wealthy engineer from the village of Zhmerinka (Berezovka) in Ukraine, noticed his son's talent. To support him, he hired reputable teachers and provided him with a splendid studio.

Taras Saliga, who serves as the head of the literary department at Lviv National University named after I. Franko, has written a report entitled "The Prague Experimenter from Berezovka". The report describes Khmeluk's literary pursuits and experimentation in the field of poetry. Saliga believes that Khmeluk's greatest achievement in life is his continuous experimentation. Although the formal poetics of Khmeluk’s works are mainly based on his understanding of European aesthetic trends in literature, his personal journey is different. This is evident in his poem "On the Death of V. Kryzhanovsky", which he wrote in honor of a talented artist who died on the emigrant trail.

When discussing the works of V. Khmeluk, it is important to consider both his poetry and painting. While his poetry often exhibits expressive features of surrealism, such as the splitting of reality, his painting showcases an excellent sense of color and nervous, expressive strokes. Despite the brevity of his poetic career, which was cut short by his move to France, his painting absorbed him completely. Nevertheless, even this short-term fascination is interesting for researchers, as it helps to present Khmeluk as an integral artistic phenomenon. It is important to note that behind his various "masks," Khmeluk's pain as an exiled man crying for his homeland and spiritual twin is revealed.

Vassil Khmeluk was a poet and illustrator who was part of the 'Prague poetic school'. He created three poetic works in a short period which were called 'moths' by art historian Oksana Pelenska in her article 'Three 'moths' of the Ukrainian avant-garde'. Pelenska highlights that Khmeluk, along with other representatives of the Ukrainian art school, developed a new visual perspective in Prague and played a significant role in shaping Ukrainian book art. This eventually became a part of European modern art in the 20th century.

In 1928, Vassil Khmeluk finished his studies in Prague and decided to leave the city for good. He had to choose between pursuing poetry or fine art and ultimately chose the latter. Oles Noga, an Associate Professor at the Lviv Academy of Arts, discussed the active participation of Ukrainian artists in Paris during the first half of the last century. He specifically highlighted the Ukrainian Community in Paris, which was associated with renowned names such as O. Arkhipenko, M. Boychuk, and M. Kasperovych. Several young talents joined the famous "Boychuk School" and showcased their artwork at numerous exhibitions. Their work received positive criticism from the French audience, and they laid the foundation for the next artistic wave of Ukrainian talent (30-50s), to which Vassil Khmeluk belonged.

In a letter to his relatives, he described his early days in Paris: "I paint pictures non-stop. At Paris exhibitions, my artwork is well-received by art enthusiasts. I live like the poorest of the poor - on a rooftop. The sun is scorching, but I still work for 10 hours every day, except when I don't. I make sure to eat properly, because if I have a few francs, I buy paints. Let painting and the Khmeluk family, whom we will try to glorify, live!"

Recognition of an artist from Ukraine

Vassil Khmeluk was a young artist who found the greatest school for his artistic development in the Parnassus itself. The museums, incomparable architecture, turbulent artistic life, and amazing freedom of creative activity offered an atmosphere of freedom and liberation that influenced his painting. Combining the powerful currents of Western and Eastern civilizations, Khmeluk's work showed the influence of the French school of art in Europe. He introduced Ukrainian artistic culture to the bright temple of European culture and absorbed the best pages of French painting, making them his spiritual flesh and aesthetic essence. All the artists of the Ukrainian emigration were familiar with Khmeluk's work, which was deeply respected by the refined Parisian public and highly esteemed by professional critics. The authoritative French critic Charles Künstler described Khmeluk's painting as "a spectacular performance" in which all the brightest hopes of a man were concentrated.

Vassil Khmeluk was a brilliant artist who excelled in creating portraits, landscapes, colors, and graphics. His artworks are showcased in several prominent museums and private galleries around the world, including Paris, Lucerne, and Stockholm. Sadly, Vassil Khmeluk passed away on November 2, 1986, in Montmartre, at the age of 58. In his obituary, the well-known graphic artist, literary critic, and translator Sviatoslav Gordinsky wrote that Vassil Khmeluk was an exceptional artist and creator who was not given enough recognition by the Ukrainian press. However, he was one of the most remarkable representatives of the Ukrainian Parisian school of painting since the early 1930s.

Several individual exhibitions featuring the works of an artist were held in various galleries across cities such as Paris, London, New York, Munich, and Geneva. In Paris, exhibitions were held at galleries such as A. Poyet, Wolman, Tessin, J. Allard, Durand-Ruel, and Paulette Jourdain. In London, the Redfern gallery hosted an exhibition in 1944 while in New York, Durand-Ruel and Leonard Hutton galleries hosted exhibitions in 1946, 1948, and 1962 respectively. Furthermore, in 1974, the artist participated in an exhibition called 'Russian Look' in Heidelberg, FRG. 

In 1959, the artist married Maria, a Spanish model, who later inherited his works. The artist is buried in the Montparnasse cemetery located in Paris. His works are displayed in various museums across the world, including the Lviv Art Gallery, Museum of Modern Art in Paris, museums in Lucerne, Stockholm, Toronto, New York, Munich and Philadelphia.

The Russian collector Shchukin was the first to purchase some of Khmeluk's paintings and display them at important exhibitions. Upon Shchukin's recommendation, the bright Ukrainian colorist, who worked at the intersection of Post-Impressionism and Expressionism, came to the attention of Ambroise Vollard, one of the most influential Parisian marshals and an undisputed authority among collectors who had promoted other famous artists such as Cezanne, Klee, Matisse, Picasso, Mayol and others. Khmeluk had a total of 12 exhibitions worldwide from 1932-1939, eight of which were solo. He became a new star in Paris, with his popularity spreading from salon to salon and from gallery to gallery. Khmeluk continued to learn and express himself through colors, composition, and emotions on canvas. He lived in Switzerland for over a year at the invitation of collector Heinrich Thyssen, and in 1942, the Thyssen Institute held a large solo exhibition of the Ukrainian artist's work. In 1943, the powerful French gallery, Durand-Ruel, offered him a very lucrative contract, and after the war, even the French government purchased some of Khmeluk's paintings.

Recognition of an artist from Ukraine

Khmeluk achieved success in the art business after he met collector Sergei Shchukin, who purchased several of his paintings. This brought Khmeluk to the attention of other notable clients. Later, French collector Ambroise Volard exhibited the works of the Ukrainian artist in his gallery as well. 

Between 1932 and 1939, Khmeluk held twelve exhibitions in galleries located in Marseille, Warsaw, and London, displaying his artworks. During his artistic process, Khmeluk did not limit himself to any particular theme, but rather painted portraits, landscapes, still lifes, and also created graphic designs. Although his style is mainly categorized as post-impressionism, it is difficult to fully describe the depth of his work in one word.

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