Leon Wyczółkowski’s Ploughing in the Ukraine from the National Museum in Cracow is a symphony of pure, distinctive colours. The artist was under the charm of the vast space of the steppes, that were hypnotizing him. He spent about ten years in Ukraine, travelling between the estates of befriended Polish landowners and observing the work of peasants interwoven with the landscape. Like his fellow intellectuals, he was moved by the simplicity and goodness emanating from the everyday life of the villagers. He probably identified it with freedom from norms of the bourgeoisie and its existence in close proximity to nature. This conviction was mixed with an overwhelming fascination with colours that emanated from nature and saturated by the powerful light. It all found expression in his art created between 1883 and 1894.
In the painting, the colours are of an extraordinary purity. The sun laid its shine in bright yellows on the clothes of a man with a whip, who looks after a procession of oxen ploughing. The sun also lights up the backs of the animals. Their massive bodies, frozen in the dung, are built of a tangle of pure colours. For me, however, these bright, eye-catching colors obscure the sad reality of Ukrainian peasants. The one that was marked by endless effort, extreme poverty and hunger from which there was no escape.
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