Under the Apple Tree (Couple Under a Tree)

Mykhailo Boichuk

Basic information
Mykhailo Boichuk
Under the Apple Tree (Couple Under a Tree)
Date of creation
tempera painting
wood tempera gilding
Dimensions (height x width, cm)
38 x 32
Information about author
Mykhailo Boichuk
Artist's lifetime
Mykhailo Boichuk was a Ukrainian muralist and representative of the Ukrainian cultural Renaissance of the early twentieth century. He was the founder of Boichukism, the original school of Ukrainian art, and leader of the group of Boichukists. His name is given to an artistic phenomenon that combined the forms of folk art and the heritage of Byzantium and Proto-Renaissance. The French called it Renovation Byzantine (Neo-Byzantism). In 1913, he became a member of the Shevchenko Scientific Society, and in 1917 – of the Ukrainian Scientific Society. Mykhailo Boichuk was born on October 30, 1882, in the village of Romanivka, near Terebovlia. He received an excellent artistic education thanks to the support of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky. The painter studied in Lviv, Vienna, Krakow, and later in Munich and Paris. In 1909, he founded his own school where Mykola Kasperovych, Zofia Nalepinska, Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay, Helena Schramm and others studied. In 1911, he returned to Lviv where he worked as a fine art restorer and muralist at the National Museum (now the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum in Lviv). In 1917, he became one of the founding professors of the Ukrainian State Academy of Arts where he headed the icon and fresco studio. In 1925, Mykhailo was one of the organizers of the Association of Revolutionary Art of Ukraine. The most significant works made together with students were paintings on modern themes in the Lutsk barracks in Kyiv in 1919, Sanatorium for Peasants on the coast of the Khadzhibey Estuary in Odesa between 1927 and 1928, and the Chervonozavodskyi Theater in Kharkiv between 1933 and 1935. All monumental paintings have not survived. On November 25, 1936, Mykhailo Boichuk was arrested and charged with Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism as well as being a leader of a national-fascist terrorist organization. The artist was shot, and most of his works were destroyed.
Object description
The work ''Couple Under a Tree'', the so-called secular icon, is a unique icon-painting of the early period of Boichuk's creative work. The work was performed in Lviv between 1910 and 1914. It was at that time that the artist’s individual creative mission to create a national monumental style by synthesizing Byzantine icon-painting traditions with decorativism and the symbolism of folk primitivity was clearly defined. The Byzantine tradition can be traced in Boichuk's artworks of the Lviv period that lasted from 1910 to 1914; it manifests itself in a golden background, a reverse perspective, and the associated conditionalism in the images. At that time, he tried to rethink the inner essence of the Biblical images and depict them in the style of the artist of the twentieth century. In this sense, the painting ''Under the Apple Tree'' is a programmatic work. This work is often referred to as an icon, as it is painted in tempera and gold on a board in an iconic style. The plot image of the canvas is deeply symbolic, as it is inspired by the image of "Fruit Tree'', and "Garden" by Hryhorii Skovoroda. In the center of the composition there is a tree. This apple tree with fruit is a Christian symbol that appeals to the moment of the sin of Adam and Eve. The first level of the icon-painting is symbolic; it leads us to the Christian tradition. Such symbolism is characteristic of folk art in general. According to the principle of symmetry, the tree is placed in the middle of the icon-painting, and according to the method of painting, it is rather a conditionally stylized image in the folk style than a tree depicted in the realistic style. Under the apple tree, in the best traditions of the folk genre, there are two people, namely a woman and a guy, who fetch fruit which are abundant on the tree. These figures are also arranged on the principle of symmetry, as the guy stands on the left, and the woman on the right side of the tree. The image of the "Tree of Life'' is very common in the works by Boichuk and his students. The archetype of the "World Tree" combines ideas about time, space, life, and death. The medieval braided ornament, which traces its origins to the teratological pagan braid, is also used in the work; it symbolizes the combination of all things and continuity, as well as encloses the images in a self-sufficient and immutable world. In 1973, this unique exhibit item got into the collection of Lviv National Art Gallery from the private collection of Yaroslava Muzyka, who closely worked with Boichuk and his followers during the Lviv period of the artist's life. Yaroslava Muzyka lived in a house on Charnetskyi Street (now Vynnychenko Street, 26), where Boichuk's studio was located; she managed to preserve a significant amount of archival material and some works that remained after the artist’s moving to Kyiv.