Semyon Chuikov, Founder of Kyrgyz Painting

Published: May 23, 2015

The Faces of Kyrgyzstan is a project of the popular Russian-language website based in Kyrgyzstan. The project presents those natives of Kyrgyzstan which have helped form the current country and especially its modern culture. The profiles are presented on in Russian. Translation was performed by Sophia Rehm, a SRAS Home and Abroad Scholar studying in Bishkek.

Semyon Afanasevich Chuikov is a name associated with the most outstanding achievements in Kyrgyz painting. It was thanks to Chuikov that the first art gallery was established in the Kyrgyz Republic, and the first exhibitions of Kyrgyz artists were organized.

Semyon Chuikov’s Childhood

Semyon Afanasevich was born on October 30, 1902, in the city of Bishkek (then known as “Pishpek”). His parents were Russian immigrants from the peasant class. His father, Afanasy Chuikov, served as a clerk in a military hospital, and his mother, Evdokia Georgievna, worked in the same hospital as a laundress. His childhood was difficult, and spent in extreme poverty. Left to himself, Chuikov often disappeared for days, sometimes going off with Kyrgyz boys into the mountains, where, in poor, smoky yurts, he listened to Kyrgyz folk songs with pleasure. His sense of beauty came into being under the influence of the nature surrounding him: vast steppes, majestic mountain landscapes, and the noise of fast mountain rivers.

At 10 years old, Chuikov was first introduced to art, under the guidance of the artist N.G. Khludov, an elementary school art teacher. In 1920, Chuikov entered the Turkestan art school in Tashkent, where he first encountered the culture of a big city, with its art museum, opera house, and conservatory. In art school, he made lifelong friends, and grew close with M.V. Kuprianov, and with E.A. Malevina, who would soon become his wife. In 1927, Chuikov first participated in the All-Union art exhibit “Art of the Peoples’ of the USSR,” as an artist of Kyrgyzstan. During the 1930s, Chuikov was involved in numerous organizational activities. He created an art museum, for which he managed to acquire dozens of works by famous Russian and Soviet artists. In 1934, the Artists’ Union of Kyrgyzstan was organized with Chuikov’s active assistance. In 1935, an art studio was opened that would be the basis of the art school, established in 1939, that today bears Chuikov’s name.

By this time, Chuikov had demonstrated extraordinary talent and fine aesthetic sensitivity, creating landscapes and portraits that employed the bright colors native to his homeland. Chuikov first gained fame for The Kyrgyz Kolkhoz Suite, a cycle whose best images, despite the Soviet epithet “kolkhoz,” poeticize traditional, “eternal” characteristics of the nature and life of his rural land. Even the last painting in the cycle, The Daughter of Soviet Kirghizia, which Soviet mass media practically turned into a propaganda poster about the triumph of socialism in Central Asia, is really just a bright and fresh study of a village schoolgirl against a backdrop of distant mountains. The girl’s figure expressively and succinctly symbolizes not socialism, but Kirghizia itself.

The Post-War Period and Chuikov’s Golden Period

The post-war period witnessed Chuikov’s most successful period as an artist. Several of his paintings achieved enormous popularity such as: Morning, Noon, Evening, and The Daughter of Soviet Kirghizia. The Chuikov House Museum’s exhibition consists of extensive material covering a 60-year period of the artist’s career and the development of Kyrgyz visual arts. Among items on display are paintings, sketches, photographs, documents, letters, and personal items donated by relatives. The main hall of the exhibition is the artist’s studio. In the center is a work area, with a handmade table, on which lie a pallet and paint brushes. On an easel is the artist’s first sketch for the painting The Daughter of Soviet Kirghizia, made with charcoal. At the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958, two of Chuikov’s paintings – The Daughter of Soviet Kirgizia and Shephard’s Daughter – were awarded the Gold Medal.

Over the years, Chuikov’s colorism and mastery of shaping images in bright colors – akin to the earlier style of the artists in the Russian avant-garde group Jack of Diamonds – were only further enriched. The impressions left by two trips to India played a particularly significant role. He published three books of travel essays and memoirs: Images of India, Notes of the Artist, and Italian Diary (Образы Индии, Заметки художника, Итальянский дневник). In the 1950s and 1960s Chuikov traveled widely: to India, Italy, France, Greece, and Bulgaria. From these trips, he brought back to his homeland a wealth of material in the form of a variety of studies, pencil sketches, and, in his artist’s memory, a complete, living sense of distinctive aspects of life. Chuikov’s interesting Indian series is an organic continuation of his Kyrgyz theme. It conveys, with impressive honesty, the life of simple people, creating a picture of the character of a people. Through Chuikov’s paintings we visually grasp qualities of our world, and the human need for happiness, and for a harmonious existence, light, and joy. For the series From the Life of the People of India, Chuikov was the first Soviet artist, in 1967, to be awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award. Two works from this series are displayed in the House Museum: Waiting, and Newlyweds from the Untouchable Caste. In these works, the artist managed to convey the inner world of the characters. In 1963, Chuikov made a fascinating journey to Italy. He painted Lake Albano and the Appian Way, depicting nature resembling that of Kyrgyzstan. In 1966, the artist published his Italian Diary, full of interesting observations and lively sketches.

The House Museum of Semyon Afanasevich Chuikov

Semyon Afanasevich Chuikov’s legacy is enormous. His works have entered the permanent collections of many major museums, such as the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, the State Museum of Oriental Art in Moscow, The Museum of Fine Arts of Kyrgyzstan, various museums of India, the Dresden Gallery, and others. In his paintings, genre and landscape painting come together in a single work.

Chuikov died in Moscow on May 18, 1980.

The Memorial House Museum of Semyon Afanasevich Chuikov was established on August 25, 1987, on the eve of the 85th anniversary of the artist’s birth. Within his lifetime, Chuikov has become a People’s Artist of the USSR, laureate of the State Prize of the USSR, the Toktogul Prize and the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding. His house museum is located in the artist’s former studio, where he lived and worked from 1949-1979. Chuikov paid great attention to the education of his assistants, worked to open an art school, and helped art students who had studied in Moscow and Leningrad. Some of these later became famous artists, like G. Aytiev, S. Akylbekov, D. Kozhakhmetov, A. Usubaliev, and S Chokmorov. The museum’s walls feature paintings and sketches like: Boy with Corn, Girl in a Scarf, Bathing Boys, Outskirts of Bukhara, Akyn among the Poor, and Wildflowers. These works are marked by intense emotion, purity, and harmony, affirming the idea of human dignity.

About the author

Sophia Rehm

Sophia Rehm graduated from the University of Chicago in 2012 with a BA in Russian Language and Literature. She studied Russian as a Second Language in St. Petersburg in 2010 and is currently in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan as SRAS's Home and Abroad Scholar. At the time she wrote for this site, she hoped to pursue graduate studies in Slavic Languages and Literatures, as well as literary translation.

Program attended: Home and Abroad Scholar

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