Petrykivka and Gogol : Colors and Scents

The colors and images of Petrykivka, one of the traditional Ukrainian arts, are vivid and joyous. Fire birds take flight among branches laden with fruit and fantasy blossoms. The artists believed that such colorful images protect people from evil spirits, and looking at the complex and happy ornaments of Petrykivka I can’t help thinking that there is something to the idea of art as talisman.

Petrykivka is considered as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, and the village of Petrykivka in the Dnipropetrovsk region still boasts many artists. I wrote about my visit two years ago, and anyone can tour the art studios, take a class or simply admire the paintings. Those of you in New York, however, have a unique chance to experience this art in person as The Ukrainian Institute of America hosts the exhibit Petrykivka: A Ukrainian Folk Phenomenon and Living Tradition from April 8 to April 30. The collection presented is based on discoveries by Natalie Pawlenko and Yuri Mischenko and features 47 paintings by some of the most renowned Petrykivka artists.

The Ukrainian Institute of America is located near the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it features a number of interesting exhibits and workshops. If you ever wanted to learn the art of pysanka, Ukrainian decorated eggs, there is a class offered on April 1st and April 2nd.

While we are on the topic of Ukraine, Nikolai Gogol was born on this day in 1809 in Velyki Sorochyntsi, a small town in the Poltava region. The Nose, Dead Souls, and The Overcoat are some of his most important works, and I will also add my personal favorite to this list, Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka.

Here is his description of fragrant Ukrainian nights from “A May Night”, one of the stories from Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka.

“Fill your eyes with it. The moon shines in the midst of the sky; the immeasurable vault of heaven seems to have expanded to infinity; the earth is bathed in silver light; the air is warm, voluptuous, and redolent of innumerable sweet scents. Divine night! Magical night! Motionless, but inspired with divine breath, the forests stand, casting enormous shadows and wrapped in complete darkness.”

The Ukrainian Institute of America
2 East 79th Street New York, NY 10075

Extra ReadingPetrykivka : Ukraine’s Vibrant Treasure

Image 1: Volodymyr Hlushchenko, Roosters, 2007, Tempera on paper. From the Natalie Pawlenko and Yuri Mischenko collection. Image 2: Gogol’s estate in the town of Hoholeve near Poltava, photography by Bois de Jasmin.



  • Sandra: Dear Victoria, I will visit this for sure, we live very close and I have walked by this several times on my way into Central Park
    Thank you for sharing March 31, 2017 at 8:05am Reply

    • Victoria: They always have interesting exhibits, and the location is great. Their Petrykivka expo comes just in time for spring. March 31, 2017 at 8:10am Reply

    • Sandra: I didn’t see the class about the eggs on the website for this weekend March 31, 2017 at 8:20am Reply

      • Victoria: It’s there, “Pysanka workshop.”

        And here is the April 8 one:

        It’s really a lot of fun, for both kids and adults. March 31, 2017 at 8:30am Reply

        • Sandra: Ah, let me see if I can still purchase a ticket. My little ones are too young but I would love to try. March 31, 2017 at 9:11am Reply

          • Victoria: I think you should be able to. Do let me know how it goes! I bought some wax, so I might try making pysanka at home myself. March 31, 2017 at 10:28am Reply

            • Sandra: I went! It was my first pysanka experience and I was there for over 3 hours
              I met some lovely people and the building is just amazing! I can see you wearing all the necklaces they had on display..

              My friend and I will go to the Petrykivka exhibit later on this month. April 2, 2017 at 2:30pm Reply

              • Victoria: Ah, I was going to ask about that necklace exhibit. It looks great, doesn’t it!

                Very happy to hear that you enjoyed the experience. What did you paint on your pysanka? April 3, 2017 at 6:13am Reply

                • Sandra: I design out of a book she had. In the end it was pink with a little blue and orange. It was my first one so it was not a masterpiece. I will send you a photo April 3, 2017 at 7:19am Reply

                  • Victoria: Thank you for the photo! Your pysanka look great. I can’t believe that it’s your first try. You obviously have a talent for this. April 3, 2017 at 2:13pm Reply

                    • Sandra: Thank you, I grabbed the book Pysanka for Kids! It was very helpful for a beginner April 3, 2017 at 2:42pm

                    • Victoria: There are so many patterns and combinations that having some guidance at first helps. April 4, 2017 at 1:22am

                    • Sandra: I am going to this exhibit today to view the Petrykivka. I will report back! April 25, 2017 at 9:14am

                    • Victoria: Do let me know! Have fun. April 26, 2017 at 1:39pm

                    • Sandra: when i went the other day there was a sign that said closed to the public. The women inside said they are setting up for an event that will last all week. This exhibit ends this week so I am very upset about this. I will try again tomorrow. While I made my way all the way there I went to Albertine’s next door, have you ever been there? April 27, 2017 at 8:58am

                    • Victoria: Once, it’s a nice place.

                      Hope that you can visit again and that the exhibit will be open. April 27, 2017 at 11:28am

  • Jillie: It was another famous Russian person’s birthday today too – Sergei Diaghilev, 1872!

    Your quote from Evenings on a Farm is quite magical, as are those amazing Petrykivka birds. March 31, 2017 at 10:02am Reply

    • Victoria: Just a small clarification. Gogol wasn’t Russian. He was Ukrainian. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that he contributed tremendously to the Russian literature specifically and the world literature in general. For my part, I know of few other writers who described Ukraine better than he did. Those stories compiled in the Evenings Near Dikanka collection made his known to his reading public. March 31, 2017 at 10:26am Reply

      • Jillie: That is not a small clarification – oh I am so ignorant! But my excuse is that I share this misconception with so many others who also lump Gogol with others under the “Russian” heading. My husband has appeared in some of his plays, so I should know better!

        As always, I love to learn from you and want to read more of your wonderful descriptions of your Ukrainian artists. April 1, 2017 at 2:02am Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, it’s a very common misconception, lumping not just Ukrainian culture and history under the label of “Russia,” but that the other republics that once made up the Soviet Union (which in fact was formed as a Union, at least on paper, rather than the Russian Empire to accommodate Ukrainian aspirations for independence.) A popular French textbook used here in Belgium includes a story of Pierre’s visit to “La Russie.” One of the cities he visits is Kiev.

          But Gogol’s Ukrainian origins are important, because they were tremendously influential in his writing. He explored so many Ukrainian themes in his work, from the folklore to nationalism and history. He’s been incredibly important for the development of the Ukrainian literature and philosophy too. In the West, Gogol is still seen through the prism of the Russocentric vision, but I feel that this view is too narrow for the work of this complex artist. It’s like describing the work of Sir Walter Scott without alluding to his Scottish roots. April 1, 2017 at 8:57am Reply

  • Phyllis Iervello: Victoria, you are always very informative.
    Thank you! March 31, 2017 at 10:11am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m happy to share! The website also offers a virtual tour, so you can see more paintings from the collection. March 31, 2017 at 10:29am Reply

  • Elisa: Those roosters remind me of Louis Wain’s cat paintings! Do you know him? He’s so fascinating and I’ve always wanted to find a good biography of him. March 31, 2017 at 10:26am Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve just read a fantastic biography of Novalis, a German Romantic poet and philosopher, so my curiosity about other interesting personages is peaked. I just looked up Louis Wain and yes, what a character! Some of his paintings are eerie, but all are fascinating. Cats of all things! March 31, 2017 at 10:32am Reply

      • Elisa: Oh, I read a novel about him (Novalis) last year! The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. It’s excellent! March 31, 2017 at 10:35am Reply

        • Victoria: That’s the one I read. Yes, I suppose, it’s not technically a biography, more like historical fiction, but it was well-researched. Did you read anything else by Fitzgerald? March 31, 2017 at 10:43am Reply

          • Elisa: Oh of course, I should have asked. Yes, I also read The Beginning of Spring last year and loved that one even more. I highly recommend it.

            I think you would also like Alice Munro’s long short story “Too Much Happiness,” which is based on the life of Russian mathematician Sophia Kovalevsky. March 31, 2017 at 10:48am Reply

            • Victoria: I’ve just added The Beginning of Spring to my Kindle. Discovering authors like Elizabeth Taylor, Penelope Fitzgerald and Barbara Pym has been one of my year’s highlights so far.

              Will look for Munro’s story too. She’s been recommended by several people here. March 31, 2017 at 3:15pm Reply

  • Annie O: Saw a marvelous and completely charming Indian movie last night called “The Namesake.” A young Asian American boy is named Nikolai Gogol by his Father. He hates the name until one day, having suffered many trials, finds the book, “The Overcoat” among his dead Father’s possessions. Reading the book, he finally comes home to himself. It made me want to read Gogol soonest! How synchronous was your timely article. Thank you Victoria. March 31, 2017 at 10:26am Reply

    • Victoria: I loved that film and the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri on which it was based! In fact, I need to see it again.

      If you haven’t read the novel, I can’t recommend it highly enough. March 31, 2017 at 10:34am Reply

      • Annie O: Thank you! I will! April 3, 2017 at 10:42am Reply

  • Ellen M.: There have been times in my life when I have experienced just that kind of night that Gogol describes. It is magical. And oh, that description brings it all back. i wish I lived near New York so that I could view the exhibit. Your selection caught my eye and made me smile. March 31, 2017 at 11:09am Reply

    • Victoria: These artworks are so uplifting. I’m also far from NYC, but I’ll be close enough to the town in Ukraine where the art is produced, so I plan to visit. April 1, 2017 at 7:58am Reply

  • Barqs: What a beautiful colorful piece of art to wake up to this morning. The colors of the roosters and flowers are striking! March 31, 2017 at 12:56pm Reply

    • Victoria: Aren’t they! Yes, roosters and cuckoo birds are the beloved motifs. April 1, 2017 at 7:59am Reply

  • Robert H.: What a gorgeous quote! Stunning! I am sadly remiss in my Gogol education, despite my Ukranian grandparents. Fluent in Chekov however.❤❤❤❤ March 31, 2017 at 2:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: It only means that you have something else to discover. I always feel envious of people who are about to read Gogol for the first time. April 1, 2017 at 8:00am Reply

  • Lydia: How beautiful!
    Thank you for the exhibition recommendation. March 31, 2017 at 5:18pm Reply

  • marini: Victoria,

    I commented earlier, but I don’t think my post got to its destination…

    Anyway, I am most curious about this book you mentioned. I am a long devoted fan of Gogol. Do you know if there is a version in English? All I cam find are Russian editions, or books ABOUT the book. Please let me know your thoughts!
    SO appreciated your post! The art and Gogol. Fantastic! March 31, 2017 at 8:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: Here is the English translation I have: Village Evenings Near Dikanka and Mirgorod (The World’s Classics) Paperback – December 22, 1994 by Nikolai Gogol (Author), Christopher English (Translator), Richard Peace (Introduction). It’s out of print, but it’s available online. April 1, 2017 at 8:14am Reply

  • Mia: I have a soft spot for Petrykivka type of art. Thank you for sharing! In Finland we have similar type of tradition, some of which is straight loan – sometimes even plagiarism, unfortunately – from Ukraine, some of which have the same old roots. Near to kitsch in a way, and then however not at all. Love the colors!

    And Gogol, he is unplagiarisable, if I may strech English grammar this much. My favorite, perhaps, is Overcoat (in Finnish translation). How similar the world is still anytime anywhere… April 3, 2017 at 2:30pm Reply

    • Victoria: The Overcoat is one of the masterpieces to be sure. April 4, 2017 at 1:19am Reply

  • Notturno7: Thank you so much! This was wonderful and inspiring in many ways. ❤️❤️Thanks to the readers and their posts, too. April 3, 2017 at 2:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: The site also has more examples, some of which are so intricate. April 4, 2017 at 1:20am Reply

      • Notturno7: I have to show this to my friends from Ukraine who live in the U.S. 😊💖 April 4, 2017 at 1:21pm Reply

        • Victoria: Hope that they like it! April 4, 2017 at 3:13pm Reply

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