Bokshai, Iosyf(b. October 2, 1891, Kobylets’ka Poliana [Hungarian Kingdom], Ukraine; d. October 9, 1975, Uzhhorod [USSR], Ukraine) — painter and pedagogue in Subcarpathian Rus’. After graduating from the gymnasium in Mukachevo Bokshai studied at the Budapest Academy of Art. Drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I, he was captured on the eastern front (1915) and interned in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp. He returned home in 1918, taught art at the Uzhhorod gymnasium, and soon became one of the leading figures in the formation of the Subcarpathian School of Painting. His goal was to create a highly professional national school of art, which would become the basis of a national and cultural renaissance, and to help raise the general intellectual level of Subcarpathian society.
Bokshai worked in a wide variety of techniques—fresco, oil, guache, water-color, and pastels. He was a master of the monumental style, which is evident from the frescoes and altar paintings he did for numerous churches in *Subcarpathian Rus’ as well as in neighboring regions in Slovakia and Hungary. He also illustrated school textbooks, collections of literature, and almanacs, for which he created a specific graphic style, and he promoted folk art, in particular the preservation of wooden churches. Among his more important works are the paintings in the chapel of the Greek Catholic episcopal residence in Uzhhorod (today the reading room of the library of Uzhhorod State University).
His early life experiences, in particular World War I and internment as a prisoner of war, transformed Bokshai into a democrat and patriot. While retaining a deep respect for his homeland and people, nonetheless was able to see them for what they were without the need for embellishment. Such an approach was evident in his first series of canvases, a tryptych entitled, “I am and will remain a Rusyn.” To this period belong paintings such as Budivnytstvo (Construction, 1922), Verkhovynets’ (The Highlander, 1923), Oranka na Verkhovyni (Dawn in the Highlands, 1925), and Zhnyva (The Harvest, 1925). Among the best of these works was the monumental Bazar v Uzhhorodi (Market in Uzhhorod, 1927), which geographically depicted the multiethnic reality of Subcarpathian society.
Together with Adal’bert *Erdeli Bokshai founded (1927) a Public School of Painting in Uzhhorod, which trained a group of artists who subsequently formed the basis of a Rusyn national school of painting. With other colleagues he founded (1931) the Society of Fine Arts in Subcarpathian Rus’/Obshchestvo dieiatelei izobrazitel’nykh iskusstv na Podkarpatskoi Rusi. Bokshai’s own work is characterized by large-scale impressionistic landscapes that provide an insight into his native land and the unique beauty of the Carpathian autumn. Among these was Vyd Uzhhorodu (A View of Uzhhorod, 1928), which revealed Bokshai as a master of that Subcarpathian genre. He also worked in the small village of Uzhok near the Carpathian pass north of Uzhhorod became the Barbizon for Subcarpathia’s painters. It was there that Bokshai completed series of canvases including Uzhots’kyi dzvonar (The Uzhok Parish Bell Ringer, 1934); Staryi mlyn v Uzhku (The Old Mill in Uzhok, 1935), Uzhots’kyi tserkva (The Church at Uzhok, 1938), Koliadnyky (The Christmas Carollers), as well as several epic landscapes: Osinnii peizazh (An Autumn Landscape, 1934), Selo Volosianka (The Village of Volosianka), Selo Bohdan (The Village of Bohdan), and Khusts’kyi zamok (The Castle of Khust, 1942). Another popular subject for Bokshai was the Uzhhorod Castle, which he depicted in several renditions at all times of the year and at various times of the day.
During the interwar years Bokshai completed frescoes for the episcopal residence in Uzhhorod, as well as for churches throughout Subcarpathian Rus’ and in neighboring Hungary and Slovakia. These works reflected the artist’s unique combination of the Venetian Baroque and Art Nouveau. Among his largest canvases on religious themes were renditions of Christ and the Mother of God surrounded by Subcarpathian villagers and children in traditional Rusyn dress (Pokloninnia pastyriv/ The Admiring Shepherds, 1920-1922; Khrystos sered narodu/Christ Among the People, 1926; Khrystos sered ditei/Christ Among the Children, 1935) and an altar painting in the church in Storozhnytsia near Uzhhorod (Khrystos-uchytel’ iz sviatymy Kyrylom i Metodiiem/Christ the Teacher with Sts. Cyril and Methodius, 1934), in which St. Cyril is holding a model of the Subcarpathian wooden church in the village of Uzhok. The culmination of Bokshai’s frescoes on biblical themes was Vozdvyzhennia chesnoho zhyvotvoriashchoho Khresta (The Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross, 1939) on the ceiling of the Greek Catholic Cathedral in Uzhhorod. His last monumental work in this genre was for the church at the *Mariapocs Monastery (1943).
Bokshai did not become engaged in the political movements that swept through Subcarpathian Rus’ during the twentieth century, although he worked within the framework of the various regimes that ruled his homeland. He did not, however, sacrifice his own aesthetic principles, and even during the post-World War II Soviet era, with its demands for works responding to Socialist-Realist ideology, Bokshai was able to maintain the distinct qualities that had been characteristic of his prewar Subcarpathian landscapes (Osin’ v horakh/Autumn in the Mountains, 1947; Verkhovyna/The Highlands, 1948; Synevirs’ki polonyny/The Highland Pastures near Synevyr, 1957; the series Osinnii park v Uzhhorodi/An Uzhhorod Park in Autumn). During the period of Soviet rule Bokshai taught at the School of Applied Art in Uzhhorod (1945-1957) and at the Institute of Applied and Decorative Arts in L’viv (1950-1957). He was named a State Artist of the Soviet Ukraine (1960) and the Soviet Union (1963) and a corresponding member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences (1958). Albums of his paintings, mostly from the Soviet period, have been published by V. Kuril’tseva (1962) and by O.V. Prykhod’ko and L.I. Biksei (1992).
Bibliography: Grigorii S. Ostrovskii, Iosif Iosifovich Bokshai (Moscow, 1967); Olena Cherneha-Balla, Svitlo viry i dobra (Uzhhorod, 1994).
Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.