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Manailo, Fedor

Manailo, Fedor (b. October 19, 1910, Ivanivtsi [Hungarian Kingdom], Ukraine; d. January 15, 1978, Uzhhorod [Soviet Union], Ukraine) — painter and pedagogue in Subcarpathian Rus’. Manailo completed his studies at the Russian gymnasium in Mukachevo (1928) and the Advanced School of Art and Industry/Um Prum in Prague (1934), during which time he also visited several artistic centers in France (1930). An artist belonging to the younger generation of the *Subcarpathian School of Painting, Manailo’s aesthetic outlook was formed by the cultural atmosphere of Prague in the 1930s. He was basically comfortable painting still-lifes in a style influenced by both expressionism and surrealism, which was enhanced by his familiarity with traditional Subcarpathian (in particular *Hutsul) folk art.

After returning home from Prague to Subcarpathian Rus’ Manailo taught briefly at the elementary school in his native village of Ivanivtsi (1936-1937) and then at the Trade School in Uzhhorod (1937-1945). It was during this first period as an independent artist that he created his best work, including large still-lifes on epic-like themes (Velykany/Giants, 1932; Nad selom/Beyond the Village, 1934; Koshary/The Basket Weavers, 1937; Narodna gotyka/Folk Gothic, 1940), expressionist images of Carpathian mountain dwellers (Hutsulka/The Hutsul Women, 1939; Iz tserkvy/Coming from Church, 1940; Maty z dytynoiu/Mother and Child, 1941), and canvases that exuded the coldness of death (Skorbota/Mourning, 1938; Pokhorony/The Funeral, 1942). From 1941 his paintings were increasingly dominated by themes of foreboding (Tryvoha/Anxiety, 1941; Vtecha/Flight, 1941; Zhdemo/We’re Waiting, 1943), although he tried to compensate for the ever-increasing sense of misfortune by creating as well scenes of joy and celebration (Zustrichaiut’ molodykh/Youngsters Get Together, 1941; Hutsul’s’ke vesillia/The Hutsul Wedding, 1942) and images of fairy-tale folk heros (Bogatyri/The Bogatyrs, 1941; Ivanko Smilyvyi/Ivan the Brave, 1941).

With the establishment of Soviet rule in Subcarpathian Rus’ after 1945, the new Stalinist regime demanded from Manailo paintings that would clearly illustrate “the joy of liberation,” “the act of political reunification,” “the building of socialism,” and “the achievements of a reborn region.” The artist’s previous work was deliberately forgotten as “difficult to understand and unnecessary for the people,” and Manailo himself, who seemed to accept such negative branding, tried to alter both his subject matter and style. As if he were a student, the Soviet regime expected that he study the paintings of nineteenth-century Russian realists and, in turn, to produce himself works in the currently acceptable spirit of Socialist Realism. The result was a series of canvases done on order from the Soviet authorities without any distinctive artistic quality (Zustrich Chervonoi Armii/Meeting the Soviet Army, 1945-46; Naftoprovid v Karpatakh/The Petroleum Pipe-Line in the Carpathians, 1960, among others).

During the period of the Khrushchev thaw, which relaxed slightly Soviet totalitarian rule, Manailo tried to return “to the former Manailo.” A critical turning point in this process came with a retrospective exhibit of his work held in Kiev (1961-1962), which revealed the enormous contrast between the “old Manailo” and the empty monumentality of his postwar canvases. He now returned to former themes based on traditional Subcarpathian life (Tanets’ bilia vohnyshcha/The Dance Near the Fire, 1966; Hutsul’s’ka hrazhda/The Hutsul Homestead, 1967; Vesillia/The Wedding, 1968) and began to create truly monumental canvases (Vesna v Karpatakh/Spring in the Carpathians, 1961; Hory-doly/Mountains and Valleys, 1968).

This was not, however, “the old Manailo,” but rather a new third phase of his creative spirit. During this period he became the main set-designer for the Transcarpathian State Theater in Uzhhorod and began to experiment with new forms of decorative art, including “graphic” drawing on melons. During the last years of his life Manailo turned to a theme that for him was entirely uncharted territory: urban and industrial life. In pseudo-decorative canvases like Dytiachyi svit (Children’s World, 1973) and Muzyka zavodu (The Music of the Factory, 1974), he drew geometrically precise concrete structures and fantasy-like webs of metal that bore witness to his arrival on the threshold of a new creative stage into which, because of his increasing illness, he was never able to cross.

Bibliography: Vladimir F. Tsel’tner, F. Manailo (Moscow, 1986).

Ivan Pop

Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.
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