Mykola Hlushchenko. Unknown Pages of the Life of the Famous Artist


Mykola Hlushchenko. Unknown Pages of the Life of the Famous Artist

The life and work of the outstanding artist Mykola Hlushchenko, whose 120th birthday is September 17, is multifaceted, full of bright events, dramatic twists of fate and mysteries. Art critics, historians, journalists, writers, and cinematographers have repeatedly tried to understand it. His biography was often accompanied by various conjectures and inaccuracies. The declassified, earlier unknown documents from the Intelligence’s archives make it possible to place certain emphasis on all this and shed light on the secret pages of the artist's life.

Letters from Paris to Ukraine

It is known from many sources how M. Hlushchenko got to France. This story was repeatedly retold by Mykola Petrovych himself in the circle of his friends and acquaintances. In general, it looks like this. In 1918 he was mobilized into Anton Denikin’s Volunteer Army. He had barely begun to fight properly when he found himself in the camps for internees with the remnants of the White Guard units on the territory of Poland. He did not want to return to the front, so he fled to Germany. He got a good education as an artist in Berlin. In this he was assisted by influential Ukrainian emigrants, Hetman Pavlo Skoropadskyi, Professor Roman Smal-Stotskyi, writer and politician Volodymyr Vynnychenko.

In the archives of the Intelligence there are materials that detail some of the events of that time. For example, in a document entitled “Autobiography of the Source”, made on a typewriter, M. Hlushchenko noted: “… In 1918 I joined the White Army, the Belozersky Regiment as a private. In early 1919 I was promoted to a non-commissioned officer. With the units of General Bredov I retreated to Odesa, then - through Tiraspol - Krakow - Lviv. Was interned in Shcholkovo. I spent about 3 months there and fled to Berlin in late 1919. I stayed in Berlin until 24. During this time I graduated from the Higher Academy of Arts. From 1925 to this day I have been living in Paris. During the whole period of my emigration, I was not a member of any political group” (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F. 1. – Case 1942. - P. 111).

In other documents, in addition, with reference to M. Hlushchenko’s words, it is noted that in General Bredov’s Corps, he always fought against the Red Army. He allegedly escaped from the Shcholkovo camp not in 1919, but in 1920. During the first attempt, he was detained by Polish police near the Polish-German border. He soon escaped from the camp again and eventually reached Germany.

M. Hlushchenko told about the assistance of prominent figures of the Ukrainian emigration at that time that “they noticed me and helped me in the third year of my studies, after publications in German magazines and newspapers about me as one of the best artists who could become known in the future”. And before that he had been earning his living in various ways, by painting included.

During his stay in Berlin, M. Hlushchenko officially applied to the Consular Department of the USSR Embassy with a request to grant him Soviet citizenship. He intended to return to his homeland. He was then met by Secretary of the Consular Department, Oleksandr Dovzhenko, with whom they befriended and later maintained good relations. But for some reason he was not granted citizenship then, perhaps they simply did not have time to do the paper work, because in 1925 he moved to Paris. There he re-wrote the appeal and eventually received a passport of a citizen of the USSR. And soon he was noticed by representatives of the Soviet Foreign Intelligence.

The circumstances of M. Hlushchenko's involvement in the work of the Soviet Foreign Intelligence, as evidenced by archival documents, were as follows. In January 1931, the artist wrote a letter to the All-Ukrainian Society for Cultural Relations with a proposal to organize in Kharkiv and Kyiv an art exhibition of paintings by Ukrainian emigrants living in Paris.

In the letter, he said that there were about 25 such artists. He provided a separate list and noted that he had sent detailed information about each of them and photos to the “Literature and Art” publishing house. He wrote that all of them had a desire to exhibit their works in the USSR, and for the exhibition they could specifically make works on labor and peasant themes. He also suggested: “I have a personal desire to organize my own exhibition in the USSR. I had my exhibitions: Berlin (1924), Paris (1926, 1927, 1929), Rome and Milan (1927), Ostend (1928), Stockholm (1930), Bucharest (1930), Limoges (1931), Prague. May), not counting the large number of group exhibitions in Paris and abroad. You understand my great desire as a Soviet painter to make an exhibition in my country. I can exhibit 15-20 pictures and about 100 drawings with the themes of heavy industry. I would like to stay in touch with your society at all times ”(BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F. 1. - Case 1942. - P. 25)..


This correspondence of M. Hlushchenko immediately became known to the GPU of the USSR. They opened a case against him entitled “Artist” and began to collect information. It was soon discovered that his mother, father, brother and sister, to whom he regularly sent letters and parcels, lived in Kharkiv, the then capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (Ukrainian SSR). Since then, all the letters were laid on the table of the Chekists before reaching the addressee.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Department of the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR, having gathered basic information about M. Hlushchenko, became very interested in his capabilities. In February 1931, a letter was sent from Kharkiv to Moscow, to the OGPU of the USSR, with the following proposals: “Summarizing all the information about Hlushchenko, we conclude that his recruitment is expedient. According to a number of materials, negotiations with him can be successful. It should be noted that Hlushchenko has great connections among Ukrainian emigrees in Paris, and his numerous travels in Europe allow to summon him to negotiate in Berlin or some other convenient place. You can also use his visit to Prague, scheduled for March this year”. (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F. 1. – Case 1942. - P. 11).

A plan was developed immediately. According to it, during his personal exhibition in Prague, the artist was invited to visit the plenipotentiary representation of the USSR, allegedly on behalf of the All-Ukrainian Society for Cultural Relations, to talk about the organization of an exhibition of Parisian artists in the Ukrainian SSR. The recruitment interview was to be conducted by a foreign employee of the Soviet intelligence station under the pseudonym “Stepan”.

But nothing happened in Prague. M. Hlushchenko suggested to settle all matters through correspondence. This turn of events did not coincide with the plans of the GPU.

“We Ask You to Delay Hlushchenko's Leaving for the USSR”

After the unsuccessful attempt in Prague, they decided to meet with the artist in Paris. According to archival documents, the meeting was conducted by the same “Stepan”. And here it became clear - it is unknown only why at this stage - that M. Hlushchenko was a Soviet citizen, who was granted citizenship in November 1925, and that he was going to leave for the USSR for permanent residence in the near future. This raised some doubts about the feasibility of involving him in work for the Soviet Foreign Intelligence.

In this connection, in November 1931, the Foreign Department of the GPU of the Ukrainian SSR received a document from Moscow reading: “Please let us know your opinion about the “Artist”'s visit to us, whether he should be detained, or whether he, as a person with Soviet citizenship, is unlikely to be useful to us in the work we expected to do through him”. (BSA of the SZRU- F. 1. – Case 1942. - P. 43).

In the response from Kharkiv to Moscow, they insisted that M. Hlushchenko, despite having Soviet citizenship, would be useful for working on the Ukrainian line abroad. “With this in mind”, the document said, “we ask you to delay his leaving for the USSR and recruit him”.

This decision became decisive in M. Hlushchenko’s life. Should the events had developed differently, he could have returned to the USSR and become the object of repressive attention as a former Denikinite, a representative of the bourgeois trends in art, a close acquaintance of Ukrainian emigrants - enemies of the Soviet government, and if nothing else- as a French and German spy. But it happened the way it did.

They continued to meet with M. Hlushchenko, to study his possibilities and close contacts. This went on for almost two years. All this time he was restrained from returning home. It was only in 1933 that relations with him were documented as with a foreign agent of the Soviet Intelligence.

From the very beginning, all contacts with M. Hlushchenko were deeply secretive. In correspondence with the Center, he was “Artist”- by the name of the operational case against him, and “Yarema”. That was his secret- service pseudonym. Work with him was carried out in two directions. The official, visible, part was to maintain the usual ties with the Soviet diplomatic mission in France on the basis of the execution of artistic orders. He was entrusted with a mission aimed at strengthening Franco-Soviet friendship and winning the French intelligentsia good feeling for the USSR. He painted a series of portraits of friends of the Soviet Union - writers Romain Roland and Henri Barbusse, one of the founders and leaders of the French Communist Party Marcel Cachin, President of the France-USSR Society Paul Signac and others. Besides, he participated in the design of Soviet pavilions at international trade fairs in Lyon and Paris and other events.

The invisible, hidden part of his activity was to provide information about emigrants who were of interest to Soviet intelligence and with whom he met periodically in France and other countries.

A Parcel with Lard and Rendered Pork Fat

At that time, M. Hlushchenko's life was full of events, as evidenced by correspondence with his family and friends. Copies of those letters, which were intercepted by the GPU, now provide information about his life plans and intentions, problems, experiences, attitudes to his parents, and so on.

In 1931, in a letter to his mother, he wrote that he and his wife lived modestly and that he was looking for additional sources of income. He pointed out that due to financial difficulties he was forced to look for renting a cheaper apartment. At this, he was asking how much it would cost to rent a room in Kharkiv. He repeatedly mentioned his intention to come to the USSR as soon as possible for permanent residence.

In her letters, his mother also complained that everything was expensive, but reassured him that she was coping with all the problems. Despite these assurances, Mykola Petrovych regularly sent her money or checks. Besides, he sent his parents a parcel with lard and rendered pork fat. That was in March 1933, when Ukrainians were already suffering from famine. Probably from French newspapers and friends' stories he knew about the difficult state of affairs in Ukraine. But soon the parcel returned.

In another letter to Kharkiv, he wrote about it as follows: “Good afternoon, my dears. The day after sending you the letter, I received a message from the French customs that the parcel cannot be accepted by customs, as neither lard nor rendered pork fat can pass the Soviet customs. It was very unpleasant for me, I took the parcel back, and am sending you 125 francs. (5 dollars)” (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F. 1. - Case 1942. - P. 62).

In letters dated 1934, V. Hlushchenko's relatives rejoiced that his affairs had improved and that his work had received well-deserved recognition. His brother Volodymyr wrote about this, in particular, in a letter dated May 7, 1934. “Given the letter and the feedback about you”, he said, “we can say that you have achieved your goal. I am glad that you have found your place in art and are successful”. At this, he asked his brother for consent to take as a keepsake one of the paintings that were exhibited in Kharkiv at the Skovoroda Museum.

In Search for Pictures and Fees

According to different sources, M. Hlushchenko had created more than 10,000 works of art during his life - landscapes, portraits, still lives, etc. Many of them are exhibited in various museums around the world, including in Ukraine. Some are in private collections, decorate the walls of official institutions. Of particular value are the paintings of the period of his living abroad. The fate of a large number of works is unknown. Some were lost during the Second World War, some- in modern times.

Shortly before his death, the artist selected about 250 paintings made in the 1950s in the style of socialist realism, and was going to burn them. He told his wife that he did not want to be blamed for them later. They were later found on the mezzanines in the workshop, and the Ministry of Culture of the Ukrainian SSR transferred them for storage to museums, but without the right to exhibit. Besides, according to open sources, in 1978 his wife donated more than a thousand works to museums.

Documents from the Intelligence’s archives can shed some light on the fate of some works. A detailed acquaintance with those documents testifies to the fact that in the 1930s M. Hlushchenko repeatedly sent his works of art from Paris to Kharkiv to participate in various exhibitions. He also fulfilled orders of a number of publishing houses and cultural societies. Some pictures later returned to him in France, but correspondence lasted for years to find out the fate of individual works.

In his letters, M. Hlushchenko more than once asked his mother to visit state cultural institutions and publishing houses to find out about his paintings and receive money in case of their sale or a fee for a certain work. Sometimes it worked, and the fee was paid. Sometimes it involved lots of time and walking from one office to another. Thus, in a letter dated February 1, 1934, his mother wrote: “The “Mystetstvo” publishing house replied that they could not buy a painting of Barbusse and asked you to write them an instruction on where to send this painting… In addition, write to them about the painting of Romain Rolland. Should they pass it to the Shevchenko Institute because the Institute asks for it because allegedly through the People's Commissariat of Education they bought this picture from you, but the “Mystetstvo” doesn't know about this. If they did not buy it from you, then tell them what to do with it… ”(BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F. 1. - Case 1942. – P. 73–74). In another letter to M. Hlushchenko, Mykola Lebed, an employee of the People's Commissariat of Education, wrote: “I will take Barbusse, if it does not sell, I will transfer it to the Picture gallery”.

Chekists were also involved in the search for paintings and fees. One of the documents from Moscow to the Chief of the Foreign Department of the UGB of the NKVD of the USSR dated October 21, 1934, reads: “The People's Commissariat of Education of the USSR owed the “Artist” 1,500 rubles. In this regard, the People's Commissariat of Education (art sector) has a number of letters from the “Artist”, who asks to give the money to his mother… Please resolve this issue, as it is necessary for normal relations with the source”. (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine, F. 1, Case 1942. - P. 91).

The answer was that it was very difficult to clarify, because the leadership of the Art Department of the People's Commissariat of Education had changed completely “as a result of cleansing from nationalist elements and none of the new chiefs of this Office has any idea how to contact immigrant artists”. M. Lebed, an employee of the agency, with whom the artist corresponded, was also arrested and sentenced to many years in prison. When M. Hlushchenko learnt about this in Paris, he tried to persuade an employee of the Soviet station that M. Lebed could not be an anti-Soviet element. He showed about thirty letters from him.

Later, at the insistence of the Chekists, they found lists of M. Hlushchenko's paintings which were exhibited at the 4th (1930–1931) and 5th (1932–1933) All-Ukrainian Art Exhibitions. Regarding some paintings, the documents noted that they were not accepted for the 5th Exhibition as nationalistic and that their names were still being clarified.

It was reported that the paintings were stored in the archives of the People's Commissariat of Education and could be returned to their owner. It was noted that no agreements with M. Hlushchenko could be found, so no payments could be made to him. “The money could only be paid if the paintings won an award at the exhibition”, the papers explained.

What happened to those paintings is unknown. Archival documents do not provide an answer to this. The story of a painting by Van Gogh (perhaps a copy or reproduction), about which an employee of the People's Commissariat of Education allegedly asked to be sent to one of the exhibitions, is also mysterious. “I still remind about Van Gogh - now you must get it by all means”, read one of the letters to M. Hlushchenko dated June 4, 1933.

In addition to participating in art exhibitions, M. Hlushchenko, according to documents, sent his articles to magazines, published one of the illustrated monographs, received an order “to publish in paints (30 by 40 format) some thematic work (from the life of the French proletariat and the landscape with a plant) with print run of 20,000”. He was promised to be paid 500 rubles for the right of reproduction. At the same time, they asked to suggest the method of payment. At this, barter was offered: to pay with finished products or Soviet books or albums on artistic subjects. Among the options was paying money to his mother. That was more convenient. And so it happened periodically. But with numerous delays.

Once, at the end of 1933, the “Rukh” publishing house, with which M. Hlushchenko collaborated, was liquidated. After that, the artist received a letter from the liquidation committee, which stated that the debt to him, amounting to 2,000 rubles, could be paid to his family in the USSR by parts at his written order.

M. Hlushchenko received orders from publishing houses to illustrate books. He himself asked for this in his letters. On one of these orders, he made illustrations for the Ukrainian-language edition of Nikolai Gogol's book “Dead Souls” and was looking forward to receiving the author's copies. But for some reason the printing of the book was delayed. His letters to the publishing house “Literature and Art” were not answered. Then he asked his parents to find out what was going on.

The answer was very disappointing. In “Literature and Art”, his mother wrote, “they said that Gogol's “Dead Souls” would not be published because the translation was distorted and inappropriate. The translation was made by an enemy Yefremov. Whether the translation will be done anew, they could not say, as the issue had not been resolved yet. At this, they asked in what sense it interested you ”(BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F. 1. – Case 1942. - P. 73).

It was all about Serhiy Yefremov, a Ukrainian public and state figure, literary critic, literary historian, and Academician of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences since 1919, who was repressed in 1930 as a result of a fabricated case of the Union for Liberation of Ukraine (SVU).

So, thanks to these documents from the archives of the Intelligence, another mystery has been solved. At one time, on Andriivskyi Uzviz (St. Andrwe’s Descent- transl.) in Kyiv, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of M. Gogol's birth, an exhibition of M. Hlushchenko's drawings for “Dead Souls” from the collection of Kyiv collector, expert-art critic Oleksandr Brey was organized in one of the galleries. A total of 32 graphic works were presented at the exhibition. They were numbered and had printing stamps on them. This showed that the book was completely ready for printing. “Why this did not happen in 1930s, history does not tell” - said one of the publications.

Despite the book having never been published, the money for the artist's illustrations was still ellocated. One of the letters offered to pay it when he returned to Ukraine so that he could spend it on settling in a new place.

A “Secret Meeting” Near the Monument to Vladimir

Meanwhile, M. Hlushchenko did not give up his intentions to carry through with the business in Paris as soon as possible and return home. A message dated September 26, 1934 stated:”The “Artist” is going to go home. He has been preparing for the trip for a long time, and he does not hide it from anyone. At one time he even received an invitation from the People's Commissariat of Education of Ukraine to embrace the department at the Art Academy”.

According to one of the documents, back in 1932 he allegedly wrote an application to the People's Commissariat of Education of the USSR about the possibility of getting a job. This decision was met with joy. One of the letters said: “It is very good that you will be able to teach kind, hard-working guys to paint here and you will be able to give interesting works yourself. Leaving, make sure to bring as many paints as possible, because our paints are of low quality… And one more thing - you need to bring here thematic works, sketches of Europe (negative sides), etc. to sell and release an album here… Besides, keep in mind that the subject is social, the big canvas is what we need today, like water, and you, as a highly qualified master, have a huge and extremely interesting job ahead of you. Because we have few qualified artists ”(BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F. 1. - Case 1942. - P. 48–49).

All this motivated M. Hlushchenko and encouraged him to speed up his departure. But not everything went according to his plans. “Artist” keeps insisting on his trip home”, read a message from the Paris station to Moscow, dated April 22, 1935. - We told him that he should spend this summer in France for the benefit of the cause. He is dissatisfied and declares that he cannot stay for more than 2 months” (BSA of the SZR of Ukraine. - F. 1. - Case 1942. - P. 107).

During that period, according to archival documents, he was tasked with resuming contacts with the governing circles of Ukrainian emigration, with whom he was personally acquainted. “However, we did not give tasks to “impose himself”. The proposal was solely to use the remaining time to inform about the circle of his acquaintances”, said another report.

There is no information in the intelligence archives about obtaining scientific and technical information, as a result of which Soviet intelligence received secret drawings for 205 types of military equipment, including aircraft engines for fighters. This and other information of his time, in 1990, were published on the basis of other declassified documents of the Soviet secret services. In particular, about M. Hlushchenko's intelligence mission to Berlin in 1940, obtaining information about Hitler's Germany's preparations for the attack on the USSR, receiving an album with Hitler's watercolors from Ribbentrop, etc.

The collection of documents on M. Hlushchenko in the Branch State Archive of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine ends with a series of reports on the “Artist”'s visits to Kyiv in 1935–1936. Having returned from abroad, he was not allowed to enter Ukraine immediately. Instead, a 9-square-meter room was allocated in a communal apartment in Moscow, where he lived with his wife and son.

Employees of the Foreign Department of the NKVD of the USSR learnt about M. Hlushchenko's first visit to Ukraine in November – December 1935 from their operative sources. Incredible efforts had been made to establish his whereabouts in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, but without success. Then they sent a letter to Moscow with a request to inform about his next visit and arrange a meeting with him.

In May 1936, a memorandum was received from Moscow with the following content: “On May 26, Kyiv “Artist” leaves He will stay at one of the hotels. May 28 will be waiting for Maryanovych at the monument to Volodymyr”. M. Hlushchenko came to Volodymyrska Hirka on time, and the meeting took place. During that conversation, according to the documents, the Chekists learnt a lot of interesting information about the artist himself, his life abroad, contacts, about which the central intelligence apparatus in Moscow did not consider it necessary to inform Kyiv. And after the meeting he was taken under the supervision of the external surveillance team which reported on all his movements and meetings.

But the staff of the Foreign Department of the NKVD of the Ukrainian SSR did not manage to work with M. Hlushchenko without intermediaries from the Center. The latest report states that “… until 1935 M.P. Hlushchenko was used as a foreign agent of the Foreign Department of the OGPU, and after his return to the USSR in 1936 he was in contact with the SPV (Secret-Political Department. - Note) of the NKVD of the USSR. We have no other information”.

Declassified documents from the archives of the Intelligence make it possible to shed light only on certain episodes of Mykola Hlushchenko's life and activity, to comprehend all the drama and unpredictability of the events of that time, to understand what compromises with conscience or agreements with the devil sometimes had to be done and what price was paid for returning to his homeland. At the same time, many pages of this story remain unclear.