The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has quietly reclassified some of its paintings. Two artists, once labeled as Russian, are now categorized as Ukrainian, and a painting by the French Impressionist Edgar Degas has been renamed from “Russian Dancer” to “Dancer in Ukrainian Dress.”
For one woman in Kyiv, these changes are a vindication of sorts. Oksana Semenik, a journalist and historian, has been running a months-long campaign to persuade institutions in the United States to relabel the historical works of art she believes are wrongly presented as Russian.
At the Met, they include work by Ilya Repin and Arkhip Kuindzhi, artists whose mother tongue was Ukrainian and who depicted many Ukrainian scenes, even if the region was in their day part of the Russian Empire.
Repin, a renowned 19th century painter who was born in what is now Ukraine, has been relabeled on the Met’s catalog as “Ukrainian, born Russian Empire” with the start of each description of his works now reading, “Repin was born in the rural Ukrainian town of Chuhuiv (Chuguev) when it was part of the Russian Empire.”
On Semenik’s Twitter account, Ukrainian Art History, which has over 17,000 followers, she wrote: “All [Repin’s] famous landscapes were about Ukraine, Dnipro, and steppes. But also about Ukrainian people.”
One of Repin’s lesser-known contemporaries, Kuindzhi was born in Mariupol in 1842 when the Ukrainian city was also part of the Russian Empire, his nationality has also been updated. The text for Kuindzhi’s “Red Sunset” at the Met has been updated to include that “in March 2022, the Kuindzhi Art Museum in Mariupol, Ukraine, was destroyed in a Russian airstrike.”
In reference to the recent relabeling process, the Met told CNN in a statement that the institution “continually researches and examines objects in its collection in order to determine the most appropriate and accurate way to catalogue and present them. The cataloguing of these works has been updated following research conducted in collaboration with scholars in the field.”
Read about more reclassified Ukrainian works here.