Alexei Kokel (Afanasyev) was born on 13 March 1880 in Tarkhany, Chuvashia, and died on 4 February 1956 in Kharkiv. He studied at a private drawing studio under O. Makovsky, at the drawing school of the Academy of Arts (St. Petersburg, 1902—1903), at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts (1904—1912) under J. Tsionglinsky, V. Savinsky, D. Kardovsky. Member of the Society of Kharkiv Artists (1916–1920), the Association of Artists of Red Ukraine (1925–1935), Art Organization of the UAU, the artist was a participant of international (since 1913), all-Union, and republican (since 1928) exhibitions. His solo exhibition was held in Kharkiv in 1960. The artist worked as Head of Directorate of the Military District Commissariat (1920s); taught at the Kharkiv Art College (1916—1921), Kharkiv Art Institute (1921—1936).
The creative team of the state archival institutions of the Chuvash Republic prepared and presented to public an electronic CD edition dedicated to the 125th anniversary of the birth of the painter, graphic artist, founder of the Chuvash professional fine art Alexei Kokel (Afanasyev).
The authors issued it as an electronic book to collect all available archival documents, oral testimonies and printed materials about the life and work of the artist. “He Served Beauty...” is the title of the publication. And this is no coincidence. While working to identify some information about Kokel in the archives, in conversations with his relatives, old residents of Tarkhany, the researchers formed the image of a man who praised the beauty of nature, man, soul, the beauty of deeds...
The electronic edition consists of seven sections. They are made in the form of a torn photographic tape. This symbol is not accidental. The life of the great artist consisted of several periods — Tarkhany, Petersburg, Kharkiv. Each new life stage of Kokel happened to begin as if anew.
The first section is devoted to the childhood and youth of A. A. Kokel, (yet Alexei Afanasyev at that time), which he spent in the Chuvash village of Tarkhany. It contains documents about his family and brothers. Particular attention is paid to the works by A. A. Kokel, which he painted in his native village. In one of his albums, dated 1899, Tarkhany landscapes are captured — houses on village streets, the church, vast fields, lush green trees. Everything is filled with beauty and love for the native land.
An important stage in the artist’s work was the St. Petersburg period of his life. It was in St. Petersburg that he received his primary art education at the Normal Drawing School. At that time, he also painted his first truly mature paintings. One of them is the Portrait of a Chuvash Woman. In 1906, at the exhibition of diploma works, I. Repin highly appreciated this picture, and A. A. Kokel was enrolled in the individual workshop of Ilya Repin at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. Thus, the further creative destiny of the artist was decided.
In 1905, Alexei Afanasyev decided to change his surname. He wrote to the Academy of Arts: “I consider it necessary to declare to the chancellery that my real last name is Kokel, not Afanasyev, as I am recorded in all the papers of the Academy, therefore I ask you to change it to Kokel”. This statement is now kept in the Russian State Historical Archives (St. Petersburg).
The unique documents received by Chuvash archivists from Ukrainian colleagues are presented in the section dedicated to the Kharkiv period of the artist’s life. A. A. Kokel left for Kharkiv in 1916 as a teacher at an art school on the recommendation of Ilya Repin.
The final section tells about the last years of the artist’s life. At the beginning of the World War II, the family of A. Kokel went through a very difficult time. The artist was to destroy his entire personal archive, which contained correspondence with prominent artists. Many paintings were also destroyed. A real tragedy for the Kokels was the death of their son, who volunteered for the front.
After the war, A. Kokel took part in many Ukrainian exhibitions. Until the end of his life (he died in January 1956) he headed the department of drawing at the Art Institute, conducted scientific and methodological work.
The great artist is remembered in Chuvashia. In 1980, museum of A. A. Kokel was opened in Tarkhany. The exhibition was based on the materials donated by the artist’s widow Anna Afanasyevna. Among the priceless exhibits are the artist’s easel, his desk, brushes and many more. The central place in the exhibition complex is occupied by the model of the Kokel family estate. In Tarkhany, there is A. A. Kokel children’s art school.
Certainly, the most important legacy of the artist was his works. Most of the works of the great artist are presented on the CD.
The project of the Chuvash archivists was highly appreciated by historians, art historians, researchers of the artist’s work. Its implementation became possible thanks to the close cooperation of archivists of the Chuvash Republic with the Chuvash State Art Museum and Kharkiv Historical Museum. The electronic edition uses documents from the personal funds of A. A. Kokel’s relatives, residents of the Tarkhany village, ethnographers. Copies of documents are to be stored in the state storage and form an archival documents collection dedicated to the life and work of A. A. Kokel.