Ilya Repin was born in 1844 in the town of Chuguev in what is now Kharkiv oblast of Ukraine. Historically, the region was known as ‘Sloboda Ukraine’ and Ilya was born to a Cossack family. By some sources, the original name of the family was “Ripa” which in Ukrainian means “turnip”. Repin’s first art teacher was a local icon painter; the future artist was also influenced by Ukrainian epics and the poetry of Taras Shevchenko. Even during his artistic studies at the Academy of Art in St. Petersburg, Repin continued exploring Ukrainian themes in his work. In 1873-76, during his stay in Paris, Repin got to know the works of the French ‘realist’ Coubert but was especially impressed with the works of Manet whose style affected Repin’s style as well. But even in Paris among the works of the most famous painters of the time Repin found inspiration in Ukrainian themes. It was during his stay in Paris, that Repin painted two portraits of the Ukrainian girls – “The Ukrainian Girl” and “The Ukrainian Girl by the Wicker Fence”. If Repin painted their dresses by memory, one can see how deeply ingrained in his memory Ukrainian style was.
After Paris, Repin went to his homeland, and the year 1877 became one of the happiest in the artist’s life. That year Repin’s only son was born, and the artist himself experienced a creative rebirth. He fell in love with Ukraine’s rural life and as wrote to one of his friends: “How charming! What a Delight! […] Only Ukrainian and Parisian girls really know how to dress tastefully!”. The result of this affection can be seen in the painting “The Evening Party“, completed in 1881. It depicts a group of Ukrainian folk dancers Repin observed during his stay in his hometown of Chuguev.