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Soviet Art of the mid 1940s – end of the 1950s
Olga Slobodkina

Although art life after World War II was quite active (for example, 1947 saw an All-Soviet-Union exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery) one should not forget that those were the peak years of the Stalin cult, which crushed democratic freedoms. The poet Anna Ahkmatova and the satirical writer Mikhail Zoshenko were labelled as “cosmopolitans” and condemned by the journals Zvezda (Star) and Leningrad. That kind of atmosphere did not exactly encourage creativity and the ways of art were as difficult as the ways of life.

Sergey Grigoryev, Goal Keeper

As far back as the decade leading up to the war, dangerous tendencies appeared in society: pseudo-heroism, theatricalpathos and repression. As a result “the non-conflict theory” appeared in art. Art was pivoted around the axiom: “the fight of the good with the better.” That process covered not only fine arts, but also fiction, cinema and theatre. Lots of superficial and clichéd works were created. The best artists fought against those incongruities and quasi-romanticism. Despite everything, they managed to find meaningful ways and forms. Life itself dictated new themes to them, set up complicated priorities and directed their creative fates. During the war, a strong theme of moral and physical denial of weakness by Soviet people, a refusal to give in, was acute. For example, the painting of Yuri Neprintsev, Rest After the Fight, illustrated the famous poem by poet Alexander Tvardovsky, Vasily Tyorkin (1951) and Return (1945-1947) by a Ukrainian painter, Vladimir Kostetsky, as well as the famous canvas by Alexander Laktionov, A Letter from the Front (1947). This painting created a debate because of its illusiveness and the scrupulous exactness of form. Artist Boris Nemensky was close to Laktionov from the point of the genre peculiarities in his painting, About the Near and Far. Neprintsev created an image in his painting as close to life as Tvardovsky in his poem Vasily Tyorkin. Both the poet and the artist immortalized the ordinary people who actually won the war. As the artist himself said: “In my painting I wanted to create a collective portrait of the soldier who fought for the liberating army. The real heroes of my canvas are the Russian people.”

Vladimir Kostetsky, Return

In Kostetsky’s painting, on the contrary, details are absent. The central figures of the soldier and his wife embracing are modelled in a very energetic way (one can actually see only her arms). The contrasting light and shade give an inner movement to the figures. The dramatic meeting is intensified by the figure of a boy squeezing up against the soldier’s overcoat and an old woman in the doorway. The success of the painting was in its ordinariness. Behind it there were millions of “returns” and “non-returns,” four years of horrible war experienced by millions of people—that painful theme was close to everyone.

Not so many paintings based on military themes were painted, and those that were created lacked a generalizing image and very often a high artistic level. The historic multifigure compositions were often created by a team of artists working together. The painting Lenin Speaking at the 3rd Congress of The Young Communist League (1950) stands out among the others. Its author Boris Ioganson worked together with the young artists Sokolov, Tegin, Chebakov and Faidysh- Krandievskaya. However, here we witness the lie and falseness in both the depicted situation and the people’s faces.

Apart from the historical-revolutionary genre, a purely historical genre began to evolve: Melikhov’s work Young Taras Shevchenko visiting Karl Bryulov (1947) is a good example. Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861) was a well-known Ukrainian and Russian poet and prose writer. His literary heritage is considered to be the basis of Ukrainian literature and even the contemporary Ukrainian language. After his death, Shevchenko became the iconic figure in forming the national consciousness among the Ukrainian intelligentsia, his influence on the national culture remaining significant up to now. Karl Blyulov (1799-1852) was a great Russian academic painter.

Fyodor Reshetnikov, Arrived for Vacation

Peace and a regular job were something that people dreamed about during the long war years. The number one priority of Soviets after the war was to restore the ruined economy. The painting Bread by a young Ukrainian artist, Tatyana Yablonskaya (1949), full of life and colour, is a hymn to labour. Andrey Mylnikov’s work At the Fields of Peace (1953) is similar to a monumental canvas rather than to an easel painting. Arkady Plastov’s works Haymaking and Tractor Drivers’ Dinner (1951) spiritualize the feeling of bonds with the earth. The art which took root in the 19th century Russian realist school, and first of all from Alexander Makovsky, was continued by these painters. The paintings of Fyodor Reshetnikov Arrived for Vacation (1948), A Bad Mark Again (1952), Sergey Grigoryev’s Goal Keeper (1949), Initiating into The Young Communist League (1949), Discussing the Bad Mark (1950) became popular due to the familiar situations and characters, and the style was realistic.

The 1940s-1950s saw many interesting artists from the Soviet republics, for example, Semyon Chuikov: Morning (1947), Yanis Osis Latvian Fishermen (1956), and the Kazakh painters Sabur Mambeyev and Kanafiya Telzhanov, and Moldakhmet Kenbayev from Azerbaidzhan: Mikail Gusein Abdulayev, Asaf Dzhafarov, from Estonia, Valeryan Loik, from Armenia, Oganes Zardaryan and, from Georgia, Dzhaparidze and some others.

In the post-war period, the landscape was undergoing changes as well. Land devastated by the war gave place to peaceful views. Martitros Saryan’s

to be continued

landscapes revealed a tendency towards monumentalism. He called a whole series of landscapes My Native Land. Nikolai Romadin’s landscapes showed the lyrical tradition of Isaac Levitan, for example in his series The seasons (1953) and in The Northern series (1954). Yuri Podlyassky created landscapes of Lake Baikal full of heroic romanticism.

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