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The Arts

Soviet Art From the War Time Up Until Khrushchev’s Thaw
Olga Slobodkina-von Bromssen

Porfiri Krylov
"Gurzuf. Govorin’s Dacha”

During the Great Patriotic War, the Kukryniksy triumvirate – Mikhail Kuprianov (1903-1991), Porfiri Krylov (1902-1990) and Nikolai Sokolov (1903-2000) fought the enemy with their own weapons of trenchant political caricature and satirical posters. And in 1947-1948 they produced their large painting ‘The End’ in which they depicted the supposed last hours of Hitler’s clique. With the sharp contrasts of light and shadow, the tense color combinations and grotesquely expressive drawing, the artists evoked an atmosphere of the animal fear that may have gripped the Nazis, with the inevitability of the reprisals awaiting them. The moral smallness of the Fuhrer and his henchmen who had aspired to world domination is exposed in all its shoddiness. This picture sounded a stern warning to all maniacs of militarism.

‘A Letter from the Front’ (1910-1972) enjoyed huge popularity in the post-war period. It is a typical scene in those months of war when the news coming from the front promised that the victory was close at hand. The drawing executed with academic meticulousness is combined with an almost unreal brilliance of the sunlight streaming over the scene.

Alexander Gerasimov (1881-1963) was another leading master of time. In his group portrait of the oldest Soviet artists, the engraver I. Pavlov and the painters V. Baskeyev, V. Byalynitsky-Burulya and V. Meshkov, he conveyed with his free and vigorous brushwork not just the physical likeness, but also the peculiarities of temperament and manner of each of the men sitting at the table and conversing with each other.

Alexander Gerasimov
”Hymn for October”

Nikolai Romadin
”A view at Volga”

The work of Nikolai Romadin (1903 -1987), for all its variety of landscape motifs, pursues the same lyrical theme and is permeated with his admiration and love for his native land. His cycle, ‘Volga, the Russian River’ includes a small autumn landscape painted with delicate skill and which he called ‘The Village of Khmelevka’ (1944). The intimacy and deep-felt sincerity of Romadin’s imagery stems from the Russian national landscape genre originated by Savrasov and Levitan.

‘Bread’ (1949) by the Ukrainian painter Tatyana Yablonskaya (1917-2005) is a radiant picture. The confident, rhythmical movements of the young farm women and the mountains of wheat they have gathered delight the artist, and she presents this sunlight scene of peaceful toil as a holiday of joy.

Tatyana Yablonskaya ”Bread”

In the work of Semyon Chuikov (1902-1980) the beauty of the people and the scenery of Kirghizia are embodied in poetic imagery. The appeal of ‘The Daughter of Soviet Kirghizia’ (1948) lies in the painting’s subtle color harmony, in its mood of happiness and joy of living, and in the beauty of youth with its dreams and its thirst for knowledge. The fi gure of the girl is painted against a splendidly rendered panorama of the steppe, languishing in the heat, and with the mountains in the distance.

Vladimir Serov (1910-1968) developed the traditions of the peredvizhniki and the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia in his paintings of historical and revolutionary themes. One of his best works is ‘The Winter Palace Has Been Taken’ (1954). The care with which the composition has been worked out, the attention to expressive details, and the ability to render the most characteristic features in social types and individual mental states of the different personages portrayed, are qualities common to Serov’s other paintings on the subject of the revolution.

Semen Chuikov
”A daughter of Soviet Kirghizia”

Soviet sculpture at the end of the 1940’s through the 1950’s is represented by portraits in general. Nikolai Tomsky (1900-1984), renowned for his numerous monuments and large decorative works was also a prominent portraitist. The bust of Sergei Kirov (1959) reveals the great inner strength, intelligence and personal charm of this outstanding statesman who enjoyed the warm affection and esteem of the people.

The ‘Self-Portrait’ (1957) of the oldest Soviet sculptor Sergei Konenkov (1874-1971), sculpted in a free, energetic manner, is an impressive image of a proudly confident, inspired personality; a thinker endowed, it seems, with the gift of pre-vision. The thrown-back shoulders and the clearness of the silhouette lend an air of majesty to this man with the physique of a legendary bogatyr.

At the end of the 1950’s a new stage began in the development of Soviet art, following after the important changes which took place in the social life of our country after the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party when Nikita Khrushchev openly spoke about Stalin’s crimes. After that the so-called Thaw Period began. Artists belonging to different generations, but largely of the young generation, began to take a deeper interest in modern themes and in the different aspects of contemporary life. The traditions of Soviet art and the experience of Russian and progressive world art were assimilated on a much broader scale than in the preceding period.

The cultural level of the population as a whole had risen considerably, the developed system of art education was yielding good results, and the national school of art of all the Union Republics, including those which had no traditions of easel painting, drawing and sculpture before the Revolution of 1917, were flourishing. Art became richer in new subject matter and imagery and there was a more vigorous exchange of experiences between the artists of different republics who were tackling similar tasks and affi rming the ideas of Soviet patriotism and socialist internationalism. In this orderly process of development young artists turned for guidance to the work of their oldest contemporaries: Favorsky, Deineka, Plastov, Saryan, Gerasimov, Korin and other distinguished masters.

Georgi Nissky
”Flowers on the Balcony”

The work of Pavel Korin (1892-1967), a master of easel and monumental painting, is comprehensively represented at the Tretyakov Gallery where the collection includes a number of excellent portraits made by Korin; among them ‘The Group Portrait of the Kukryniksy Triumvirate’; Kuprianov, Krylov and Sokolov (1957-1958). Pavel Korin portrayed their individual characteristics and manner, and at the same time enphasized that they were a close-knit team, famed throughout the world for their political satire and anti-fascist posters. The three artists are painted against a background of vivid posters which are an integral part of the portrait’s imagery. The colors are dramatic and impressive.

The landscapes of Georgi Nissky (1903-1987) have certain features common both to easel painting and monumental-decorative art. Developing out of his own experiences at the end of the 1920’s and the beginning of the 1930’s, Nissky used generalized, laconic imagery and fl ashing linear rhythms to convey the pace of modern life and as in ‘Moscow Countryside. February’ (1957), demonstrated how the natural scenery has been transformed by the efforts of Soviet people.

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