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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA

Art History

The Soviet period of arts 1920's and 1930's
By Olga Slobodkina-von Bromssen

Considerable changes took place in the works of Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942) who had been a recognized master since the end of the 19th century. His images of dreamers who indulged in contemplation and kept aloof from the storms of life, were relegated to the past. His paintings took on a new meaning and acquired a new emotional impact. They actively asserted life without, losing any of the romantic colorings peculiar to him. Nesterov now painted his contemporaries and people close to him in spirit. They were artists and scholars, passionate and integral characters to whom their inspired work was simply the norm of existence. Nesterov portrayed these people in their usual surroundings that characterized their professional interests. But in his interpretation these surroundings had nothing workaday about them. Nesterov was quick to catch the uniqueness of pose and gesture, peculiar to his sitter, and used it to enhance his psychological characterization (for example, in the portrait of Academician Ivan Pavlov, 1935). He painted the famous sculptress Vera Muhkina in 1940 in her workshop when she was engrossed in molding a figure of Boreas, God of the North Wind, for the model of her future monument to Soviet Arctic explorers. The dynamic composition and the strong linear rhythms of the portrait stress the energy and strength of purpose of the sculptress, carried away by her inspired creative work.

'Na Rusi'

M. Nesterov
'Sculptress V. Mukhina'

A great contribution was made to Soviet multinational art by Martitros Saryan (1880- 1972). The imagery of this strikingly individual painter is permeated with his ecstatic admiration of the harmonious arrangement of Nature, blending with and following the same rhythm in the everyday life of the toiler. In Mountains (1923) the details are subordinated to the wholeness of the image. Saryan generalizes and draws together the spatial plans so as to bring out, by rhythmically alternating his clearly outlined color surfaces, the uniqueness of his native Armenia, and the grandeur of the scene that has inspired his painting. From the foreground, with the deliberately measured movement of the oxen and the ploughman, to the fields on the slopes, and then on the mountain ranges towering one over the other. The clear bright colors of spring and the sunlight evenly flooding the landscape create a vividly decorative impression of the scene.

The imagery of Pavel Kuznetsov (1878-1968) is romantically elevated. In the portrait of his wife, the painter E. Bebutova, he compares her refined beauty with the elegance of the architecture in the background. The noble color scheme and the expressiveness of the linear rhythms lend the image an element of musicality. The artist paints his ideal of a beautiful woman listening to the music of the world, and there is a spiritual affinity between this image and the images in the great classical frescoes.

As Soviet art developed, striking changes occurred in the work of the leading artists of the now extinct Jack of Diamonds Association. These Moscow painters, all of them striking individuals, sought their own ways and means to adjust their methods in order to embody the new reality. They invariably turned to still life in their quest, and succeeded in their best works to communicate the psychological atmosphere of the times.

In the years of the Civil War Rafail Falk (1886-1958) painted his picture Red Furniture (1920). The strange foreshortening, the startling harmony of black and red, and the tense contrasts of sharp light and deep shadow, lend the picture a dramatic solemnity.

Ilya Mashkov (1881-1944) painted his still life Moscow Food. Meat, Game (1924) in a different period. The Civil War was over, the years of hunger were past, and peacetime construction had begun. Mashkov glories in the abundance of food, skillfully using colors to render the body, dimensions, bulk, shape and texture of all these different earthly blessings.

P. Kuznetsov
'Chistka kovrov'

I. Mashkov
'Kolkhoznitsa s tykvami'

In the course of his long creative life Pyotr Konchalovsky (1876-1956) went through a complex evolution. His portraits, landscapes, still lifes and genre paintings were a valuable contribution to Soviet realistic art at different stages of its development. His Floor Polisher (1946) is one of his best works. The picture is dynamic in composition and is built on a powerful harmony of three basic colors used in a variety of shadings.

The 1930s, a period of vigorous socialist construction in this country, was in the field of art a period when masters belonging to different generations and artistic trends joined together in one association, the Union of Soviet Artists.

Traditions and the legacy of Russian and world classics played an increasingly important role in the work of Soviet artists. Typifying real-life phenomena and affirming the ideal of the harmony of life - those were the rallying cries in the arts of that period. The best paintings of that period embodied the noble aspirations of the epoch and showed how much original and gifted individuality there was among the Soviet artists.

The talent of the sculptress Sarra Lebedeva (1892-1967) blossomed out in the 1930s. She was as subtle a master of psychological characterization in sculpture as Mikhail Nesterov was in painting. In the sculptural portrait she made of Solomon Mikhoels (1939), an outstanding Soviet actor, director of the Jewish theatre and social figure killed by the government in 1948, she showed, while retaining the freshness of her own immediate impression, the inner concentration and moral strength of this man with his philosophical cast of mind and a character steeled by his life experiences.

A Young Girl (1937), a statue by Alexander Matveyev (1878-1960), is noteworthy for the expressiveness of the silhouette, the stern and clear beauty of the molding, and the naturally rendered harmony of the nude body. A classical simplicity of exalted and chaste images is characteristic of this major sculptor.

On display at the Tretyakov is the bronze model (1936) of Vera Mukhinas world famous group Workman and Peasant Woman. The original, made of stainless steel and towering to a height of 25 meters, crowned the Soviet pavilion at the Paris World Exhibition in 1937. The young man and woman, proudly carrying aloft the hammer and the sickle, are striding forward, impelled by a shared, powerful emotion. Owing to its plastic beauty and inspiration this group has come to symbolize the invincible alliance between the workers and peasants, and the Soviet peoples strength of purpose in building a new world. The statue had been in front of the National Exhibition Center in VDNKH. However, in the post Soviet period journalists mocked the idea of the statue referring to the notorious TV show where a nave provincial girl says, There is no sex in our country. Taking this quote, the derisive journalists said there was a powerful hint of a sexual drive between the peasant woman and the worker, but since there is no sex in our country this major instinct has taken the subliminal form of a desire of building communism. But this practice of mocking the past is common in Russia. The International says: We shall ruin this old world to the foundation and then we shall build a new world ours. Those who have been nothing will be everything.

P. Konchalovsky
'Boi s Bykami'

A. Matveev
'Malchik i devochka'

'Workman and Peasant Woman'

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