On the 70th Anniversary of the Great Victory
THE GLORIOUS VICTORY OF THE SOVIET PEOPLE IN THE GREAT PATRIOTIC WAR (1941-1945) CROWNS THE TRAGIC AND HEROIC EPIC OF WORLD WAR II, THE BLOODIEST CONFLICT IN HUMAN HISTORY. THIS VICTORY BECAME AN EVERLASTING SYMBOL OF THE STRUGGLE AGAINST FASCISM, WHICH UNITED PEOPLES OF DIFFERENT RELIGIONS, RACES AND NATIONS, CHAMPIONS OF EVERY POLITICAL AND IDEOLOGICAL SYSTEM, FROM EUROPE AND ASIA TO NORTH AMERICA AND AFRICA. CELEBRATING THE 70TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE GREAT VICTORY, WE RECALL THE MOST MEMORABLE EVENTS OF THE DRAMATIC AND GLORIOUS HISTORY OF OUR HOMELAND, THE EXPLOITS OF OUR ANCESTORS FROM THE TIMES OF ALEXANDER NEVSKY AND DMITRY DONSKOY, PRINCE DMITRY POZHARSKY AND KUZMA MININ, ALEXANDER SUVOROV AND MIKHAIL KUTUZOV, FYODOR USHAKOV AND PAVEL NAKHIMOV, MIKHAIL SKOBELEV AND ALEXEI BRUSILOV... THEIR FEATS REFLECT THE HISTORY OF OUR NATION'S SPIRIT - A HISTORY IN WHICH NOTHING IS LOST, NOTHING VANISHES WITHOUT TRACE, BUT WHERE EVERYTHING IS PASSED DOWN FROM ONE GENERATION TO ANOTHER AS A CONSTANT ETHICAL REMINDER OF FAITH AND COURAGE, PATRIOTIC LOVE AND SACRIFICE FOR SAKE OF THE FUTURE.
The feats of arms accomplished by the nations of our multinational Motherland have been highlighted in literary works, sagas and chronicles, in painting, sculpture and drawing, as well as in architecture, symphonies, hymns and songs, on stage and in cinema. They have incorporated the beauty and vigour of the human soul, capturing the most sublime and humanistic ideals.
As the progeny and heirs of the soldiers of the Great Victory - the participants and veterans of the Great Patriotic War - the cultural intelligentsia, together with all citizens of Russia, remembers the suffering of irreparable losses, while also feeling proud of the glorious deeds of our ancestors.
The heroic achievements of the Russian people live on in the music of Mikhail Glinka and Modest Mussorgsky, Dmitry Shostakovich and Alexander Alexandrov; in the poetry of Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Alexander Tvardovsky, Anna Akhmatova, David Samoilov, and the literary works of Leo Tolstoy, Alexei Tolstoy, Mikhail Sholokhov, Konstantin Simonov, Yury Nagibin, Yury Bondarev, Vasil Bykov, Viktor Nekrasov, and Vasily Grossman; in the cinema of Sergei Bondarchuk, Mikhail Kalatozov, Pyotr Todorovsky, Alexander Mitta, Alexei German, Nikita Mikhalkov; in the paintings of Alexander Deineka, Sergei Gerasimov, Konstantin Yuon and Arkady Plastov, in the sculptures of Vera Mukhina, Mikhail Anikushin, Vladimir Tsigal and the graphic pieces of the Kukryniksy, Boris Yefimov, Boris Prorokov and Dementy Shmarinov...
An eternal contribution to chronicling the Great Patriotic War in artistic imagery has been made by our distinguished visual artists - the brothers Sergei and Alexei Tkachev, Gely Korzhev, Yevsey Moiseenko, Boris Ugarov, Andrei Mylnikov, Yury Neprintsev, Viktor Tsyplakov, Mikhail Savitsky, Alexander Laktionov, Viktor Ivanov, Ernst Neizvestny, Yevgeny Vuchetich, Lev Kerbel, Daniel Mitlyansky, Victor Popkov and Eduard Bragovsky.
Preparing for the 70th anniversary of the Great Victory all the regions of Russia are organising commemorative celebrations, opening remarkable art exhibitions devoted to the events that proved critical for the destinies and lives of the Soviet people. Such shows include the Russian National Exhibition of Members of the Artists' Union of Russia, displays of works created by members of the Artists' Union of Moscow and St. Petersburg and similar regional organizations, which feature all trends of contemporary art and artists of all ages, from mature masters to figures who are only beginning their careers.
The years following the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory have seen the appearance of many excellent statues and paintings, intended both for public and private spaces, as well as memorable graphic works. Such artwork includes monuments and memorials created by Zurab Tsereteli, Alexander Burganov, Alexander Rukavishnikov, Andrei Kovalchuk, Mikhail Pereyaslavets, Salavat Shcherbakov and Vladimir Gorev; paintings by Tair Salakhov, Pavel Nikonov, Dmitry Zhilinsky, Valentin Sidorov, Vladimir Pesikov, Andrei Gorsky, Natalya Nesterova, Tatiana Nazarenko, Ivan Lubennikov, Vasily Nesterenko, Sergei Prisekin, Olga Bulgakova, Yevgeny Maximov, Yury Kaluta, Anatoly Lubavin, Viktor Glukhov, Nikolai Borovsky, Alexander Brodsky and Viktor Kalinin; and graphic works by Nikolai Voronkov, Nikolai Popov, Andrei Pakhomov, Sergei Kharlamov, Sergei Andriyaka, Vyacheslav Zhelvakov, Alexander Suvorov and Alexander Teslik...
The new works of these Russian artists demonstrate both explorations and new discoveries, and a continuity of tradition. They are united by their creators' sense of spiritual connection with the destiny of their Motherland, and the unbreakable ties between different eras and generations.
As we consider the diversity of Russian visual art, we become aware of the immense creative potential of our country's culture and its optimistic, spiritually transforming power.
The great historical mission of fighting Fascism which fell to the Soviet people, together with the other nations who were its allies in World War II, will forever remain in the grateful memory of humankind.
Culture occupies a special place as an instrument for both raising awareness of and perpetuating the immortal exploits, countless losses and immeasurable suffering of the nations of the world during World War II. For all its national originality and uniqueness, Russian art has never been isolated from world culture - its evolution, explorations and discoveries have always been an integral part of human civilization. Distinguished by its spirituality and loyalty to humanist ideals, lasting moral values and faith in the triumph of reason and justice, Russia's art has more than a millennium of experience behind its superb professional culture.
The victory of the Soviet people and the different nations of Russia in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, and the imagery that captures the immortal feats of arms of our compatriots, our fathers and mothers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers, both on the battlefields and behind the lines, remain unfading symbols of the living memory, patriotic spirit and responsibility of those generations towards the past, present and future, as well as of our responsibility for the celebration of this landmark in our country's history, which is itself an act of edification for future generations.
Commentaries to the visual chronicle are quoted from Alexander Morozov's article
Memory and Glory
Soviet Art of the Great Patriotic War
THE EXPERIENCE OF THE GREAT PATRIOTIC WAR OCCUPIES A CRUCIAL PLACE IN THE HERITAGE OF SOVIET-ERA ART. AS A THEME THAT CONTINUES TO STIR STRONG FEELINGS IN RUSSIAN SOCIETY TO THIS DAY, ITS EXISTENTIAL COMBINATION OF TRAGEDY AND TRIUMPH ON A PERSONAL LEVEL HAS OVERLAPPED WITH OFFICIAL INTEREST IN THE SUBJECT, CONSIDERED A CRUCIAL ONE FOR CULTIVATING PATRIOTISM AND POLITICAL STABILITY IN SOVIET SOCIETY. ACCORDINGLY, WAR-THEMED ART WAS MOTIVATED BY BOTH DEEPLY PERSONAL FEELINGS AND BY LEVELS OF OPPORTUNISTIC AMBITION, A FACTOR THAT DETERMINED ITS VARIETY AND QUALITY.
During the first stage of the war the urgency of the nation's mobilization for the fight against the enemy was reflected in posters such as "The Motherland Is Calling!" by Irakly Toidze, and "We'll Defend Moscow!" by Nikolai Zhukov and Viktor Kli-mashin, as well as Viktor Koretsky's photo-collage poster "Red Army Soldier, Save Us!".
The considerable output of graphic artists of the time was generally dominated by small-scale, reportage pieces that highlight the states of mind, actions and imagery of life at the front; sometimes such observational sketches would be developed into fully-fledged visual narratives.
Paintings from late 1941-early 1942 are charged with similar emotions, as if adopted from such graphic observational pieces. One of the most prominent such works is Georgy Niss-ky's "Leningrad Highway", depicting an endless procession of tanks counterpointed by barrier-like obstructions made from welded railway-sleepers. Another equally important work is Alexander Deineka's well-known landscape, "The Outskirts of Moscow. November 1941" (1941, Tretyakov Gallery).
One of the most prominent Russian artists of the time, Konstantin Yuon, strove to convey in his painting "Parade on Red Square. November 7 1941" (1949, Tretyakov Gallery) the atmosphere of the city-as-symbol - the city which appeared to have mustered all the courage of the unvanquished nation. The artist started working on the piece immediately after that singular parade, which took place at a moment when the Nazi troops were only 20 or 30 kilometers away from the Kremlin: he would finish it after the end of the war.
Several experienced artists conceived of, and accomplished a variety of themed series of pictures. Such series of drawings include Dementy Shmarinov's "We'll Not Forget,
We'll Not Forgive", Leonid Soifertis' "Sevastopol Album", and Alexei Pakhomov's "Leningrad under Siege". Many of them are remarkable visual chronicles providing a multi-faceted perspective on a particular chapter from the four-year history of the war.
The leading painters, who by early 1942 had regained their former artistic skills, did not usually see their mission as chronicling developments on the battlefield or in the unoccupied heartland of the USSR. Gradually the genre of the large-scale easel painting returned: the recent mythology of Socialist Realism was no longer relevant, and such painters aspired to reflect philosophically on the most important human "collisions" of the ongoing war. That fully applies to Alexander Deineka and his "Defence of Sevastopol" (Russian Museum, 1942), a very expressive and dynamic work, recalling the renowned pieces the artist had produced in his youth in the 1920s. The picture is impactful and demonstrative, although the artist's concept is hard to grasp without fully engaging both heart and mind. Perhaps its most important novelty is the new "type" of the model, strangely unlike the models so characteristic in the posters of the same period, those hard-boiled, mature, battle-tested soldiers. By contrast, Deineka's model is a young warrior, no less fearless and hot-blooded in the thick of battle as his poster counterparts, but belonging to a different generation, made from a different mold. What makes the painting so memorable is its depiction of the utmost straining of mortal combat between the white ("light") and dark forces, and the symbolic participation of the deepest elements in this combat: the human tragedy reverberates and even continues in the actual space where the events are taking place.
During the war some artists mustered the strength to cast aside many of the dogmas and stereotypes that had been deeply entrenched in the "official" art of the nation. Thus, the war liberated Soviet art from the cliches of Socialist Realism and cleared the way for an authentic, vibrant realism, which reverted to the long-standing values of the national tradition. That was the source from which the Soviet people drew their spiritual strength to fight the great battle against their vicious invaders. The masterpieces of Arkady Plastov's mature period were conceived within such a context: the old peasant in his "Harvesting" seems to be close kin to Vasily Surikov's Streltsy with their silent, unbending will-power. His "Haymaking" (both pieces, created in 1945, are in the Tretyakov Gallery) shows a celebration of summer in the countryside unfolding after the disaster of the war. But this is a feast mixed with the hunger of the first months of peace, and soaked in the bitter sweat of the relentless toils of the peasants.
An equally topical and even more deeply-rooted cultural and historical retrospection characterizes the art of Pavel Korin. In 1942 he created the composition "Alexander Nevsky", overflowing with heroic patriotic fervour - it would become the mainstay of a major triptych which included two other symbolical representations of Russia's past, produced later, "Northern Ballad" and "Ancient Legend" (1942-43, Tretyakov Gallery). Simultaneously with "Nevsky", Korin conceived the idea of, and even started working on, another triptych,"Dmitry Donskoy", but left it unfinished.
Looking at the array of wartime portraiture, viewers immediately see that this work has at its centre a formidable personality literally "hammered out" by history. This sort of individuality can be best explained by the great Soviet writer Andrei Platonov's characterization of one of his heroes, a man who been through the war, Fomin, who in his soul, "pounds the stone of grief". This "pounding" implies tremendous fortitude mixed with the pain of great bereavement. Both appeared to be conditions established by the reality of the national disaster for the people involved, both those in the armed forces and civilians. The artist's individual sensitivity, meanwhile, revealed itself in the specific personal traits and aspects of character of his or her chosen models that helped the figure concerned to respond to the challenges of the time with dignity. This probably explains why the self-portraits of artists so dissimilar as Pyotr Konchalovsky and Martiros Saryan have so much in common in terms of their mood. The academician Joseph Orbeli, director of the Hermitage Museum who during the war took care of its priceless collections and saved them from destruction, was their peer in terms of his personal qualities, as can be guessed from the small-size portrait from 1943, a very emotional and expressive work by the same artist, Saryan (1943, National Gallery of Armenia).
Of equal note are works by the sculptor Vera Mukhina, who in 1942 accomplished commissioned portraits of the first holders of the highest military decorations of the USSR, Heroes of War Colonels Ivan Khizhnyak and Bariy Yusupov (both works in the Tretyakov Gallery). These images represent nothing more than life-size heads on modest black rock plinths, as Mukhina determinedly eschewed all the accessories of the ceremonial portrait. They are astonishingly believable images of individuals who have taken full charge of the toil of warfare; the expressive modelling of the material, bronze, brings out on the men's faces, with pitiless objectivity, all the traumas of war. The cruel truthfulness of their visages seems almost scary, and yet the key characteristic of both portraits is their sound veracity of image the moral base of which, for Mukhina, consisted in stubborn will-power, stemming from the deep commitment which motivated the heroes of the Great Patriotic War.
A portrait bust of the poet Alexander Tvardovsky, created by Sarra Lebedeva (in gypsum in 1943, Tretyakov Gallery, and in marble, 1950), stands in remarkable contrast to these works. In Soviet art of that period, Lebedeva's piece was one of the few deeply insightful images of an individual who belonged to the younger Soviet generation whose destinies interested Deineka so much, but who, unlike Deineka's models, had the good fortune to survive the crucible of war.
The last stages of the war and the first post-war years saw the appearance of many monumental paintings and sculptures dedicated to the epic historical events that were by then concluding, as statues of war heroes and monumental memorials became the mainstay of Soviet art of the period. The memorial in Treptower Park in Berlin, completed by 1949 by the sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich and the group of architects headed by Yakov Belopolsky, is the most significant work accomplished from that time, repeating Vuchetich's popular theme "The Soldier-Liberator".
However, such lavish official recognition accorded at the time to this large-scale war-themed art should not distract us from appreciating much more modest pieces that nonetheless often convey a priceless poetic truth about the impact of the victorious end of the war, which included not only grand parades and commemorations involving hundreds and thousands of people, but also a radical readjustment of human fate - the return from the hell of war to the life of peacetime. The need to reflect on this change gave rise to lyrical, personalizing trends that accounted for many fine paintings that appeared in the mid-1940s.
It was at that time that Nikolai Romadin started out as a master of heartfelt lyrical depictions of Russian nature. Such magnificent images of nature and still-lifes with flowers, which put the viewer in a contemplative mood and seemed to promise rest to the soul, were created time and again in the studios of such notable figures as Sergei Gerasimov and Saryan. Importantly, these seemingly modest, intimate genres were used by both artists as a vehicle to convey to us the feelings which overwhelmed the people at the war's end, as the Nazis were finally routed. Gerasimov's landscape "The Ice Is Gone" (1945, Tretyakov Gallery) portrays, with remarkable subtlety and dignified restraint, the quiet beauty and pain of nature's incipient awakening.
Such crystalline and straightforward personal statements recorded through the medium of the visual arts not only represented an important aspect of the self-discovery of the generations who had lived through the war, but would also form the basis for the revival of the arts in the subsequent decades of the Soviet era.