June 13, 2000
Regardless of your
political or philisophical position, there's
a surprising amount that can be learned from
Russian social realism of the twentieth century.
I'm talking about painters like Kustodiyev,
Ioganson, Surikov, Plastov and Klychev--names
that are not generally familiar to most in the
West. These workers, often employees of the
state, produced monumental canvasses in a trained
academic style, with humanistic and socialist
themes. Typical would be By the Sea,
(1956) by A. Deyneka, which shows strappingly
healthy and radiant Russian women hanging fish to
dry on a windblown beach. Here we have striking
compositional features such as isolated elements
juxtaposed with impinging shapes, attention to
negative areas, thoughtful distortions, spirited
lineups with foreground and background
interaction, playful lapses, and a grandiose
power of design.
Soviet painters may have
been in the grip of nineteenth century
shibboleths and forced for their livelihood to
cater to the politics of the day, but the works
are often academically brilliant. A lot of these
paintings have remarkable control of color and
light, often achieved by confident and energetic
impasto and intelligent scumbling. Surfaces are
professional and deserving of close examination.
The often monochromatic or analagous color
schemes simply take your breath away.
A few months ago I was
in the summer palace of Wallid Jumblatt, one of
the rebel warlords of Lebanon. There on the wall
of one of the chambers was a recent and massive
oil of a couple of Russian officers attempting to
control their black and white stallions, one
going this way, one the other. This quality
piece, undoubtedly a gift from the friendly
Russians, was by a master who did not sign his or
PS: "There is no greatness where there
is not simplicity, goodness and truth." (Leo Tolstoi)
Esoterica: The Volga Boatmen. Many will remember
Repin's painting of the knot of peasants dragging a fat scow
along the river. It contains one of the great compositional devices.
As the figures brace and pull against their yolks they radiate from
an off-screen fulcrum, pushing the foreground figures toward the
viewer and giving design power to the picture. I've always
wondered what Norman Rockwell was doing among those guys.
The following is
selected correspondence relating to the above and
Thank you for writing email@example.com
Features of current
As to Russian art the first main feature of is the multinationality.
The Russian means at least three large sources: of the Slavian,
Turkian and Hungaro-Finnish nationality groups. Except this, the
powerful one is the Hebrew source of the Russian art. Of course,
each nationality contributes to the Russian art and we have more
than 160 nationalities living in the Russia as in the country of
There are interesting examples, the great Russian poet Alexander
Pushkin had the Arabian origin, the mother of the famous Russian
writers Wassiliy Zhukowskiy had the Turk nationality. Many of writers,
musicians and artists of Ukranian origin were Russian and Ukranian
We are now such Russian arters too. The opposite side of this feature
of the Russian art is the open face to the all World. The Internet
is the future possibility to demonstrate it. The World will see
the Russian art more full in future yet, it has rich resources now
but have no enough the Internet possibilities.
The second main feature of the Russian art is its mass spreading.
Each Russian family have had experience of the creating of something
of "artive" (Excuse, it is difficult to translate). The
large quantity of artists in the former Soviet Union were working
at the art factories producing decorative home "artive"
objects. It was. And it was not only positive when mass "artive"
copies were producing without any need. The hard economical crisis
had positive influence as selective instrument for the best commercial
art achievements but it had negative influence for some unique no
commercial art. As example, it is pity that nice "grandmother's"
handwork laces are without need for New Russias. But those are unique,
only those grandmothers are able to create such laces, but not young
Therefore the New Russias are not obligatory belonging to the Russian
Culture. This New Russias Culture is mostly commercial culture,
so the Russian Culture and the New Russias Culture is not same culture.
Yaroslaw & Olga,
I am 52. It is cold and wet in Moscow now and always - almost 3/4
of the year. And my bones ache of it. This is the arthritis or something
like that embitters my life the last 30 years. Really I need another
climate. Hot and dry. And sea. But all this demands money. A lot
of money. I am a physicist and mathematician. Writer and philosopher.
Historian and musicologist. Who wants me in this country, Bolshevistic
Russia, with its extreme ingnorance, low-grade culture and primitive
instincts? Such was my illusion. Now, due to the internet, I became
aware that in the West people are even worse than the Russians.
Generally, they are superficial, indifferent and cold-blooded, absolutely
incapable to form their own view or judgement. It is the experience
gained from participation in various international fora (newsgroups)
- in physics, history, politics, classical music, painting and animation.
Something is wrong in this world. And I know what.
Valery, Moscow, Russia
Russian painters of the Soviet, when the USSR was by Stalin and
money was being handed out were paid well. The state paid selected
painters even more than physicians. In our land of huge population
there were very few. Only the best could apply. Consequently some
of the best painters in the world at that time were working for
the USSR system. Western art, to them, because of bourgeois sentimentality
and the everywhere terrible quality and absurd themes, was, at the
time, just a laugh for us to have.
A. Tiomkin, Odessa
The more demanding art
Although a lot of the State-supported Soviet Art was used as propaganda,
the fact is that the Russian Arts Academy-trained painters were
still learning the time-honored craft and techniques of painting
while the West was becoming enamored of the vagaries of what an
artist friend of mine calls "the paint mop on the wall"
school of modern art. I've never been sold on the "Reality
is a Crutch" and "If you can recognize it, it can't possibly
be Art" criteria that seems to pop up like a gopher in the
well-mowed lawn-like minds of some art snobs. If people like to
be neo-Rothkos and Pollocks, I say "That's fine. Go to it!"
But it does get tiresome to be treated like an "art retard"
because I prefer the more demanding art of accurate and sensitive
drawing/painting ability. The latter is one of the few joys-of-accomplishment
I have. It hurts to have it dismissed as "irrelevant to the
world of art today."
Luise Perenne, Fountain Valley, California, USA
State of change
Russian artists are currently going through the same changes that
Western artists were going though several generations ago. Their
high academic standards are being lost and the teaching of technique
and methodology is a dying activity. The idea that ugly is okay,
even good, is taking over and independent self expression at the
expense of quality is showing itself. This together with the problem
that there is little or no middle-class collectorship in the Russian
states, together with bankrupt governments, leads the new breed
of Russian artist to look abroad for some sort of light at the end
of the economic tunnel.
Aspects of Russian art
Pavel Filonov was poor man. His fate is not too
easy. Filonov did not graduate any Art Institute.
He began to study at the high Art Institute. But
he had own point of view to creativity. So he was
expelled from Institute. Later Filonov had a big
problem when he was a teacher in Art Institute. I
read that chiefs compelled his to leave the Art
Institute. It was a persecution for Filonov. It
was dirty articles in newspapers. Then he had not
possibility to be a teacher in Art Institute. The
main pain for him was a prohibition of his big
exhibition in Russian Museum. This exhibition was
prepared. Later it was prohibit. The exhibition
was not open for viewers. Also they decided to
deprive of pension. He had not money. He starved.
The government had not wished to help him. He
died in poverty in 1941. And he presented all his
art works to Soviet State. His sister presented
all his art works to Russian Museum in 1977. Sad
I like old masters of
Russia. I like the art works of Vroubel,
Borissov-Moussatov, Chagal, Levitan, Korovin. I
could tell many great names some more. The great
book of artists who live in Russia. Every artist
bring own feeling of life in art. I like
transparency of Borissov-Moussatov's art works.
It reminds me of dreams. Vroubel was a master of
game with beautiful colours. Chagal was a painter
who created new space by his art works. Man and
woman who are flying in the sky... Strange
windows. Chagal bring own style of paint in art.
Levitan told to Korovin that he (Levitan) would
like to show sadness of nature. He told that
Korovin wanted to show a gladness only. I think
it is really so. Levitan was right. His paintings
are full sadness and beauty of nature. The
paintings of Korovin are bright examples of
happiness and gladness. I like the view of nature
by this painter. It is my childhood. It is my
It is very pity that we
understand how wonderful the art of this painters
at present time only. They had much problem at
their time. Usually talented people are very
unprotected. They need support of viewers and
goverment. They need in attention to their art.
Sad life. We understand many important things
when we lost them. I have taken a look at present
artists of Russia. I know a lot of talented
artists. What I can help them? Nothing... I am
the same too. I have attempt to tell my words in
art. I have attempt to show my feelings to
viewers. I am glad that Internet help in it. Old
Russian masters had not Internet. I think plenty
of very talented art works of old masters are not
known at present time too. Their art works can
bring beauty and kindness to public all over the
world. Thank you Robert for your email about
artists from Russia. Always I read your emails
with attention. I agreed with many thoughts which
you write. It is important piece of my present
Catherine Yakovina, St.
"Deep will call to
I am happy you have shed some light on Soviet
realism, which was indeed the reflection of the
Soviet people's patriotism and hope for the
better future, as all these painters worked in
the times of Stalin rule and remained alive. I
think Russian realism was influenced more by such
outstanding artists of the 19th century as Repin,
Serov, Vrubel, Kiprensky, Vasnetsov, Levitan. As
for the 20th century there were Petrov-Vodkin,
Falk, Filonov who generally belong to post
Julia Lesnichy, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
(RG note) Thank you to everyone who wrote,
especially Russian artists who found it within
themselves to write in English. What a medium
this Internet is!
Many artists wrote to
ask if there was any place on the internet they
could look at work by the artists I mentioned. My
experience of these artists has been in chance
encounters in museums in different parts of the
world, and older art books which I treasure in my
studio. Karen Rugala of Art Promotions wrote to
advise of a site where you can see the sort of
freshness and broad handling I was talking about.
Go to the link for the Russian Painters
If you would like to see
selected correspondence relating to the previous
letter "Great Expectations" about
painting on the Mackenzie River, please go to