Impressionist Heresy in the Soviet Union November 22, 2011Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback
Beach has spent the day in bed reading books he once loved and in doing so came across this fabulous picture by Sergei Gerasimov (obit 1964). While not normally a big fan of Soviet art, except, of course, for its kitsch value, Gerasimov’s Mother of a Partisan (1943) is worth making an exception over. For Beachcombing the bovine, impassive face of the mother and the ‘cheekiness’ (an entirely inadequate word) of the boy are archetypal. They call parts of the human condition to mind in the same way that when Beachcombing sees someone in despair on the bus he thinks of Munch or when he feels hunger he imagines the old woman in a Velazquez painting. What Beachcombing had forgotten was the unusual history that surrounded this rare Soviet masterpiece.
First, though a little about Gerasimov himself. A decent artist and, what is even rarer in high up Soviet circles in the 1940s, a decent man, Gerasimov struggled to concentrate on creativity rather than the dictates of Stalin’s regime. He bent his knee when he had to: a natural enough reaction for any Soviet citizen knowing what defiance would mean for self, family and friends. However, he also, Soviet art historian Matthew Cullerne Bown reports, defended his students and other artists from the attacks of authority, taking risks on their behalf. The proof of this was his immense popularity in Stalin’s lifetime and his success after Stalin’s death.
However, given these unSoviet twitches of personality and also a taste and interest in – horrors! – non Soviet art styles, Gerasimov was, sooner or later going to get in trouble. Trouble came not in 1943 when he painted Mother, but strangely in 1949 when he was publicly criticised for ‘impressionism’ in this work. These are disputes that to this age seem bizarre, but in the sweaty post war Russian art world where execution and torture was just a commission away such things mattered. And Gerasimov felt obliged to repaint his most famous war work.
He didn’t, perhaps surprisingly, put shoes on the woman’s feet, but he did ‘pretty’ her ‘up’. The drained wight who knows that her son is about to be shot in front of her has been replaced by a more human and more responsive (but consequently less effective) individual, a woman who appears again and again in Soviet crowd scenes when Lenin is speaking from the balcony or when Stalin is getting off a train.
Beach is lucky enough to have a copy of the original. He was shocked to find that on the WWW the original is only available in black and white though. It is the transmogrified repaint-this-or-we-shoot-you version that has been digitally immortalised. In breve, Stalin and his morons won.
Other manipulated pictures? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com