Overview Highlights Events Order the Catalogue Advance Tickets
13th-17th Centuries
The Imperial Collections
The 18th Century
The 19th Century
The Collections of Shchukin and Morozov
Early 20th Century and Avant-Garde
Late 1920s-1930s
1980s to the Present

Yuri Pimenov (1903-1977), New Moscow
Previous Next
Late 1920s - 1930s
Throughout the 1920s, groups of artists working in a variety of styles were active in the Soviet Union. Constructivist and Production artists renounced easel painting and turned instead to the creation of utilitarian objects for everyday life. Among the most prominent of the groups that continued to paint was the Society of Easel Painters (OST), which included Alexander Deineka, Alexander Labas, and Sergei Luchishkin and was committed to a modernist yet representational style. The aesthetically conservative Association of Revolutionary Artists (AKhRR), which counted Isaak Brodsky as one of its leading representatives, had the largest membership and received the most support from Communist Party leaders.

Beginning in the late 1920s, freedom of artistic expression was gradually but steadily curtailed by the increasingly authoritarian regime led by Joseph Stalin. By the early 1930s, the modernist idiom came under attack in the press, where it was criticized for “formalism” and bourgeois influences. In 1932, the Central Committee of the Communist Party centralized control over the nationís artistic production by issuing a decree dissolving the existing artistsí organizations and requiring that artists join the newly created Union of Soviet Artists. At the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934, Stalin's close associate Andrei Zhdanov and the writer Maxim Gorky publicly defined Socialist Realism as “revolutionary romanticism” that “must depict reality in its revolutionary development.” Soviet art was given the task of ìthe ideological transformation and education of the working people in the spirit of Socialism.î Although this goal had much in common with the utopian ideals of the early-twentieth-century Russian avant-garde—whose art had continued to flourish in the decade after Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks took power in 1917—Socialist Realism consistently excluded abstraction from the official public sphere. The accepted means of expression were restricted to representational painting and sculpture that was realist in style and Socialist in content.

The most successful artists of the 1930s, such as Brodsky, Deineka, and Sergei Gerasimov, earned recognition for works that depicted Soviet achievements and heroes (peasants, workers, and Party leaders alike), glossed over difficulties and mistakes, and formulated a vision of the yet-to-be-realized Communist utopia. They expressed enthusiasm for Stalin's successive Five-Year Plans, which began in 1928 and led to the transformation of Russia into a major industrial power by the end of the 1930s. Socialist Realist artists also glorified the collectivization of agriculture in upbeat depictions, which overlooked the famine and hardships brought on by this policy. Stalin's purges of the late 1930s—when roughly half of the Communist Party elite were arrested and one quarter were executed or died under torture or while doing hard labor in the gulags—were indicative of the widening repressions with which all Soviet citizens, including artists, had to contend.

Although the basic subjects and pictorial language of Socialist Realism were established in the 1930s, its stylistics varied from artist to artist during the nearly fifty years of its existence as the stateís mandated aesthetic. Socialist Realism—propagated through fine art and mass-produced mediums such as posters—provided iconic imagery that became deeply ingrained in Soviet visual culture and the popular imagination for generations.

ABOVE: Yuri Pimenov, New Moscow, 1937. Oil on canvas, 139.5 x 171 cm. The State Tretyakov Gallery. Photo: © The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.