When you look at the painting above, what do you feel? Does the joyous expression on the boy’s face elicit a sense of hope? Or, do you notice the fatigue displayed by the mother, despite her happiness in response to the good news? Aleksandr Laktionov’s “A Letter from the Front,” which depicts a soldier bringing news to a Soviet family that their son is still alive, expertly portrays both of these emotions, and thus the complexity of the Soviet reaction to their victory in World War II.
“A Letter from the Front” was initially unpopular with the upper echelons of Soviet artists. They felt that the ragged condition of the porch and the mother did a disservice to socialist realism. However, perhaps for this same reason, the public embraced the work. Its subject matter was simultaneously optimistic and realistic, two things in short supply after the war.
Despite their relief that the war was won, its destruction of their population and their country left Soviet citizens worn down and depleted. In return for their sacrifices of living conditions and loved ones during the war, Soviets expected new privileges and luxuries from their government. Both the USSR’s postwar economic state and the nature of the government’s power, however, prevented this from becoming reality. A reconciliation between the public’s desires and the government’s reality, referred to by Vera Dunham as “The Big Deal,” was difficult to maneuver. Laktionov’s future paintings, much like the one above, amply demonstrate the complexities of this reconciliation.
Many Americans have read Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, or Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. However, few have heard of a similarly titled and sized work: Vasily Grossman’s epic, Life and Fate. Although its structure bears resemblance to the former two novels, Life and Fate‘s unique setting gives it significance in Soviet history unparalleled by most other literature.
From a young age, Russian author Evgeny Zamiatin supported revolutionary movements in Russia. In 1905, not only did he witness the uprising on the battleship Potemkin in Odessa, but he himself was imprisoned for five months after participating in demonstrations. He supported the Bolshevik party and, though he was travelling at the time, was excited to hear of the 1917 February Revolution. But, when he returned home, the Russia that awaited him was far removed was his expectations. Zamiatin would spend the remaining years of his life in opposition to the new order.
This blog’s home page image features a still from Dziga Vertov’s 1929 film, Man with a Movie Camera. Considered the first documentary film ever made, it’s a movie I’ve long admired for its inventiveness and ingenuity. Prior to this post, I had little idea about how significantly the Russian Futurist movement influenced Vertov and this film. However, the film’s celebration of technology and the avant-garde clearly designates it as a Futurist work, and reflects important developments that took place in the Soviet Union during this era.
What’s the first thing that strikes you when you study the painting above? Do you notice the people being depicted, or are you focusing on the smaller details and the setting? Maybe, you’re taken aback by the textures, shading, and all-around technique employed by the artist. Abram Arkhipov’s paintings, including the one above, are rife with social and emotional meaning, as well as technical expertise. Part of a 19th century group of artists known as the Wanderers (Peredvizhniki), Arkhipov subtly exemplified the unrest that would launch Russia into a century filled with change.