"The driving force of the Revolution"
The “Painting as a document of the epoch” exhibition series at the State Museum of Political History of Russia continues to introduce its visitors with the paintings from the visual art and author's graphics museum collection. This collection embraces many works of the Socialist realism style – a distinctive aesthetic understanding of the outside world and people in it through the communist ideology. The aim of this exhibition series is to explore the impact of ideology on the artist’s works.
The driving force of the Revolution
1917 in Russia started with a massive strike movement. By that time the situation in the country had come to a pre-revolutionary crisis: the protracted war, food shortages, people’s impoverishment, the current administration’s unpopularity. By mid-February 90 000 Petrograd workers had gone on strike because of bread shortage.
February, 23 (Gregorian calendar: March, 8): men and women workers of Petrograd went on the streets with slogans like “Bread!”, “End the war!”, “End the autocracy!” The manifestations collided with the massive women’s protect, organised by the All-Russian League for Women's Equality. These political demonstrations marked the beginning of the Revolution.
February, 25: the political strike transformed into a global one. More than 250 000 workers took part in it.
February, 26: manifestations took over the entire city centre. Military forces and the police opened fire, which led to many deaths. Being affected by the worker’s revolutionary mood the army started acting too: the 4th squadron of the reserve battalion of the Pavlovsky Guard Regiment revolted.
February, 27: the day that defined the Revolution. Parts of the Petrograd garrison started joining the rebels: the reserve battalion of the Volynsky Life Guard Regiment was the first to do so, Preobrazhensky and Lithuanian Guard Regiments and other military parts followed. The victory of the Revolution was marked by the mass soldiers’ desertion to the side of the rebelled workers and by occupation of the Arsenal and Peter and Paul Fortress. These events are reflected on in the works represented in the exhibition.
“February days” by V.A. Kuznetsov. 1934.
“February days in the worker’s neighborhoods” by I.A. Vladimirov. 1934.
“M.I.Kalinin speaks to the workers of the Finlyandsky railway station on February, 27, 1917” by P.I. Ivanovsky. 1939.
Events, which the paintings are based on
The canvases reflect on the mapping of the events, which took place in Petrograd in the end of February 1917. The work by V.A. Kuznetsov shows Kolomna: a military truck with armed people in it drives along Officers street (now Dekabristov street) over a bridge towards the city centre. A boy, who runs after the truck stresses its movement. The truck outruns the walking soldiers and naval officers. It was there, in the district of Kolomna, where dramatic events took place on February, 27: sailors of the 2nd Baltic fleet crew team, which had been cantoned in Krukov barracks, along with the workers from Admiralty Shipyards occupied and burned down the Lithuanian Castle, which at that time functioned as a prison.
Painting by I.A. Vladimirov shows us the events on the Petrogradskaya side of the city. The Petrograd substantial car repair shop for the reserve armoured car battalion was located and the new armoured cars “Oleg”, “Yaroslav”, “Conqueror” and the depicted “Svyatoslav” recently got delivered. We know for a fact that these armoured cars took part in the events of February 1917. Crowd flows around the heavy vehicle and moves towards the city centre. The painter shows the masses’ movement as a firm and threatening march.
Workers, students, women go along soldiers and sailors in the crowd as equals. Their mutual mood is expressed in a song. Maybe they are singing La Marseillaise, which had become popular after the 1905 revolution: “...Arise children of the fatherland, the day of glory has arrived...”
Here we see local boys, who were present at every given moment as the memoirists of the February 1917 chronicle recollected.
P.I. Ivanovsky showed us another scene that took place at Finlyandsky railway station (Vyborgskaya side) on the very same day, February, 27, 1917. The painting depicts the crowded square in front of the station; people listen to Mikhail Kalinin, a bolshevik, who became one of the activists of the February events. During the uprising he had been one of the leaders of the security disarmament, occupation of Finlyandsky railway station and of the prisoners’ from the nearest “Kresty” prison release.
All three paintings make a portrait of the many faced driving force of the Revolution: armed soldiers, sailors, workers, citizens.
Lives of these painters are entangled with Petersburg: they lived, studied, worked here. Two of them: V.A. Kuznetsov and.A. Vladimirov belong to the older generation, they were born in the 1970s. P.I. Ivanovsky is significantly younger. V.A. Kuznetsov and.A. Vladimirov met the Revolution in Petrograd and witnessed how the revolution chaos unfolded. P.I. Ivanovsky, born in the Tver region, was 11 years old at that time.
V.A. Kuznetsov and.A. Vladimirov worked in the first half of the 1930s. The main character of their canvases is always rebellious people.
P.I. Ivanovsky made his work in 1939 - in a different time, when ideology dictated how to paint and from what angle to represent history.
The “Brief history of the CPSU(b) party” was released in 1939 in 1 million copies; it became a canon for the official history of the Bolshevik party.
The resolution “On the formulation of the party’s propaganda: in relation with the “Brief history of the CPSU(b) party” release” by the CPSU (b) Central Committee, dated November 1938, became a guideline for the book’s wide implementation: any interpretations of historic facts were forbidden.
The “Brief history of the CPSU(b) party” understands the revolutionary events as a logical movement of the masses from the February bourgeois-democratic revolution to the October socialist uprising, led by the Bolshevik party. February becomes a prologue for October.
Mikhail Kalinin in the P.I. Ivanovsky’s painting symbolizes this direction. Being a member of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks), Kalinin was one of few Bolsheviks, who met the February events in Petrograd and who, 20 years later, after all purges in the party, remained in his position and established himself in the Stalin’s nearest circle.
The painter makes Kalinin’s figure dominate in the composition; the leader organises masses of people.
His stretched out hand points at the direction of movement: forward, on the other bank of the Neva - to take power into his own hands! Thus, a spontaneous protest became the organizing principle in the P.I. Ivanovsky’s painting.
A monumental work by D.G. Oboznachenko “Meeting V.I. Lenin at Finlyandsy railway station, April, 3, 1917” (1987) found in the same room adds to the artistic vision of the spring 1917. D.G. Oboznachenko depicted a historical fact, which had happened in the beginning of April and which, according to the Soviet history, had turned out to be the culmination of the February revolution: the leader of the Revolution comes to the scene. Lenin’s return after 9 years in exile became a key event for the Soviet historiography and art; his image as a leader, speaking from the top of an armoured car, was reproduced in many copies everywhere and became one of the symbols of the Revolution.
You can learn more about the Ferbuary-March 1917 revolutionary events in room №18, “Revolution in Russia. 1917-1922”.
Vladimir Aleksandrovich Kuznetsov (1874-1960), painter, Honored Artist of the RSFSR. Studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Petersburg, then continued his education in Italy, where he had been twice before as a pensionnaire. He became famous in the 1910s. After the Revoluton he moved to Nizny Tagil, where he taught and worked for museums. In 1921 he moved back to Petrograd and entered the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia and then became a member of the Union of Artists of the USSR. During the war he was evacuated to the Ural and after the Leningrad siege had been broken, he got back and continued working.
In 1953 he was awarded the “Honored Artist of the RSFSR” title. In the 1930s he worked on the series of paintings “City of three revolutions”. His work “For the Soviets!” (another title “Smolny: the headquarters of the October”) was taken into the collection of the Russian museum, “The Storming of the Winter Palace” - into the State museum of Revolution of the USSR. The painting “February days” was presented to our museum by the Old bolsheviks Society in 1935.
Ivan Vladimirovich Vladimirov (1870-1947), painter and graphic artist, Honored Artist of the RSFSR. Studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Petersburg. He traveled a lot, made sketches in places of action in Caucasus, the Balkans, Far East and Manchuria. During the World War I he served at the front as a military art correspondent. In 1917-1918 when he worked for the Petrograd militia, he made a cycle of documental drawings. After the October uprising he entered the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia, made drawings from Lenin in person, created watercolours and drawings on the revolutionary events. In 1932 he became a member of the Union of Artists of the USSR, made paintings on revolutionary and military themes. During the war he stayed in Leningrad, where he documented the besieged city in his drawings.
Vladimirov was awarded the “Honored Artist of the RSFSR” title and the Order of the Red Banner of Labour.
In our museum we have many remarkable paintings and graphic works by I.A. Vladimirov. His works were coming to our collection through the years constantly. The “February days in the worker’s neighborhoods” came to us in 1934.
Pyotr Ivanovich Ivanovsky (1906-1958), painter, Honored Artist of the RSFSR. Studied at Leningrad Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. After he graduated from the institute, he started teaching and started his PhD at the same time. In 1942 he was evacuated to Kirov. After the war he returned to Leningrad and continued teaching and doing his PhD: “Felix Dzerzhinsky among the street boys” painting. Ivanovsky worked on the genre painting as well as historical, he made landscapes and portraits.
“M.I.Kalinin speaks to the workers of the Finlyandsky railway station on February, 27, 1917” came to our collection from the painter in 1939.