Way outside the city center of Moscow sits a rather modest museum that contains one of the best collections of the Russian realist school of painting of the 20th century. The museum is known as the Institute of Russian Realist Art (IRRA) and it houses three floors of exhibition space, totaling over 4,500 square meters, with approximately 500 works of Russian and Soviet art. The collection begins with Soviet Realism and ends with contemporary work from artists living today. It is an interesting collection that chronicles Russia’s political history with Stalin’s propaganda art, the Great Patriotic War and Khrushchev’s “thaw.” This fabulous collection shows us how these Russian artists interpreted the world in which they lived.
The text below was taken from the IRRA website (http://www.rusrealart.ru/en)
Soviet Painting from the 1900s to 1960s
This section of the display is devoted to artists active in the first half and middle of the 20th century. Their painting displays unfettered creative endeavor and a figurative, object-centered artistic vision. The style of many of these artists took form well before the revolution; their art is rooted in the traditions of 19th-century painting. The collection of the Institute of Russian Realist Art (IRRA) includes works by outstanding members of the Moscow school of painting such as Arkady Plastov (1893-1972), Sergei Gerasimov (1885-1964), Igor Grabar (1871-1960), Alexander Deineka (1899-1969) and Vasily Svarog (1883-1946), as well as canvases by artists of the St. Petersburg school, such as Ilya Repin’s pupils Isaak Brodsky (1883-1939) and Gavriil Gorelov (1880-1966), and other well-known masters.
The works of Sergei Gerasimov reveal his talent as a Russian Impressionist. Gerasimov’s portraits of his wife and of the artist Vasily Pochitalov, as well as his views of Mozhaisk and the Luzhnetsky Monastery, display different facets of the great painter’s art. A graduate of the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, Arkady Plastov retained a lasting fondness for country views and the rural way of life. His “Village in March, Sheep Grazing”(a version of the well-known work “After the Fascist Air Raid”), and “Summer. New Roof” clearly demonstrate Plastov’s talent as a painter. In the same room viewers will find the landscapes “Birches” and “House Corner in Winter” by another representative of the Moscow school, the impressionist Igor Grabar. Also here is Vasily Svarog’s “Voroshilov and Gorky at the Red Army Central House Shooting Gallery”, a popular Soviet painting of the 1930s.
All of these masters helped to raise and educate several generations of Soviet painters, whose works can be seen here. Among them are Victor Tsyplakov (1915-1986) and Nikolai Solomin (1916-1999), who were pupils of Sergei Gerasimov and Igor Grabar, as well as Vladimir Serov (1910-1968) and Alexander Laktionov (1910-1972), both pupils of Isaak Brodsky. Also exhibited here are works by well-known Soviet artists, such as Fyodor Reshetnikov (1906-1988), creator of the famous “Another Bad Mark?”, Porfiry Krylov (1902-1990) and Mikhail Kuprianov (1903-1991) of the famous Kukryniksy trio. “The Creation of the World," by Boris Pasternak. “Thaw” and other 1960s canvases by Yury Pimenov (1903-1977) occupy a special place in the display. The creative legacy of the outstanding 20th-century masters displayed in this room can be regarded as a link between the past and present in Russian art.
Art of the 1960s Generation: The “Severe Style” and the Romance of the Time
The second floor of the IRRA museum presents the art of the middle and second half of the 20th century. The Great Hall prominently displays the works of the most distinguished artists of the 1960s, for whom the time of Khrushchev’s “thaw” became the turning point in their artistic development. The mood of openness and honest discussion of “the time and one’s self” encouraged a wide circle of artists to rethink their values. The 1960s became the time when our national art started engaging with the rest of the world. As the “iron curtain” began to lift, Soviet artists were introduced to the progressive art of Europe and America. The IRRA exhibition showcases this diverse creative quest of the leading artists of the 1960s.
One of the most striking developments which marked national cultural process in the middle of the 20th century was the emergence of an extraordinary group of masters of the so-called “severe style”. Viktor Ivanov, Petr Ossovsky, Nikolai Andronov, Pavel Nikonov, Tair Salakhov, Andrei Vasnetsov and Igor Obrosov became the leaders of this movement. The ethical problems of the Soviet time, with a romantic vision of reality and its dramatic essence became the main themes of their art. These artists were trained in the tradition of the Moscow School of Art and the Surikov Art Institute. The viewer can appreciate that their work incorporates the legacy of the Russian avant-garde, as well as their aspirations to build on the experience of the Soviet masters of the 1920s and 1930s. Today, we can see works by the artists of the “severe style” as a polyphonic, innovative phenomenon that gave rise to new aesthetic ideals.
Art of the 1960s Generation: Memories of the War and “The Truth of Life”
The quest for innovation which characterizes the artists of the 1960s generation is associated with the changes that were taking place in the political, social and cultural life of the nation. Their paintings, highly relevant to their time, also reflected their interest in the eternal values of art; their creative quest marked the opening of the next phase in the development of Russian fine art.
The Small Hall presents the works of Gely Korzhev (born 1925), many of them exhibited for the first time. The artist turns to contemporary social evils, and creates monumental images in his canvases. His paintings “Get Up, Ivan!” (1997), “Deprived of Parental Rights” (2006), and “The Lodger” (1997) are marked with sharp vision, sincerity, and the pursuit of truth.
The events of the Great Patriotic War became one of the most important themes in the work of the brothers Sergei (born 1922) and Alexei (born 1925) Tkachev. “They Fought for the Motherland”, a series of their paintings dedicated to the war, is at the center of the exhibition; in 2005 it was awarded the State Prize of the Russian Federation.
The exhibition shows the art of Viktor Popkov (1932-1974) from an unusual angle. His picturesque, lyrical landscapes reveal this master of the “severe style” as an observant witness of nature’s openness of colour, clarity of form, and unique atmosphere.
In the Small Hall, the artists of the 1960s generation are also represented by the so-called “Moscow Cézannism” movement – the viewer can see Albert Papikian’s (1926-1997) still-lifes, and landscapes by Eduard Bragovsky (1923-2010) and Ivan Sorokin (1922-2004). Mikhail Konchalovsky (1906-2000) was at its forefront; the artist used paints and canvases from his father and mentor, Petr Konchalovsky, as well as objects from his well-known still lifes.
Alongside the “Moscow Cézannism” artists, the Small Hall showcases exquisite landscapes of Moscow and Rostov the Great by Vyacheslav Zabelin (1935-2001); next to them the viewer can see Efrem Zverkov’s (born 1921) decorative “poems” celebrating the nature of central Russia. Valentin Sidorov (1928) dedicated his art to the beauty of Tver, the land of his childhood.
The inimitable look of the Russian provincial town is revealed in the paintings “A Square on Pereslavskaya Street” (1968) and “A Scarlet Morning above Borovsk” (1983) by Andrei Tutunov (born 1928). His spouse’s works are featured next to his – Irina Shevandronova’s (1928-1993) paintings are dedicated to the subject of childhood, a rare theme in Soviet art.
1950s-2000s: Moscow Artists and the Vladimir School of Fine Art
In the middle and second half of the 20th century, it was not only the large art institutes of Moscow and St. Petersburg that developed and took shape, but also regional art schools, each with distinctive features of its own.
The exhibition at IRRA presents the work of Moscow artists alongside the representatives of the Vladimir school, particularly those of them whose art was associated with the famous studios in the “Artists’ Town” in Nizhnaya Maslovka.
Each one of them has his or her signature style and means of expression. Many artists turned to the origins of Russian national culture and had a special interest in folk art; others preferred modern genres and urban landscapes.
For the artists of the Vladimir school, which formed in the 1960s, landscape became a popular genre, and the traditions of folk art were another important reference point. The works of these artists, painted with bright “base” colors, were largely outside the range of accepted stereotypes; in a way, they turned out to be in a sort of opposition, not only to official art, but also to the so-called “severe style”.
“March in Suzdal. A Day in Blue”, “Near Mstyora. Golden Autumn”, “At the Golden Gate of Ancient Vladimir”, “Old Vladimir. At the Market”, “The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius” – these are the exhibited works that represent one of the founders of the Vladimir school, Kim Britov (1925-2010). Britov’s canvases are steeped in folk traditions; they are full of life, of intense colors, and resemble the prints of Russian “lubok”, or folk art.
The viewer can also see the works of another master of the Vladimir school, Vladimir Yukin (1920-2000) – “Evening on the Volga”, “Self-portrait”, “Golden Evening”. Yukin’s art, influenced by both Russian Impressionism and the icon-painting traditions of Mstyora, is profoundly versatile.
Moscow artists also turn to subjects of the everyday life of the common folk. Mlada Finogenova (born 1941) is an artist who found her inspiration is a small ancient Russian town of Borisogleb – it is through its images that she is able to fully realize her vision of beauty. She paints lyrical landscapes, interiors of Russian homes, and genre scenes.
An artist of the Moscow school, Nikolai Solomin (born 1941) also turns to genre paintings. His works “Cherries and Apples”, “Still-life with Samovar”, “Good Luck!”, which is reminiscent of Vasily Perov’s famous “Hunters at Rest”, are part of this show.
Alexander Petrov (born 1947), also from Moscow, chooses time as his main subject; distinct moments in time are forever captured in his canvases. This artist’s creative approach resembles the work of a camera lens. His works include a series of paintings dedicated to Venice: “Aqua Aqua”, “Bi Boat”, “Wave”, “Blue Boat”.