Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/527/3977

From The Socialist newspaper, 2 April 2008

Review

From Russia

French and Russian master paintings 1870-1925 from Moscow and St Petersburg

Reviewed by Matt Dobson

Henri Matisse's painting The Dance, 1910 adorns tube stations and advertising billboards across London. This striking masterpiece is just one of the 120 paintings that show the interaction between Russian and French art. This exhibition at the Royal Academy covers art from an historical period of explosive mass movements and wars, a political turning point when the power of Europe's ruling classes, the capitalists, landlords and aristocracy was threatened by revolutionary uprisings of the working class and poor.

Today's political conflict threw the viability of the exhibition itself into doubt. There were diplomatic tensions between the British and Russian governments over the Alexander Litvinenko affair. The Putin regime feared legal claims on the paintings by the descendants of wealthy collectors from whom the paintings were taken. They were put in state museums for public viewing after the October revolution. The British government had to enact special legislation to ensure the paintings would go back to Russia.

Picasso

The show includes works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Maurice Denis, Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin collected by Russian textile capitalists. Also displayed are works by Russian artists who were influenced by art in Europe and fused what they had studied in Paris with depictions of Russian life and landscape as well as adapting and using traditional folk art techniques. The result is a collection of the best in European art in the twentieth century; realism, impressionism, post impressionism, cubism, futurism, abstraction and constructivism plus innovative Russian works that are unique and wonderful to discover.

Leon Trotsky, in his History of the Russian Revolution explained the backwardness and contradictions in Russian society and the weakness of the capitalist class with its links to tsarist landlordism and aristocracy, in being unable to develop Russia to the level of advanced capitalist countries.

Russia experienced 'combined and uneven development'; the latest in industrial technique, with the profits going to the western European powers, alongside feudal conditions and land relations in the countryside. It is interesting to note that French art and culture had such an influence on Russia. This parallels the links between Russia and France. The French bourgeoisie was one of the main investors in Russian capitalism.

The French impressionists inspired by the French Revolution broke with artistic conventions; political upheavals in Russia had a similar ideological impact on artists who moved away from depictions of religion and mythology towards realism.

The contradictions described by Trotsky are in paintings throughout the exhibition, the opulent portraits of the aristocracy and clergy, the harsh conditions experienced by the peasantry and the revolutionary movements of the working class.

The highlight of the exhibition for me is Ilya Repin's awe inspiring Manifesto of October 17 1905. A powerful red and grey tidal surge of demonstrating workers sweeps behind the bewildered and shocked tsarist elite. It's the 1905 revolution!

The seizure of power by the working class in 1917 opened up a period of liberated experimentation and innovation in art and culture as the chains of tsarism and capitalism were broken. Workers were given the space and time to be involved in artistic production; the exhibition shows the development of workers' art collectives in Moscow and Petrograd in the early years of soviet power. It concludes with constructivism, a revolutionary attempt to "take over the forms encountered in everyday life" and reject the decadence and highbrow nature of bourgeois painting, to make art accessible to the masses and for everyday industrial use.

A drawing of Vladimir Tatlin's tower forms a dramatic end to the exhibition. This proposed headquarters of the Third International was never built. It would have been a spiralling iron framework with rotating glass spaces that would have dominated the Moscow skyline with a radio apparatus broadcasting communiqués across the world. From Russia is well worth a visit despite the expensive ticket prices and the total inadequacy of the information about the paintings and artists in the galleries.

The blurb tends to concentrate on the wealthy collectors and their "fantastic contribution to art history". Unfortunately the political tone of the exhibition is much like the Breaking the Rules exhibition reviewed in March's Socialism Today which associates constructivism with crude Stalinist art.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 2 April 2008:

End Labour's 'them and us' society

Capitalism gambles with our lives

Editorial: For a 35-hour week with no loss of pay


Socialist Party campaigns

Victory shows campaigning can save out NHS!

"Halve your expenses and save our post offices"


Environment

The devastating effects of biofuels

Airports: Expanding profits at our expense


Socialist Students

ID cards: No to students being used as guinea pigs!

National Union of Students rejects constitutional changes


Workplace news and analysis

Fight back against the Unison witch-hunt!

Jaguar/Land Rover: Uncertain future for workers

Tube workers strike to defend network safety

Shelter staff ask for support

NUJ Members fight attacks on jobs and conditions

Teachers vote to strike

National Shop Stewards Network second conference


Marxist analysis: history

1848: year of revolution


International socialist news and analysis

USA elections: Break with the two parties of big business!

Kazakhstan socialist jailed for protesting


Socialist Party review

From Russia: French and Russian master paintings 1870-1925 from Moscow and St Petersburg


 

Home   |   The Socialist 2 April 2008   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  




Related links:

Russia:

triangleOctober 1917 reviews: 'More bright than any heaven'

triangleRussia, October 1917: When workers took power

triangleWaltham Forest Socialist Party: Russia's October 1917 revolution

triangleTrotsky's "insightful and frank examination" of revolution out soon

triangleProtests against state repression in Russia and Kazakhstan

Art:

triangle'Dazzling' Bad Art show points to socialist future

triangleSwansea Socialist Party: Art and Revolution

triangle'Ana Key MP' - Socialist artist responds to attacks

triangleSouth-East London Socialist Party: Art and Revolution

Exhibition:

triangleRare opportunity to see Russian revolution lifted off the page

triangleWhat we saw

triangleSmearing socialism by attacking the arts

Reviews and comments

Reviews and comments

18/10/17

Port Talbot

Powerful picture of the Port Talbot steel workers' struggle

18/10/17

Russian revolution

October 1917 reviews: 'More bright than any heaven'

11/10/17

Theresa May

Theresa May, Frida Kahlo and turning women into wares

11/10/17

Docks

Poverty, repression and fightback on the docks

11/10/17

The Socialist

The Socialist Inbox

11/10/17

TV

Shocking insight into Isis

2/10/17

Sexism

Hugh Hefner's exploitation of women

27/9/17

Football

Women's football - Sampson allegations

20/9/17

Letters

The Socialist Inbox

20/9/17

Socialist

Interview: the "socialist John Le Carré"

20/9/17

Women

Refreshing, anticapitalist - but little pointing a way forward

13/9/17

Women

New documentary asks women how their bodies are sexualised and policed

13/9/17

Letters

The Socialist inbox

13/9/17

Che Guevara

Intimate insight into a revolutionary icon

6/9/17

Pensions

Bosses' pensions robbery

triangleMore Reviews and comments articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle19 Oct Arriva North West bus drivers strike over pay

triangle18 Oct Russia, October 1917: When workers took power

triangle18 Oct Tories torn - bin them now

triangle18 Oct Royal Mail bosses block strike - back postal workers

triangle18 Oct Balloting members on the pay cap

triangle13 Oct The end of the Tories?

triangle11 Oct Nasty party imploding...drive out the Tories

More ...

triangle21 Oct Birmingham: NSSN Solidarity Forum

triangle23 Oct Chesterfield Socialist Party: The continuing struggle for abortion rights

triangle24 Oct Liverpool Socialist Party: The October Russian Revolution 100 years ago to the day

triangle25 Oct Salford Socialist Party: The October 1917 Russian revolution

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Archive

Archives:

October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999

Legal

SP RSS feed RSS

Platform setting: = No platform choice

V2