Sergey Chekhonin: the sickle and the hammer or the monster cockroach (Tarakanishсhe)

Sergey Golynets

Abstract


A number of Soviet artists were working in 1918 on the emblem of the RSFSR that became four years later the basis for the Soviet coat of arms. Sergey Vasilievich Chekhonin was the one who gave the coat of arms and the flag of the newlyborn Russian Federation their final form. The symbol, expressive and stripped of the macabre meaning of the reality behind it, found an impeccable composition and form by virtue of one of the most virtuous and talented Russian graphics. Chekhonin’s artistic heritage has not been studied enough. The author of the article, based upon study of bibliographic rarities, illustrated and designed by Chekhonin, addresses the most important pages of the master’s creative work, studying as well the publications of the late 1910s–1920s, and diaries of that time. Chekhonin’s enthusiasm and keenness in cooperating with the new uthority, and working on Soviet emblems, bewildered his fans. The article examines  hekhonin’s attitude to contemporary events in the aspect of the topic “Mir iskusstva” and the Revolution. Members of Mir iskusstva community, having sympathetically met the overthrow of the autocracy, ever since the October Revolution were ready to take an active part in the work on the protection of architectural monuments and museum treasures, on improving artistic pedagogy, publishing and theater business. However, their enthusiasm soon gave way to a feeling of anxiety and frustration. In the mid-1920s, many of Mir iskusstva members found themselves abroad. Chekhonin was no exception. The artist developed critical and skeptical mood, most fully manifested in his illustrations to The Monster Cockroach, a famous fable in verse by Korney Chukovsky. Analyzing the text of The Cockroach and comparing it with other fables by Chukovsky, as well as with the diary entries of the writer, the author of the article argues that The Cockroach was not addressed exclusively to children. It is not by chance that the image of a ‘monster cockroach’ also appeared in the ominous poem by Osip Mandelstam (Tarakan’i smeyutsya glazishcha i sverkayut yego golenishcha… (“The Cockroach’s eyes are laughing, and the shafts of his boots are shining...”)); further on, in the famous play by Evgeny Shvarts, the Cockroach grew to the size of a giant dragon. Chekhonin undoubtedly caught an adult intonation of Chukovsky’s fables; his illustrations to it became a kind of an alternative to the official Soviet heraldry created by him.


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15826/qr.2016.1.148

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