«The Iconography» of Comrade Andrei (Yakov Sverdlov): a Mechanism of Soviet Mythmaking

Yevgeny Alekseev, Yevgeny Burdenkov

Abstract


The article considers the mechanism underlying the mythmaking of “comrade Andrei” (Yakov Sverdlov), a Soviet chieftain, referring to the art collection of the Ya. M. Sverdlov Museum (presently, the City Museum of Yekaterinburg). Kept in the Scientific Archive of the Museum, instructions and detailed descriptions of paintings ordered as well as transcripts of subsequent discussions attended by the so-called old Bolsheviks and representatives of the Institute of History of the (All-) Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), artists’ commentaries and suggestions along with the opinions and estimations of some officials help trace the process of planning and realization of different art projects, depicting the image and revolutionary activity of Yakov Sverdlov. The status of customers acquired along with their positions, meant that Soviet officials (heads of museums, factories, instructors of regional committees, and CEOs of local agricultural institutions) would solve all the issues, underlying the “production of art”. It was them who decided on the themes, plots and images and offered the format and compositions of paintings and their methods of creation; they also chose the appropriate studies and painting versions, controlled the realization and development of the concept and interfered with all the details to their liking. The authors demonstrate that the customers, i.e. representatives of the local authorities had the same tastes and cultural preferences as the public. In their creation of Yakov Sverdlov’s iconography, they followed the images and compositional patterns that had already been tested (with paintings depicting Lenin and Stalin) and kept the image of “the chieftain of Ural workers” within the assigned framework. Despite the fact that they observed all the iconographic compositional patterns, the creators (both customers and artists) failed to reach any impressive results in their mythologisation of “the chieftain of Ural workers”. The majority of paintings they created were limited to documentary and everyday themes. The customers rejected any artistic allegory, symbolic implications or artistic generalization, aiming at a reconstruction of a real revolutionary life which led to one-sided plots, aiming at a certain reconstruction of “the real revolutionary times”, which made Ya. Sverdlov’s image inexpressive and dull.


Keywords


20th century Ural fine arts; socialist realism; Ya. M. Sverdlov; historico-revolutionary painting; socialist realism; mythologisation of power

References


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15826/qr.2016.2.158

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