Cover image for Socialist realist painting
Socialist realist painting
Bown, Matthew Cullerne.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
xviii, 506 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 30 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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ND688 .B75 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize

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After the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, the new government took control of Russian art, nationalizing art collections and laying down the principles that were to govern the creation of new art. Soviet Realism was the result. This book traces the style from its artistic and intellectual origins in 19th-century Russia to its decline at the end of the Soviet period. 184 color and 346 bandw illustrations.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Westerners equate modern art with unconventionality and personal expression, and certainly that was the case in Russia during the era Petrov examines; but after the Bolshevik Revolution, Russian art was defined by its social function, and socialist realism, the subject of Bown's unprecedented book, became the only acceptable style. In the interest of chronology, it is best to consider Petrov's lively volume first. The late nineteenth century was a time of exuberant artistic innovation in Russia, and the renowned art critic and impresario Sergei Diaghilev was at the center of the romantic, sometimes surreal art nouveau movement, a flowering that yielded lush and painterly works as well as more graphic images. After an elaborate and richly illustrated introduction, Petrov presents detailed considerations of the lives and work of 18 diverse and fascinating artists, many unknown to Westerners and all worth studying, including Leon Bakst, Alexander Benois, Ivan Bilibin, Boris Kustodiev, Valentin Serov, and Zinaida Serebriakova. The serious realist paintings presented in Bown's book stand in striking contrast to the sensuality of the art nouveau creations. These are works steeped in the traditions of European painting in which content--the depiction of Soviet citizens as heroic yet everyday figures--is valued more than form. Westerners are accustomed to mocking such propagandist works, but Bown circumvents that reaction by emphasizing the fact that the socialist realism movement supported "realistic painting on a scale unmatched anywhere in the world," keeping thousands of artists all across the empire gainfully employed for decades. And then there are the paintings themselves, many of which are far more imaginative and finely executed than the circumstances of their creation seem to promise. Bown's inclusive history is tirelessly detailed, deftly interpretative, and truly eye-opening. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Soviet socialist art is one casualty of the U.S.S.R.'s collapse that might have remained unremarked without this book. While monolithic Stalinist portraits are missed by no one, Bown examines the many manifestations of socialist realism, from its 18th-century forebears, through its intellectually charged, if politically constrained, developments through Gorbachev's time. Varying rules of form and content were enforced to fortify socialist ideology and optimism, with even the unsentimental Stalin manipulating the persuasive, moralizing powers of art. Bown's theme of the political obsession with art is indeed fascinating. Abstraction, Fauvism, C‚zanne, Picasso and Matisse were all censored by the ideology police until Khrushchev's thaw, an immeasurable privation for artists and public alike. Despite censorship, and the dependency of artists' livelihoods on state endorsement, many revelatory works, showing both exciting innovation and real stylistic flair, emerged within these predominantly figurative genres. The 530 plates (346 in stunning color) of this carefully considered selection include many unfamiliar works from both museums and private collections, making it a commendable and collectable oversized edition. The sole detracting feature is the author's transliterations from the Russian: for example, his insistence on using "Shagal" seems a bit supercilious, when the artist preferred to sign himself as "Chagall." His versions are no more faithful to Russian pronunciation, and are disconcerting to readers accustomed to the "norm." (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A review of one of Bown's earlier books, Art Under Stalin (LJ 2/15/92), suggested that librarians wait for a more analytical view. As if in response, Bown has produced a massive theoretical and historical analysis of 20th-century Soviet painting. An independent British scholar, he conducted research in Moscow for this volume, which encompasses the turbulent political and cultural currents that affected art. Bown shows that influences on these paintings ranged from the 19th-century academic and "itinerant" styles, religious icons, controversial French Impressionism to the formalism of Post-Impressionism personality cults (especially Lenin and Stalin), utopian idealism, national folk art, themes of the Bolshevik Revolution and World War II, and concepts of narodnost ("art of the people") and partiinost ("party-mindedness"). Recommended for academic and public libraries for its insights into and illustrations of art unfamiliar to Westerners before the Soviet Union's collapse.‘Anne Marie Lane, American Heritage Ctr., Laramie, WY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Socialist Realist Painting establishes Bown as the world's leading expert on Soviet art. In it, he wishes to show that Socialist Realism provided "the only full-blooded and thoroughly conceived alternative" to modernist experimentation. Bown begins with a brief but vigorous polemic against the "flummery" of Western art historians' preoccupation with the avant-garde. He then moves on to display the charms of the paintings that resulted from state sponsorship/censorship of art. The hundreds of beautifully printed illustrations, in addition to Bown's remarkable erudition, make a stronger case for Soviet painting than any previous publication--including, ironically, anything ever published in the Soviet Union. Bown also appropriately brings to our attention the impressive work of Geli Korzhev, a painter who is somewhat like a Russian Andrew Wyeth. Disturbingly, however, Bown is so eager to make his case that he simply dismisses previous scholarship and completely ignores the moral issues raised by works such as paintings of Stalin, the greatest mass murderer of all time. For these and other reasons, Socialist Realist Painting will be discussed for a long time to come. General readers; undergraduates through faculty. J. M. Curtis; University of Missouri--Columbia