Socialist Realist Painting During the Stalinist Era (1934-1941): The High Art of Mass Art

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This book argues that Socialist Realist paintings, typically seen by western art historians as examples of retrograde art and by scholars of Soviet history simply as propaganda, were a part of an extensive program of skillful artistic practice coupled with masterful propaganda. This book contains fourteen color photographs.


“If, in retrospect, much of Socialist Realism now seems facile and belabored, Rusnock argues that it was part of both a national and an international language. On the one hand, she takes, therefore, the “All-Union Agricultural Exhibition” of 1939 as a shining example of domestic propaganda at which art and politics interweaved, presenting a brilliant, but false, imagery of a countryside ruined in the wake of collectivization. On the other, Rusnock describes the promotion of Socialist Realist painting, sculpture, and the applied arts abroad at the 1937 and 1939 Paris and New York universal exhibitions, where the Soviet contribution was praised by ardent critics and awarded prestigious medals -- indicating that, for all its obvious political bias, the style appealed not only to the Soviet populace, but also to Western sensibility. That Socialist Realism had much in common with American Social Realism, Fascist Realism, and even the new Classicism in France and the valori plastici in Italy is one of those enigmas which intrigue historians and Rusnock presents us fairly and squarely with this apparent paradox.” – Prof. John E. Bowlt, University of Southern California

“Rusnock’s work is valuable not only because it presents for the first time a scholarly treatment of collective farm paintings. Its value also lies in the wide audience that this book will serve. While art historians will find much useful information here, so, too, will scholars of Soviet culture, history, and literature. Graduate students will benefit from having this book on their shelves thanks to its comprehensive treatment of the art history leading up to socialist realism, as well as its detailed discussion of the implementation of socialist realism in agricultural painting. This is a well-argued, clearly written book that will find a place in graduate and undergraduate courses alike, while providing a satisfying read for armchair art historians and devotees of Soviet history. Andrea Rusnock is to be congratulated for bringing to light one of the most under-studied, under-valued chapters of Soviet art history.” – Prof. Cynthia Ruder, University of Kentucky

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Foreword by John E. Bowlt
1. The Inception of Socialist Realism: Style, Subject, and Context
2. Soviet Art History and the Interpretation of Russian Nineteenth Century Realist Painting
3. Realism’s Respite: The Affect of Modern Art on Images of Peasants
4. The Return to Realism: 1922 to 1934
5. Socialist Realism in Action
6. Socialist Realism as Art for the Masses and Art by the Masses

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