Monday, February 11, 2019

A Posthumous Tribute to Sergei Kirov

Sergei Kirov (1886-1934) met a curious end, as explained in this Wikipedia entry. He was a prominent Bolshevik, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Azerbaijani Communist Party and at the time of his assassination head of the Leningrad branch of the Communist Party. Following his death he was treated as something of a martyr to the Communist cause. In post-Stalin USSR a major warship was named after him.

Yet, as Wikipedia indicates, for many years there have been strong suspicions that Kirov had been killed by order of Josef Stalin and the assassination was covered up in part by the posthumous honors. A few years later in his great purges, Stalin simply had people snuffed out on the pretext they were traitors. No posthumous honors. Perhaps Stalin had learned something from the Kirov experience or maybe the sheer logistics and justifications of the purges eliminated such honors.

When I was in M├ílaga, Spain in November I visited a branch of Saint Petersburg's excellent Russian Museum. It was holding a year-long (ending February 2019) exhibit titled "The Radiant Future: Socialist Realism in Art." A fine exhibit. Plenty of examples, some of which I even knew about before I visited. Of course I took lots of snapshots.

One painting I photographed was "Sergei Kirov Reviews the Athletic Parade" completed in 1935, a year following the assassination, and clearly part of the honors heaped on him. The artist is Alexander Nikolayevich Samokhvalov (1894-1971), Wikipedia entry here, a prominent member of what is called the Leningrad School who tended to specialize in athletic subjects.

I am not impressed by Samokhvalov paintings that I know of, and the tribute to Kirov strikes me the same way. I include it as an example of one kind of Socialist Realism and for its historical as well as political overtones. I doubt that Samokhvalov at the time of his work was aware of any controversy regarding Kirov's death.

Click on the images below to enlarge.


Image of the painting found on the Internet.

Snapshot of the painting that I took. The painting is huge. Note the relationship of the floor and the plaque at the left: these indicate the foreground subjects are not much smaller than life-size.

Detail.  Several of the athletes depicted have curiously large whites of their eyes for some reason.

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