Thomas Kearns McCarthey Gallery

News and Exhibitions

Realismi Socialisti, Grande Pittura Sovietica 1920-1970

(Socialist Realism, Great Soviet Paintings 1920 - 1970)

Through January 8th- Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome



Dmitri Zhilinsky, "Gymnasts of the U.S.S.R"., 1965

The history of the painting of Socialist Realism tells the story of an extraordinary movement in 20th century art. The Soviet state supported realist painting in a manner unequalled anywhere in the world, promoting its development by "recruiting" thousands of talented artists from all over its immense multi-ethnic empire. Socialist Realism extolled the social role of art and the superiority of content over form; it encouraged the rediscovery of the practice of traditional crafts and it dipped into both classical and modern European art, using it as a kind of reservoir of stylistic and iconographic motifs from which artists might draw inspiration. In 20th century history it represented the only complete alternative to the urgent drive to sweep away the past that was such a feature of the modernist movement. Socialist Realisms: Soviet Painting 1920-1970 is the most complete retrospective of this movement ever organized outside Russia.

Andrei Mylnikov, "In Peaceful Fields"

The exhibition tracks the development of Socialist Realism painting from the dying throes of the Civil War to the start of the Brezhnev era, halting as the seventies begin because after that date the trends in official Soviet art started to branch off into different and inconsistent directions, which were to lead in the end to the definitive demise of the cultural domination exercised by Socialist Realism. The exhibition, arranged in chronological order, occupies all seven galleries in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni. Each gallery explores a multitude of issues, themes and formal approaches to art in each period. In highlighting the broad variety of solutions with which artists responded to the challenge of Socialist Realism, not only over time but also simultaneously within each individual time period, the exhibition sets out to overturn and thus to disprove the received wisdom that sees Socialist Realism as a monolithic art form built around a single artistic vocabulary.

Arkady A Plastov, "Bathing Horses" 1948

Social Realism's ability to coalesce a society emerging from its emotional throes, made it one of the most evocative art movements of the 20th century, and one that was strongly supported by political themes drawn out in the Soviet Union, which sustained its development by "recruiting" thousands of talented artists from all over its immense multi-ethnic empire. The iconography imbedded in Socialist Realism applauded the role of art and the superiority of content over form; it encouraged the rediscovery of the practice of traditional crafts and it borrowed from the reservoir of both classical and modern European art's stylistic and iconographic motifs. It was the only complete alternative to the urgent drive to sweep away the past - which was a prevailing feature of the modernist movement in the 20th century - and to usher in the ideals of a new political system.

Boris Kustodiev (1878-1927) "The Bolshevik" 1920, Oil on canvas, 101x141cm

Socialist Realism. Soviet
Painting 1920-1970

Curated by Matthew Bown, Evgenija
Petrova and Zalfira Tregulova

Palazzo Delle Esposizioni, Via Nazionale 194, Rome
11 October 2011 - 8 January 2012

More information on the exhibition...


Vladimir Pavlovich Krantz- Master of the Lyrical Landscape

For our collectors of landscapes we are pleased present a small exhibition by one of the great landscape artists of the Soviet period, Vladimir Pavlovich Krantz.

Krantz was a master of the lyrical landscape and considered Nature as a his main teacher. He was drawn to the simple beauty of the Northern Russian forests and the seascapes of the Crimea. He painted with a unique eye towards nature's mystery, and his works rivet the eye by their romantic mood and masterful technique. He had a special gift for capturing the special light that filters the Russian wilderness, each season bringing its own distinct glow and drawing the viewer into the landscape.

Krantz often visited the museum-estate of the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin near Pskov. Admiring the poet, Krantz presented the museum a series of 44 landscapes in different seasons.

krantz the april

Vladimir P. Krantz, "The April"
19¾'' x 27½'', (50 x 70 cm) 1974, Oil on Board, $7,400


Krantz, Vladimir Pavlovich, (1913-2003 )  Mozdok, Northern Caucasia

Destinies of artists take different shapes, even if all of them are equally gifted in the youth. Some of them have to pass a way several decades to find their final profession. Vladimir Pavlovich Krantz is one of such artists. By his age (he was born in 1913) he belongs to the masters of the elder generation, while by his artistic activity and the start of his work which fell on the 1970s-1990s Krantz can be included in the generation of young talents of the end of the 20th century. His first participation in exhibitions is dated "1959."

Here are the main marks of the artist's life. Being a descendant of a nobleman and Decembrist von Rosen-Krantz who had been exiled to the Caucasus for participation in the rising of 1825 against Emperor Nickolas I, he realized quite early his abilities and started his studies at a studio. His gift was notice and in 1934 he was sent to Leningrad for entering the Academy of Arts. However, because of a disease, in the following year he found himself at the Architectural Department of the Civil Engineering Institute in Leningrad. No sooner had he received the Degree of the Architect, the war with the German fascism (1941-1945) started. He registered as a volunteer to the front, but was selected for the course at the Academy of Air Force and he went to the remote Tajikistan to teach at a school of aircraft mechanics. After the war, working in the restoration of the destroyed Leningrad as an architect, he studied at the artistic studio of S. Nevelshtein, a staunch follower of the realistic traditions. Regular classes at the Houses of Creative Work "Academic Dacha" and "Old Ladoga" also facilitated his professional growth. The first work with which the painter took part in the exhibition of 1959 was a small landscape, "After Rain." It is not by chance that he keeps it with care, as the artist found his way with it and announced himself as a landscape painter once and for all. Since then, he has been painting the Russian nature persistently and forgetting about himself for over 3 decades, having created several hundred works.

Krantz, Vladimir Pavlovich
Vladimir P. Krantz, "In the Park"
19¾'' x 27½'', (50 x 70 cm) 1964, Oil on Board,$7,350

In his home album there are many photos. By the way, on one of them the painter is with the first cosmonaut of the planet Yury Gagarin in Gurzuf, Crimea. But my attention was drawn to the picture where he is standing in his field clothes with a rucksack and an easel in the countryside, as if demonstrating his main creative principle - he is in a constant search of beauty. And that is true, for he has walked all over many roads of Russia. On the painter's canvases you can see the nature of the Urals and Pskov area, the land of Tver and Leningrad, Karelia, Crimea and Baikal. And in August of 1996 the spiritually young artist is going to have a work in a village of the Novgorod Oblast.

Vladimir Pavlovich
Vladimir P. Krantz, "The March in the Village"
19¾'' x 23½'', (50 x 60 cm),1977, Oil on Board $6,400

He has devoted over ten years to Pushkinogorye (Pushkin Hills) in Pskov Oblast, the places consecrated by the life of the great Russian poet Alexandr Pushkin - Mikhailovskoye, Trigorskoye, Petrovskoye and Svyatogorye. The famous Mikhailovskoye groves, the two hundred years old path of Anna Kern, the quiet smooth surface of the Hannibal's (the poet's ancestor) pond, the Sorot river in summer, in winter and during the spring flood - all these motifs dear to the Russians are imbued in his presentation with the trepidation of participation and love and touched with a soft lyricism. In 1980 forty four canvases devoted to the theme of Pushkin were presented by Krantz to S. Geichenko, Director of the Pushkin Museum Preserve.

Vladimir P. Krantz, "The River in the Urals"
19¾'' x 27½'', (50 x 70 cm),1982, Oil on Board $7,200

Whatever landscape of Russia is painted by the artist, all his landscapes are distinguished by a softness of the brush and a gentle musical harmony of colors. One would call recherche nocturnes such his canvases as "Thaw," "The Coming of the Spring," "The Breath of the Spring," "The Merry May" and other paintings. Water is one of the most important components almost in all landscapes of the painter. The artist feels the world in a harmony of three elements - the heaven, the water and the earth. And due to this he moves from the instant and from the trembling of the moment towards the existential state of nature and impresses a lasting state, the "eternal beauty" according to Pushkin

Vladimir P. Krantz, "The November"
19¾'' x 27½'', (50 x 70 cm) 1974, Oil on Board $7,400

Krantz, Vladimir Pavlovich

Was born 17 February 1913 in Mozdok, Northern Caucas.
In 1940 V. Krantz graduated from the Architectural department of Leningrad Building Institute.
Began exhibiting in 1957.
A member of the LCRAU since 1972.
Noted as a landscape painter.
Personal exhibitions in Leningrad (1964, 1977, 1991, 1992, 1995).
Paintings by Vladimir KRANTZ are in Art museums and private collections in the Russia and throughout the world.

Modern Soviet painting exhibition. Gekkoso Gallery. Tokyo, 1977. Ecole de Saint-Petersburg. Drouot Richelieu. 13 Mars 1992. Paris, 1992.

Vladimir V. Filippov

Stunning New Artist!

One of our most interesting Exhibitions to Date "Russian Landscapes"
December 9, 2011- January 19, 2012


9379 Fillipov

Vladimir V. Filippov, "Fireweed has Blossomed"15¾'' x 23½'', (40 x 60 cm) 2009, Oil on Board $4,500

Russia has a long tradition of the great master painters giving apprenticeship to the best of the next generation thereby keeping the venerated Russian tradition of realism alive. That is the case between the Russian master painter Yuri Petrovich Kugach and his student, Vladimir Viktorovich Filippov. They both live and work in the legendary artistic community of Academic Dacha.

About half way between Moscow and St. Petersburg close to Tver, is the small village of "Akademichka" (or in English, "Academic Dacha"). It is about 10 kilometers off the main road, nestled in the Russian forest and graced by the shimmering Lake Mistino. The village has been the spiritual heart of Russian art since the village was founded in 1884. It has been the seasonal home of many of the great Russian artists over the last century and a half. The Academic Dacha initially served as a country refuge for impoverished or ailing artists from the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. Overtime, the area increasingly became a favorite with students and professors who came to paint landscapes in the open air. The setting so appealed to artists, that many spent the greater part of their lives there, purchasing small country homes (dachas) nearby. From Repin to Levitan to Kugach and countless other greats, this small village has been painted more and has inspired more great art than any other place in Russia.

Even today, in this idyllic setting, many great artists still call Academic Dacha home. The place has housed the legendary Yuri Petrovich Kugach (who still paints at age 91) since 1951. Over the years, Yuri Petrovich has been a generous mentor to several promising artists. Kugach, who was named one of 'Russia's top twenty artists of the twenty first century' recently introduced us to one of his students. Yuri Petrovich told us that VLADIMIR VIKTOROVICH FILIPPOV was his finest student ever. Kugach told us that Vladimir Viktorovich's soul was imbued with Russia's nature. He said that while you can teach technique, color and composition---an artist's ability to 'feel' the land is unteachable. Kugach said that the instinct of greatness is genetic and that VLADIMIR VIKTOROVICH FILIPPOV has that very rare natural talent.


The Master- Yuri Petrovich Kugach

Yuri P. Kugach in his studio

Yuri Kugach is one of the premier 20th century Russian Realist painters. He is known in Russia and around the world for his paintings of the Russian countryside and his amazing skill of depicting space, form and feeling in his paintings. He received the USSR's highest honors for his work, taught at the renowned Surikov Institute of Art in Moscow, and founded the Moscow River School.

Yuri Kugachs' talents were considered so valuable that, during World War Two, the Soviet government evacuated him and ten other artists to Uzbekistan to escape the Nazi onslaught.

In 1951 Yuri moved to the Tver region-renowned for its scenic countryside-to instruct at the House of Artists of Russia. Themes of nature and village life are a powerful and unifying principle in much Russian art. As avant-garde art began to rise in the estimation of critics, to help preserve the realist tradition.


The apprentice- Vladimir Viktorovich Filippov 

Vladimir V. Filippov

Vladimir V. Filippov was born in 1956 in Vyshniy Volochek. He spent his childhood in Novoye Kotchische Village, where such famous artists as brothers Sergei & Aleksei Tkachev lived. It was also not far from the Academic Dacha named after the great painter Ilya E. Repin. The Academic Dacha is a well-known Art Academy and artist community in Russia, and that creative atmosphere had a great influence on young Vladimir's creative future. Filippov spent long hours visiting artists in their studios, admiring great artists and their paintings. Since childhood, Vladimir's dream was to become an artist.

But at the beginning, Vladimir's way of life was altered from art. Having graduated from the Railway Collage, he enrolled in the Soviet Army. After his demobilization, he entered the Agricultural Academy. However, he never abandoned his dream to become an artist. Vladimir painted his first water-colored still life from nature in the studio of Nikolai A. Sysoev, who was an honored artist of the Soviet Union. He painted with great vigor under Sysoev's direction. Later on in 1970, he became acquainted with Peter I. Strakhov and Peter's wife Lia A. Ostrovaya, who were famous artists in Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Peter Straknov made great contributions and progress in Vladimir's creative development. Since 1970, Vladimir Filippov has devoted his life, full time to painting. He has been an enduring participant of all the local and regional exhibitions since 1980.

Since 1990, Filippov has trained and worked under the Russian Realist masters Yuri P. Kugach (senior) and his son Mikhail Y. Kugach, who is now head of the Kugach Studio and a full member of the Russian Academy of Arts. Vladimir has also painted in the company of such wonderful artists as Grigory Chainikov and Andrei Zakharov. These artists and close friends have played an important role in Vladimir's development as an artist. Filippov is one of the few artists continuing the great tradition of Russian Realistic Art.

Vladimir Filippov is a member of the Union of Russian Artists since 2003. His paintings are exhibited in the Museums of Mogilev and Bobruisk (Republic of Byelorussia), in the Museum of Harbin (China), in many private art collections in Russia, Check Republic, Yugoslavia, Romania, Finland, Germany, China, and the USA.

Now For Some Fun!

See if you can pick which of the two paintings below is by Yuri P. Kugach and which one is by Vladimir V. Filippov? The answer is at the end of this section.

Painting #1 is by ?

Painting #2 is by ?


A Preview of Works From the Exhibition

Vladimir V. Filippov

Vladimir V. Filippov, "Shadows on Snow"
16½'' x 23½'', (42 x 60 cm) 2011, Oil on Board $4,300

Vladimir V. Filippov, "Puddle in the Road",19¾'' x 23½'', (50 x 60 cm) 2010, Oil on Canvas $4,500

Vladimir V. Filippov, "Last Years Grass", 15¼'' x 19½'', (39 x 49.50 cm) 2009, Oil on Board $3,800

Vladimir V. Filippov, " Bush of Peonies", 13¾'' x 19¾'', (35 x 50 cm) 2009, Oil on Canvas $3,200

Vladimir V. Filippov, " Road in the Field", 15¾'' x 19¾'', (40 x 50 cm) 2009, Oil on Canvas $4,200

9378 Fillipov

Vladimir Filippov, "Decline", 10½'' x 19¾'', (27 x 50 cm) 1998, Oil on Canvas, $2,900

Vladimir Viktorovich "Spring in the Staroe Kotchishche Village"
11¾'' x 17¾'', (30 x 45.20 cm) 2009, Oil on Board $2,900

Vladimir V. Filippov, "Evening Snowdrops", 14¼'' x 19¼'', (36 x 49 cm) 2009, Oil on Board, $3,200

Now, the Answer to our Question?

PTG. #1, Vladimir V. Filippov, "Blossoming Time"
11¾'' x 15¾'', 2009, Oil on Board $2,900


PTG. #2-Yuri P. Kugach, "The Rain Has Passed"
10'' x 16", 1978, Oil on Board $42,000

Painting #1 is by Vladimir V. Filippov and painting #2 is by the master, Yuri P. Kugach.

This is an amazing opportunity to add some fantastic works to your collection at a great price!

To view addition works go to "New Acquisitions"


The Tkachev Brothers, "About the Motherland"


big state


               The State Tretykov Gallery Presents:

         The Tkachev Brothers- "About the Motherland"?

                                                          April 15 to July 17, 2011, Moscow


Tkachev Brothers Mothers
Alexei Petrovich and Sergei Petrovich Tkachev, Mothers, 1961

The State Tretyakov Gallery presents a major lifetime retrospective of over 160 canvases by Sergei Tkachev and Alexei Tkachev, from the collection of the State Tretykov Gallery, the artist's private collection, and from collectors around the world. 

The exhibition is dedicated to the 60th anniversary of their joint work and features their work as a continuation of the great tradition of the Russian Realist School of painting.  Interestingly, Sergei and Alexei Tkachev have worked together as one artist on the same canvases since 1950, creating some remarkable masterpieces. They have also worked independently, each of them being a major creative force with their own personalities and styles.  Sergei Tkachev uses sharp brushwork and tends toward large canvases while Alexei Tkachev is a more lyrical painter.  The exhibition consists of two blocks of works. The first section consists of their early works, painted individually and little known to the public.  The second part - the joint work of the masters - shows the great works that resulted when The Tkachev Brothers worked together and combing their separate artistic qualities, thereby producing the phenomenon of the Tkachev Brothers.

Their work is classic Soviet Impressionism and continues the traditions of the Russian realistic school. The Tkachev Brothers are considered by scholars to be the leading realist painters of the 1950s and 1960s and among the best Russian painters of the twentieth century.

The Tkachev Brothers works hang in numerous museums, including the the State Tretykov Gallery in Moscow, the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg and of course in the Tkachev Brothers Museum in Bryansk. Their paintings have been exhibited at the Smithsonian International Gallery in Washington, D.C, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. They both live and work in Moscow

cardons tkachevs

Our American friends on a gallery arranged visit with the Tkachev Brothers at their Studio 2009.

"To see our dear friends the Tkachev Brothers finally receive an all en-compassing career retrospective exhibition in Russia's finest museum of Russian art, The Tretykov Gallery is breathtakingly exciting and so well deserved. Tom McCarthey and I have been dealing with Sergei and Alexei since the early 1990's. We have spent many hours at their feet, listening to their tales of life and art. We have been guests many times both in their small apartment in Moscow as well as their beautiful summer home at the Academic Dacha. These men and their work will be remembered as long as there are people on the planet who love art and beauty.


We invite you to visit the exhibition in Moscow. Failing that, please visit us at the gallery and see some of the works by the Tkachev Brothers we have in our collection.  Due to our long and warm relationship with the brothers, we have obtained a great collection of their work and currently have 20 of their paintings available". - Jim Dabakis, The Thomas Kearns McCarthey Gallery

To view available works by the Tkachev Brothers click below:

Tkachev Brothers (Alexei and Sergei)Sergei P. Tkachev.,  Alexei P. Tkachev

Reports and Images from the Opening, April 15, 2011


The Tkachev Brothers: Two Brothers - One Passion 

Masters of Russian Impressionism: Sergei & Aleksei Tkachev

Alexei Petrovich Tkachev (b. 1925)

Sergie Petrovich Tkachev (b. 1922)

Both are graduates of the famed Surikov Institute where they studied under the outstanding artist S.V. Gerasimov.  Both are full members of the Academy of Arts of the USSR, the People's Artists of the USSR, laureates of the Repin State Prize and the State Prize of the USSR.  


Readers Note: In compiling biographies for Russian artists, we have sought to keep the exact translations, wherever possible. While this method sometimes produces awkward grammar, such a direct translation, we feel this better helps the reader understand the precise, unvarnished meaning intended






tkachev brothers opening

Sergei and Alexei Tkachev at the Press Opening

The Tkachev Brothers is a name that determined the development of Russian Art of the second half of the 20th century. They were born not far from the town of Bryansk, Chugunovka village. Sergei was born in 1922 and Alexei in 1925. That's where their parents Pyotr Afanaseivich Tkachev and Maria Vasilievna Lemesheva lived as well. Customs and manners of the old times were strictly kept. A bride and a groom were not supposed to see each other before the wedding day. That's exactly what happened to the future parents of the artists. By the end of the 1920s, there were eight children in the family, two of them died of diseases. The family, each member of which worked night and day, lived in the country. Their life was full of trouble and the children dreamt of breaking out of the awful poverty and illiteracy.




Tkachev Brothers

The Brothers at work, 1963

The outstanding character traits of the mother and the father seemed to have been mixed in the children. The 

father was a strong-willed, persistent man, possessing that unstoppable kind of energy which kept him busy all the time. As for the mother, being a poetic person by nature, she knew a great deal of Russian fairy-tales and retold them to her children. She also possessed a beautiful voice and was invited to sing on any holiday or wedding held in the village 

In the year 1931, father brought the family to the town of Bezhetsk where the new phase of the future painters' life started. Sergei and Alexei's coming to the Bezhetsk Pioneer (Boy Scout) Center was the beginning of their mutual love for the world of Real Art and they devoted their lives to it. There they met the teachers who recognized real talent in those two boys. In 1938, Sergei entered Vitebsk School of Arts and in 1939 Youth Pioneer Center got a letter, which contained a request to assign Alexei to Moscow Young Talents Secondary School. Alexei accepted the offer without hesitation. The studies were interrupted by the war. In autumn of 1941, Sergei went to war as a volunteer, he came back home in 1945. He was heavily wounded, awarded medals and orders.

int the studio

Alexie and Sergie in their studio, 1975

In the meantime, the youngsters in the family, including Alexei, left for the city of Sverdlovsk to be evacuated, where the fifteen year old Alexei worked at the military factory. Alexei became a student of the V.I. Surikov Academy, Moscow State Institute of Art, headed by S.V. Gerasimov, who had a special feeling for talent and talented students. He could see that talent in the Tkachev's as well and did his best to help them while they studied at the Institute. G. Ryazhevsky, D. Mochalsky, V. Yakovlev, A. Gritsay and others became their teachers.

"You have to know very well what you paint" became their main slogan and their longing for knowledge was definitely stimulated by their summer practice held in the open. They traveled all over Russia. Their every return from practice was an important event at the Institute. Quality and number of their paintings was like those at the private exhibition. Alexei's graduation work "On Vacation" and Sergei's "For Peace" were given the highest marks and taken to the all-Union Exhibition. B. Johanson and A. Plastov highly praised their works. Since that time, Arkady Plastov closely followed their careers and along the way he treated the brothers was definitely fatherly.



opening 2

Alexei and Sergei at the opening April 17, 2011

After graduation, their active life in the sphere of arts started, since that time they have worked together and that's how and when a new painter -- "The Tkachev Brothers" -- was born.  It is a mystery how these men actually paint, known by God only. They participated in all the Republic and all-Union exhibitions, arranged their own shows, and their works were acquired by the Tretyakov Gallery, the Russian Museum and other museums all over Russia.

In Bryansk, their home town, The Tkachev Brothers Museum was founded. Such paintings as "In the Field," "Laundry Women," "Kids," "To the Collective Farm," "In Between the Battles," "Mothers," "Wedding," "On the Native Land," "Saturday," "Russian Sauna" and many other became the classic of Russian art. The source of diversity and inexhaustibility of their ideas is life itself. They managed to become celebrated artists and every day life scenes painters not only in Russia, but other countries as well. Their paintings recieved the highest government awards and the State I.E. Repin Prize. The painters themselves got the rank "People's" and became Russian Art Academy members. Since 1974, they were heads of the Artistic Studio of the Academy of Art.


more opening

Alexei and Sergei speaking at the opening, April 17, 2011

     As for their private lives, they are totally different. Alexei has a family, a wife, a daughter and a granddaughter. Sergei is single, but he was involved in social work for quite a time. First he was elected an Administration Secretary of "Russian Artists Union" and later its Chairman (1976-1987). It was the heyday of Russian art, perfect conditions for painters; life and work were created. At that time, Sergei was a Deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.

     G. Korzhev said, "Tkachev Brothers are a bright point of Soviet Art and the main characteristic of their paintings is its folk character. Talking about them one can't simply say they have folk roots, they are the body and soul of the Russian Nation. They are closely connected to the people, their thoughts, hopes and dreams."




Tkachev Brothers, "Children", 1960, Oil on Canvas, 121x200 cm.


Alexei Tkachev, "Still Life with Cabbage" 1963, 19" x 27½" (48 x 70 cm), Oil on Canvas, McCarthey Gallery

Alexei Tkachev, "Fishermans Soup", 2001, 37¾" x 55½", (96 x 141 cm), Oil on Canvas, McCarthey Gallery

Tkachev Brothers, "On the Farm", 1970, Oil on canvas. 130 x 190 cm

Tkachev Brothers, "The Old Baths", 1980, Oil on Canvas 120x 230 cm


Tkachev Brothers, "Four Women", 1960, Oil on Canvas, 84?120 cm


Tkachev Brothers, "Landscape with Horse" 1983, Oil on Board, 26¾" x 33½" (68 x 85 cm), McCarthey Gallery


Alexei Tkachev, "Children of War", 1984, Oil on Canvas, 200 ? 150 cm


Art of Russia


Art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon's thrilling TV series for the BBC, "The Art Of Russia" is the story of a nation's destiny - revolution and human conflict on a scale unparalleled in any other European country's history of art. Emerging from the most conservative of cultures into the most radical, Russian art triumphed against the odds.

Andrew Graham-Dixon admits it's been an extraordinary journey for him. "Previous series like The Art Of Spain and The Art Of Italy were simple compared to this. There, history divides into accepted terms like Renaissance and Romanticism. "My journey through Russian history has been unexpected, challenging, surprising - and it's all the excitement of writing a history that really hasn't been set in stone like other nations' art histories. "It's also a story of high human cost - because so many artists had to take risks just to get their message across."

Episode one celebrates the great age of the icon, when Russia was at its most intense and inward looking. Travelling to the northern wastes, Andrew discovers the country's most moving icons, the little known folk "Lubock" art, antique Russia of the countryside, and Peter The Great's artistic revolution.

Episode two moves into the city and relives the glory days of the Russian high baroque and assesses the influence of "the Wanderers" - an extraordinary group of artists comparable to the Impressionists.

The final episode spans the tumultuous period of 20th century Russia, from the Revolution of 1917 to the present day with the tension between the new Russian investment in art and the strict doctrine of the Putin years.

andrew christ

Andrew visits the image of Jesus Christ painted by IIya Repin (1844-1930) inside the church of the Savior at the Abramtsevo estate.

Episode one, "Out of the Forest", starts in Kiev, the capital of modem Ukraine, where in the tenth century its ruler Prince Vladimir sought to unite the Kievan Rus' under the banner of Christianity. Artists were sent from Constantinople to decorate the cathedral of Santa Sofia in Byzantium style. For Prince Vladimir didn't just adopt a religion, he imported "an entire culture already at the peak of its sophistication", Graham- Dixon tells us. The "blaze of mosaic glory" caught in this film gives us some idea of the religious exhilaration felt by early converts.

Later we move to the Trinity cathedral of Sergiev Posad where Father Dolmans, deacon in the modem order of St Sergiev, speaks of the 15th- century heyday of Russian icon painting practiced by the monk and artist Andrei Rublev. "One has to live the same life as the saints that he depicts," Fr Dolmans says, "and the person experiencing Rublev's icons should do so in a heightened spiritual atmosphere, during an actual mass." Mingling with the congregation, Graham-Dixon is struck by the richness of the old gold, the direct Realism, as Stalin intended it simplicity of Rublev's storytelling and the tangible relationship the worshippers have with the sacred paintings. Visibly moved, he is barely able to put into words how powerfully visceral the experience has been.

The episode concludes with the westernization of Russian art under Peter the Great and Graham-Dixon leaves us in suspense as to the consequences of this sudden change of orientation. "When Russia opened its doors to Europe, it didn't just let in art and architecture. It let in a host of even more dangerous ideas, ideas that would lead to bloodshed and eventually revolution ... art went from being the servant of the state to the agent of its destruction."

Watch "The Art of Russia", Episode 1, "Out of the Forest"

The second episode, "Roads to Revolution", reminds us that although Peter the Great founded St Petersburg, it was his underestimated daughter Elizabeth with her Italian architect Rastrelli who determined what the city "would look like", applying at Peterhof a Baroque style even more grandiose than Versailles. Graham-Dixon visits Elizabeth's chapel during the final touches to its restoration after Nazi bombing, and talks to Nadia Emeyalanova, engaged in applying some of the 200 pounds in weight of gold leaf to the interior. Didn't she think it was "just a little bit over the top"? "No. I'm afraid not," she replies. For Graham-Dixon it's "the bling of Baroque ... fantastically excessive."

Catherine the Great continued the extravagance but by the 1840s, there was "a grand hunger" for change and for images reflecting the real Russia, "Russia in the here and now," Graham-Dixon tells us. The trickle of discontent grew under Repin, the most brilliant representative of the so-called Wanderers. Repin felt that the nation could only be saved by reconnecting with ancient traditions using paintings such as his poignant "Barge haulers on the Volga "to address the great issues of the day". With remarkable artists like Mikhail Vrubel struggling to achieve a modem idiom, Gontcharova, Kandinsky and finally Malevich, Russian art was pushed "to its outer limits", and flowered into "some kind of spiritual revolution", Graham-Dixon believes. With this, his narrative prepares us for the ensuing cauldron of experimentation and confusion.

Watch "The Art of Russia", Episode 2, "Roads to Revolution

The third episode, "Smashing the Mold",opens spectacularly with Graham-Dixon's visit to Lot 36, an industrial estate on the outskirts of Moscow. There, restorers are reassembling the sculpture made by aeronautical engineers for the Russian pavilion at the 1937 World Fair: two steel- plated workers, a man and woman, holding aloft the hammer and sickle. "A Soviet shout ofdefiance aimed at the capitalist west," as Graham- Dixon puts it.

One of the thrills of this series is the opportunity to explore little-known archives and to share the spontaneous buzz, which Graham-Dixon gets from handling precious originals in the bowels of the Mayakovsky Museum. Posters for bread, for communist biscuits with smiling or scowling faces, political photomontages. To communism, this was more worthwhile than say Cezanne "because", he believes, "it was art for everybody".

The result of Stalin's drive for modernity was to snuff out the innovation countenanced by Lenin and represented by artists such as Mayakovsky and Rodchenko. "Russia was depicted as a healthy .. .idyll" in the new state-approved style known as socialist realism. Graham-Dixon takes us down into the underground to see "the most powerful examples" of the new decoration. In Mayakovskaya Station, now one of the glories of the Moscow metro, Alexander Deneika designed a mosaic sequence of Soviet skies filled with planes. Among them a heroic parachutist, fresh-faced and exultant, is caught in dramatic foreshortening at the moment he pulls his ripcord. For Graham-Dixon, it's "a genuine masterpieces of art" produced under Stalin's tyranny.

More surprising perhaps we meet a 90-year old artist who stills believes communism could work. Nikolai Nikogosian, sculptor of heroic figures, has a studio full of models for unbuilt monuments. Graham-Dixon asks him if he'd ever had any qualms about working for the regime. "I very much like the ideology ... a country made up of workers and peasants with an intelligentsia. It's a great idea!. .. But they spoiled it themselves," he shouts, enraged. "And now what's the idea? Wealth, millions. They rob you .. .So has it got better now? No! It's got worse."

Communism may have gone, but the old structures remain in place. If an artist wants to be part of the system he has to toe the party line. One of the most successful is Zurab Tsereteli, president of the Russian Academy of Arts, whose work fills an entire wing of the academy. A life-size bronze statue of a glowing Putin is just one example of his work, a commission secured by his friend the mayor of Moscow. Its title: Healthy Spirit in Healthy Body. "It's as if the only thing this art believes is in power itself," Graham-Dixon comments.

Watch "The Art of Russia" Episode 3, "Smashing The Mold"

Finally, we come to the confusion and chaos of Russia today and how it is producing some of the world's strangest art - from heroic sculptures of Russian leader Vladimir Putin to the insides of a giant erotic apple; from the recreation of the Imperial royal family facing the firing squad to sculpture in liquid oil; from Russia's embrace of the commercial art market to a return to Socialist Realism. Russia seems to stand on another brink of revolution. 


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