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Russian Realist and Impressionist Art is a fairly new collectable art at the International Art market. The knowledge of most art collectors is confined to the Russian Icons and to the avant-garde experiments of the beginning of the 20th century. However, Russia brought the finest examples of the 19th century Realist & Impressionist art. This tradition was kept alive and continued in full in the 20th century. The realist art was devoid of any international art historian's attention as the official art of the Soviet State. Its charming beauty has been rediscovered in the last 15 year.

“Soviet Impressionist painting from 1932 to the 1970s was the best realist school of that period and perhaps of the entire century thanks to fine training and exceptional enthusiasm… This era might be called the “Golden Age of the Great Experiment”. (Dr. Vern Grosvenor Swanson)


Soviet art always favoured the sport theme. What was the role of games and entertainment in the society where all forms of human activity were supposed to have a particular goal?

Artistic aesthetics of sport representation were formed in the 1920s, the time when a harmoniously developed man became an equivalent to a patriot, same as in Ancient Greece. Examples of this connection could be seen in awards and lottery tickets of OSSOAVIAKhIM, Red Army and many other Soviet organisations. The key idea was a conquest of space and time, coupled with the task of preparing a physically developed man, who "is ready for labour and defence". A legendary badge GTO was created in 1930 when the sport theme was finally approved as an essential branch of Soviet Art.

Sport was portrayed not as entertainment but as one of the forms of labour activities of a Soviet man, an essential part of the preparation of a man for all difficulties. This heroic side as an integral part of Soviet sport was represented in women's and men's typical character portraits: a skier, a skater, a cyclist, a worker, a fisherman and so on. In one word - a Soviet man.

Young girls and boys portrayed on the paintings of that time were to cope with new challenges with the aid of sport. However, as it was in Soviet art the aims formulated by the Party and the ways they were executed differed vastly. In a series of graphic works by Tamara Rein the attention is brought to the beauty of a human body and there is very little of ideology and propaganda. In became obvious that Soviet art turned from avant-garde to its classical heritage.

At the turn of the fifties and sixties sport became a little less regulated and an element of play and freedom surfaced. Skiers on the painting by Vladimir Sakun "Spring on its Way" fascinate with their sincere happiness, in a same way as young people full of hope in Mai Danzig painting "On the Stadium". These images are not merely recognizable, we all have them in our family photo archives - this is not about sports any more, it is about new hope.

In the 1970s Nikolay Viting showed sport from a different angle. He brought the attention back to one of its essential qualities - sport as a spectacle. The entertaining aspect of sport in the USSR was a disputable territory between the government and the society. The audience didn't want to share the seriousness of the government's intentions, and therefore there was a fundamental mismatch and hidden resistance between the system, the athlete and the spectator.

Sporting events became as a magnetic power that brought out the repressed emotions of sportsmen and their fans. This sport magnetism is the main force of Viting's works. They enthral by their energy and mastery. Spectators watching a match got drawn into the world that is as powerful as the real one. Ansis Butnor's work "Fans" almost physically captures that transition into a different reality. The main focus of Soviet sports was not achieving body perfection of an individual or harmony of the mind and the body but making everyone fit the system. It wasn't easy to stand out from the crowd and form one's own individuality. Nowadays body once again became a private concern of a man himself. Young Latvian artist Ansis Butnors depicts these "new bodies" as rough simplified figures in the surroundings reminding mundane reality. The body increasingly abstracts from the natural landscapes of the Soviet period and even the social scenery of the post-Soviet era. New body occurs in the folds and gaps of the everyday, emerging in place of a vanishing Soviet background.


The Vladimir School of Art came into reality towards end of the 1950’s.

The 1950’s-1960’s was a meaningful time for the development of Russian art. The art format of this period was more expressive and individualistic and deviated significantly from the basic principles of socialist realism. The creation of the new style of art was already artistically imbedded. The style introduced by Nickolay Mokrov (1926-1996), together with three other artists from Vladimir, Kim Britov, Vladimir Yukin and Valery Kokurin became the trademark of the Vladimir School of landscape painting. Vladimir School artists involved the selection of traditional Russian scenery or landscapes as the central focus of their works. They transformed these traditional scenes through the use of new magical color schemes.

Instead of the impressionistic character exhibited by artists of the 1950’s, they worked in a new and explosive expressionistic style. Artists integrated into their works the full range and effects of colors including abrupt contrasts and dissonances. This special energy achieved through the use of colors, emphasized by the simplification of form, was similar to German Expressionism and French Fauve art. Soviet artists had ignored these artistic influences since the 1930’s. The artistic methods of Russian painters were close to those of postimpressionism.

However, the works had a significantly different form of expression. The artist’s paintings were less dramatic than those of European postimpressionists whose works had only a secondary influence upon artists of this era. Preponderant to the origin of this new style of Russian expression was the tradition of icon painting and folk art of Mstera and Gorokhovets. In spite of all innovations in Mokrov’s artworks the original prototype can never be transformed into pure abstraction. Using a small portion of realistic landscapes, Mokrov managed to capture the most subtle states of nature. Instead of the intrinsic ability of the sun to transform an ordinary scene into a plenitude of various hues and reflections, he took strong bright colors which, when splashed with light, became an artistic substitute for the sun -- a creative metaphor. Decorative flat compositions ignore any optical illusions.

The paintings are perceived by the viewer as if seen from a lower, horizontal perspective. First the plane, then the central focus of the composition divided by colors into a format of center, foreground and background, varied by colors but organized according to rhythm. Predominant color focal points are repeated. By increasing the level of the horizon, Mokrov makes the first plane of the painting seem closer to the viewer. All these elements existing in Mokrov’s art works are not only in accordance with decorative law but in accordance with his first impression and memory of the original landscape. Mokrov’s art ideas enriched not only the Vladimir school of landscape, but initiated a new form of development for the entire realistic tradition of Russian painting.