When painting flourished back in the U.S.S.R.


Quick: how many painters from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics can you name?

If you had the same kind of American education as the author of this article, your answer is probably zero.

A small yet sublime show at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale provides a delightful introduction to not-quite-household names, from Armenia’s Aram Kupetsian to Ukraine’s Igor Popov along with a range of Russian renegades including Vladimir Gavrilov, Pavel Kuznetsov and Peter Shlikov.

The story behind the landscape paintings acquired by the former executive director of the Hebrew Home, which strongly integrates the fine arts into programs for its elderly residents, adds poignancy to the beautiful works.

As assistant curator Emily O’Learly explained, the decade-long cultural “thaw” following Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953 saw freer modernist styles replace the humorless propaganda the autocrat had demanded in all of the arts.

Years of cultural isolation from the world outside the U.S.S.R.’s borders created a delayed reaction to the Impressionist movement in particular. Mr. Shlikov’s 1962 Ararat Plain, which could almost be mistaken for a landscape by Cézanne, is one example.

The Russian Jewish painter’s blurred strokes and meditative approach evoke the French master’s iconic 1887 Mont Saint-Victoire, which has a highly similar composition.

Likewise, Mr. Gavrilov’s 1963 Uglich, The Church of Iowan looks like something Monet would have painted if he ever could have pulled himself away from Notre-Dame Cathedral and other French views.

But as much fun as it is to guess the influences behind the works at the Hebrew Home’s exhibit, the game does not do justice to the artists’ achievements.

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