FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Soviet sport on canvas

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on December 21, 2013

It is rare to get the opportunity to see Soviet art in the UK, so when I stumbled on an advert for an exhibition at Sotheby’s I knew that I would have to find the time to take a look. The effort of heading into town on ‘Panic Saturday’ in the heavy rain was rewarded with one of the most intriguing collections of art that I have seen in a long time.

The exhibition Soviet Art. Soviet Sport has brought together 39 socialist realist artworks from the Institute of Russian Realist Art and a number of private collections. The exhibition takes in an incredible array of sports, with everything from ice-fishing to race-walking.

Amongst the most striking works was an early depiction of water-skiing as a populist sport, entitled ‘Waverunner’ (1959) by Vladimir A. Kutilin, which captures the energy of the sport perfectly. The painting depicts an athlete taming the waves whilst another couple skiing in parallel share in a moment of exhilaration. It is undoubtedly a painting of its time, reflecting the social and cultural shifts that accompanied the ‘Khrushchev Thaw’ of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Another work that caught my eye was a charcoal drawing of three cyclists by Leonid V. Soyfertis entitled ‘In the distance’ (1974) which really seemed to have judged the characteristic position of competitive cyclists just perfectly. The same observational accuracy could be observed in other drawings by the artist included in the exhibition and it was wonderful to encounter them for the first time.

The highlight for me was the drawing ‘At the Weekend’ (1958) by Viktor E. Popkov, a colour linocut of three cross-country skiers passing through a birch forest at sunset, whilst in the distance a steam locomotive hauls a freight train loaded with timber in the opposite direction. It’s a really striking image, particularly with the way that the shadows of the trees and skiiers stretch out towards the very edges of the frame.

I have to confess that I had not been familiar with any of these artists before, so the entire exhibition was a revelation to me but particularly the work of Popkov. I was delighted to learn that the first UK exhibition of paintings by Viktor Popkov will be held at Somerset House in London in May-June 2014.

The exhibition Soviet Art. Soviet Sport is on display at Sotheby’s Auction House at 34-35 New Bond Street on 19-21 December 2013 and 2-14 January 2014. In February the exhibition will move to Moscow where it will be expanded with significant loans from Russian state museums.

To get the impressions of another visitor, check out the blog post Soviet art – Soviet sport at Sotheby’s, London.

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