Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin was one of the few artists allowed to attend and sketch at the funeral of revolutionary leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. He painted the recently deceased as he had seen him: dead and lying in his coffin. Given the Bolshevik mythology surrounding Lenin, a painting of his likeness in death proved unpopular. One of the slogans of the new communist religion of Leninism was “Lenin is alive” – the idea that he was too important a figure to possibly be dead.
After its completion in 1924, Petrov-Vodkin’s painting was hidden away. The work seldom travels for exhibition and spends most of its time in storage at Moscow’s State Tretyakov Gallery. As curator Natalia Murray says: “Russians are not quite ready to see Lenin in his coffin.”
Now, the rarely-seen painting will be included in the upcoming exhibition “Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932” at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Marking the centenary of the Bolshevik overthrow, the exhibition focuses on the 15-year post-Revolutionary period between 1917 and 1932.
From Kandinsky’s bold compositions to Malevich’s dynamic abstractions; from the emergence of Socialist Realism to pioneering films by Eisenstein; the exhibition attempts to immerse visitors in the period’s tumultuous creativity. Numerous artistic mediums and everyday objects are represented: photography, sculpture, propaganda posters, porcelain, textiles, ration coupons – even a full-scale recreation of an apartment designed for communal living.
Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932. Royal Academy of Arts, London. Feb. 11 – April 17.