Viktor Popkov’s “The Couple”

The State Tretyakov Gallery presents work of “The Thaw” era.

"The Couple" (1966) by Viktor Popkov

Viktor Popkov’s painting “The Couple” (1966) can be seen as part of the State Tretyakov Gallery’s exhibition “The Thaw” at the Krymsky Val galleries. A prominent painting of the late Soviet period, “The Couple” is a candid attempt by the artist to show a couple in a post-coital dysphoria.

The man’s vividly depicted pants appear to be jeans; however, they are “Montana’s,” gray worker's trousers known for their bright stitching. It is unclear whether the couple is from the city or the countryside, and the suggested alienation of the two is a comment on a sociological phenomenon in which sexual relations before marriage are not forbidden, but are frowned upon if one is from the village and the other, from the city. Kirill Svetlyakov, a curator of the exhibition, says that the painting at once “references the great social realist tradition of the farmer resting after a hard day’s work,” while also being a “mutation of that genre, since Popkov made the work about intimacy.” Viktor Popkov was a social realist painter who later became a pioneer of the “severe style.”

The Tretyakov’s large-scale cultural exhibition is dedicated to the period of Soviet history traditionally known as “The Khrushchev Thaw.” This period spans from 1953, with the death of Stalin and the first wave of political rehabilitations, to 1968 and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The curatorial project offers an interpretation of the political, sociological and cultural projects of the USSR during a time when the state had weakened its control and a search for a new artistic language, as well as progress made in the field of science, brought about the Soviet modernism of the 1960s. 

"The Thaw,” State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. From Feb. 16 to June 11.