Dmitri Plavinsky

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Signed with artist's monogram in Cyrillic and dated 67 twice on the reverse, oil on canvas. Prior to perestroika, religious practice was strongly discouraged in the Soviet Union. Soon after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Soviet regime undertook severe anti-religious campaigns designed to eliminate organized religion from Soviet society. Atheism became the official ideology of the Soviet Union, and had a strong influence on Russian life. During the years of the forced collectivisation of the countryside (1928-32), church leaders were arrested en masse and executed as saboteurs or spies; some believers were housed in mental hospitals. Only a small fraction of the tens of thousands of churches existing before the Revolution continued to function. Portraits of Lenin and other leaders of the Communist Party replaced Russian Orthodox icons in Soviet society. As such, art with religious subject matter was unacceptable to the Soviet authoritiesas was work with controversial political commentary, social criticism, and erotic themes. Among the great variety of imagery considered supportive of religion and therefore prohibited by the government were depictions of churches, Russian icons, biblical texts, and the juxtaposition of Christian subjects and symbols with scenes or motifs from Soviet reality. Works with religious themes were often removed from exhibitions and banned from public display, sometimes even confiscated. Because actual religious worship was viewed negatively by the government, art was often the only vehicle for spiritual experience. Seeking release from both the government's anti-religious stance as well as social malaise, many nonconformist artists, including Dmitri Plavinsky, introduced religious themes into their art, in defiance of official Soviet atheism. Inspired by medieval Russian art and in search of new subject matter, from 1959 Plavinsky travelled to many old Russian towns and sites, including Novgorod, Pskov, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, and the Ferapontov Monastery. His works of the 1960s increasingly included religious motifs, as exemplified by the present lot, characterised by intricate texture and a high degree of technical mastery. For Plavinsky, his works containing religious imagery became both private expressions of faith, as well as a means "to represent the terrible condition of religion in the Soviet Union."