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Aleksandr Samokhvalov: virtual exhibition of the one painting "On Duty. The Beginning of the Siege"

Aleksandr Samokhvalov (1894–1971) is an outstanding master in the Soviet art. There was building a new country before his eyes. The artist’s creative manner was formed during the flowering of art, active creative experiments and searches of contemporary style in the Soviet art of the 20–30s of the 20th century.

Aleksandr Samokhvalov’s individual style is under the influence of Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin’s creativity and theoretical searches in the field of perspective and color. The research of the ancient Russian monumental painting in and around the churches of Novgorod, participation in the restoration of fresco painting in St. George’s Cathedral in Staraya Ladoga had a major impact on the formation of the artist’s creative method. ‘I am an artist living here and now. I’m interested in everything with its features, sense and significance of today’s reality’, – the master notes in his memoir ‘My Artistic Journey’.

The artist aspired to find the most distinctive phenomena and images of the present. The spirit of the time was most clearly embodied in female images by Aleksandr Samokhvalov.

The master painted his famous ‘Girl in a T-shirt’ in 1932. It won Gold Medal at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1937. A remarkable series of watercolours and paintings ‘Builders of a Subway’ (1930), images of sportswomen in his paintings ‘After the Cross-Country’, ‘Sportswoman’ (both in 1935) and a number of other outstanding works of art. The museum collection has the artist’s canvas ‘On Duty. The Beginning of the Siege’ painted in Novosibirsk in 1943. He was evacuated from Leningrad in 1941 along with the Academic Drama Theater named after Aleksandr Pushkin where he designed its performances.

Inspired by great courage of blockaded Leningrad residents who served in the Local Air Defense units, Aleksandr Samokhvalov made his canvas depicting a girl who is a soldier of the observation, alert and cooperation unit on duty near the Admiralty.

During the Siege from the September of 1941 to the January of 1944, Leningrad was subject to attack by air power and incoming artillery. Observers monitored where a projectile or a bomb fell, and immediately notified the headquarters where to send the fire brigade or sanitary assistants. Since the spring of 1942, eighty-five percent of the Local Air Defense units were women, because after the Siege winter of 1942, a lot of men died of starvation, others went to the front. The Leningrad female army, overcoming incredible hardships and difficulties, unselfishly recovered from air strikes, was on duty on watchtowers, disarmed bombs and mines, sifted through remains, put out fires, buried the dead and provided medical assistance to victims.

The picture keystone is a dynamic pose of the character based on the principle of classical contrapposto. Its heroic pathos is typified by emotional wringer, readiness, invincible will and selflessness, but also femininity and sensitive details. Each of the sixteen thousand girls who served in the Local Air Defense units to see themselves in the canvas by Aleksandr Samokhvalov.

The girl’s expressive figure stands out against a background of the city. It seems to be sculptured of marble.

It is possible to compare the character of the picture with the ancient Greek goddess of victory Nika. There are ancient sculptures on the Admiralty tower. The guard of Leningrad sky seems to be a sculpture of Pyrrhus, the famous general of Epirus. It rises against the background of the horizon in smoke and fire.

The tragic atmosphere of the city in flames is based on purple blue, lilac, amaranth-pink, golden-yellow.

The painter’s ‘On Duty. The Beginning of the Siege’ (1943) has monumental features, expressive sculptural plasticity of forms, essential colors. Aleksandr Samokhvalov aspired to make a lofty image of modern times.

This picture of large-format (270 x 275 cm) was received by the museum from the funds of the Directorate of Art Exhibitions and Panoramas of the USSR in 1946. For more than 70 years, the work has been stored in the museum’s funds rolled up on the shaft, because it needed an experienced museum restoration. During this year, restorers Svetlana Dikut and Aleksandr Kirel were engaged in restoration of the canvas. After the restoration, the painting is exhibited for the first time in the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Great Victory.

The author - Ala Vasileuskaya