Aleksandr Mikhaylovich Gerasimov
- Winner of the four Stalin prizes (1941; 1943; 1946; 1949)
- Order of the Red Banner of Labour (1961)
- Honored artist of the RSFSR (1936)
- People's artist of the USSR (1943)
- Academician of the Academy of Arts of the USSR (1947)
Aleksandr Gerasimov has been described as the 'godfather' of Socialist Realist art and the founder of its canon, was a Soviet and Russian artist who created famously flattering portraits of Joseph Stalin and other Soviet major political figures as well as impressionistic landscapes, still lifes in combination with figures, and genre paintings in its robust handling. Also, a political activist, art teacher and academician, Gerasimov, filled with national pride, propagated conservative, home-grown Russian traditional realism and its values in the visual arts fiercely opposing to the Western movements and avant-garde. Gerasimov was born on August 11, 1881, in a family of a cattle merchant in a typical provincial town named Kozlov (now Michurinsk) in the Tambov region. He went to the parish school and then to the district school, however, due to the lack of interest in his studies, the boy was an idle student. Thus, from the age of 11, he started to delve into the livestock trade assisting his father. The artist's conventional surroundings, the environment of provincial Russia and its insularity and self-sufficiency, has been later incorporated into the main course of his art which resisted the international exchange and any latest radical tendencies.
Nothing in Gerasimov's life at that point could foreshadow his future artistic career. According to the artist's reminiscences, he began to draw at the early childhood, but neither he nor his family had taken this occupation seriously. However, Gerasimov's creative revelation happened when an artist Sergei Krivolutski, who graduated from the St Petersburg Academy and opened an art studio in Kozlov in 1900, assured Gerasimov that he should develop his talent in a professional art institution such as the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. It resulted in Gerasimov's departure to Moscow in 1903 to pursue his artistic path. Without any preliminary art education and formal training, Gerasimov has managed to pass the entrance exam to the Department of Painting of the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. He was particularly gifted in portrait drawing and that perhaps had determined his opportunity to study. Since the beginning of his studies, Gerasimov has led a group of other students who followed Realist traditions in the constant battle against formalists. Gerasimov's most important mentors were such accomplished and well-known artists as V. Serov, K. Korovin, A. Vasnecov. The classes at the School were taught by M. K. Klodt, K. N. Gorsky, A. M. Korin, S. D. Miloradovich, N. A. Kasatkin, A. E. Arkhipov and L. O. Pasternak. He began to participate in group exhibitions from 1909. After twelve years of study, in 1915, Gerasimov graduated simultaneously from the Department of Painting and the Department of Architecture at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. However, the only architectural project that Gerasimov has managed to construct at the time of his life was the theatre, built in his native Kozlov in 1913. The artist himself stated that he dedicated his life to painting.
During the World War I, Gerasimov was drafted into the armed forces to serve in the sanitary unit on the South-Western Front. The artist did not participate in the fighting. In 1918 he returned directly to Kozlov. In 1919, the artist organised 'A Commune of Creativity of the Artists of Kozlov' in his native town to promote the cultural spirit and establish the artistic environment for the local community. The organisation was responsible for supporting regional artists and amateurs, arranging exhibitions and designing stage settings for the local theatrical productions as Gerasimov was working as the scenic artist at the theatre at that time. He continued to engage with the theatrical productions when he moved to Moscow again in 1925 as a set designer at the Moscow Operetta Theatre. In the same year, Gerasimov joined the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia and started to revive his artistic career in the capital. The artist's rise to success began in 1930 when he painted 'Lenin of the podium' which has become the most replicated image in the history of the Soviet Union. Gerasimov has established himself as an important figure who attained official prestige and was the principal artist who portrayed the leadership of the country's most powerful characters in the Moscow's art world. Gerasimov has carried out his Grand Tour, his artistic business trips to France, Italy, Germany and Turkey starting from 1934. He brought back many sketches and watercolours from his travels. The artist's first solo exhibition happened in 1936 in Moscow where Gerasimov showed himself as a very prolific artist with more than a hundred paintings.
Since the late 1930s, the artist was mainly engaged with portraiture easily producing the likeness when he painted people. He considered himself primarily as a portraitist: 'Portrait genre is the main kind of my work, it expresses my essence as an artist'. Gerasimov enjoyed representing strong and powerful people as well as intellectually rich and gifted which resulted in a grand series of portraits including famous ballerinas, theatre actors, and artists. Gerasimov's social activity had escalated rapidly starting from 1938 when he took charge of the main artistic organisations in the Soviet Union. Until 1940 he functioned as the Chairman of the Moscow branch of the Union of the Artists. From 1939 until 1954 Gerasimov was the Chairman of the Organising Committee of the Union of the Soviet Artists. He has ruled all these organisations with a firm hand and represented the official head of the artistic life in the whole country. Gerasimov committed a lot of his creative energies to the cult of Stalin and was a devoted follower of the Party whose creative method always coincided with the official propaganda of the new Soviet style of Socialist Realism. To no one's surprise, Gerasimov was appointed by the Party as a president of the newly-created USSR Academy of Arts in 1947. However, with Nikita Khrushchev coming to power, Gerasimov was gradually shifted from all the official positions, and by 1954, he was no longer playing an active role in the artistic realm. During his lifetime Gerasimov created around 3000 paintings. Although these paintings cannot be regarded as the accurate representation of the Soviet realities, they demonstrate the history of the Soviet imagery and the system of its ideological symbols and motifs. Gerasimov died on July 23, 1963, in Moscow.
Герасимов, А. М. (1963). Жизнь Художника. Москва: Издательство Академия Художеств СССР.
Осипов Д. М. (1981). Александр Герасимов. - Москва: Изобразительное искусство.
Сокольников М. П. (1954). А. М. Герасимов. Жизнь и творчество. Москва: Искусство.
Bown, M. and Taylor, B. (1993). Art of the Soviets. Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press.