RUSSIAN ART’S MASTERPIECES HIDDEN BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN

One of the most remarkable cultural identities of the mid-20th century is Russian Impressionism and classic Russian Art of the Soviet era. This unique style of painting sprung up in the 1940′s and continued to be popular among Russia’s leading artists well into the 1960′s.

Because the artists were trained to paint from life and were plein air virtuosos, this body of Russian artwork provides extraordinary glimpses of life behind the Iron Curtain. The charming and intimate visual scenarios included young children practicing their piano lessons, fishermen reaping the riches of the sea, vacationers swimming at the beach, and singers and actors practicing their craft.

Unfortunately, although the paintings were often created in secret and certainly didn’t reflect any political dictate, sometimes Russian art of the era fell victim to the anti-Soviet fervor that swept the nation during the totalitarian empire’s collapse. Created during the Soviet regime by leading Russian artists, these “innocent bystanders” were tainted with the same totalitarian label that damned government-approved works. Amid the chaos of the Soviet break-up, the harmless Impressionistic paintings became likely candidates for a box of matches and a can of gasoline.

Thanks to the dedication and diligence of Elena’s father, the historically important works managed to survive such a dire fate. “The preservation of these paintings by Elena Kohn’s father, who for a time was a director of the Russian Artists Union, is a miracle,” stresses Anthony Lacy Gully, Ph.D., Herberger College of Fine Arts, Arizona State University. “His decision to protect the collection by sending the threatened paintings to his daughter in Arizona has afforded America the opportunity to see and study a unique side of Russian art”

Original Russian Art Painted by artists whose creations hang in St. Petersburg’s famed Hermitage Museum, the Kohn Collection encompasses 200 works by more than 150 artists from this period Praised by such national publications as “Southwest Art” and “Art of the West”, the paintings have been exhibited at museums in both the South and the West.

To accompany an upcoming exhibit of the Kohn Collection in Scottsdale at Arizona’s West Valley Art Museum, Elena has written a book entitled “The Hidden World of Russian Impressionism: The Soviet Era 1940-1960″. Incorporating more than 100 images in color as well as black and white, the tabletop book promises to be an important addition to Russian artworks involving the Russian Impressionists. Much of the material was drawn from documentation created by Elena’s father, who curated the paintings back in Russia. Since the author was among the last students educated under the Soviet regime, invaluable insights regarding this truly unique education system is another highlight of the book.

“The brightly-colored canvasses of the Kohn Collection provide a glimpse of peasant and middle-class life not regimented by the political ambitions of the Soviet Politburo, nor the Romantic narratives so common to early modern Russian painting. such as the works of the ‘Wanderers’,” points out Gully. “Indeed, the wide range of works in the Kohn Collection is a dramatic expression of Tolstoy’s admonition that true painting is the expression of the personal experiences of the artist.