The Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917 was one of the main themes in paintings done at the time and also for several decades to come. True Russian painters had always been sensitive to the pulse of the times, they responded keenly to the social changes in Russia, and believed in the lofty mission of art which was so perfectly defined by Lenin when he said: "Art belongs to the people. It must be rooted in the very thick of the working masses. It must be understandable to these masses and loved by them. It must express the feelings, thoughts and will of these masses and elevate them. It must awaken the artists in them and develop them."
In its directives the new Soviet Government gave prominence to mass-propaganda art encouraging the artists to speak directly to the working people on the most vital problems of the day. Anatoly Lunacharsky, People's Commissar for Education, wrote at the time:" every genuine democracy turns naturally to popular festivities " Today, when we look at the sketches made for a festively decorated Moscow or Leningrad we are impressed by the abundance of famous artists who designed them-Boris Kustodiev, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Nathan Altman, Sergei Gerasimov, to mention but a few.
In comparison with these works, addressed to people in the street, frankly propagandist in character and meant to have a far-reaching public impact, the easel paintings of the time appeared purely personal by contrast. Such traditional genres as portraits, landscapes and still lifes still prevailed at art showings. And only a small circle of realist artists (among them Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Boris Kustodiev and Konstantin Yuon) found the means whereby to adequately render the great historical event. Their canvases, as you will see for yourself from the illustrations, have rightfully assumed a worthy place in Russian art.
With the years the interest of painters, both of the older and younger generation, in the revolutionary theme did not slacken. The exhibition dedicated to the tenth anniversary of the Revolution featured works by artists of all trends. In the paintings of, say, Alexander Deineka and Mitrofan Grekov, the imagery was exalted, heroic and lofty, yet at the same time the subject matter was concrete and tangible. The Revolution is now past history, of course. But it is unforgettable and as inspiring as ever. The theme is approached differently by different artists: some believe in documentary veracity, others seek a poetic symbol for it. As before there appear reflective and reminiscing paintings about that glorious hour in the history of our country which will strike a responsive chord with many people around the planet.