Viktor Popkov: Genius of the Russian Soul. London 22 May – 18 June 2014

he UK’s first exhibition entirely dedicated to Viktor Popkov, one of Russia’s most acclaimed artists will form part of the UK-Russia Year of Culture. The exhibition will provide an exceptional vision of an often-overlooked period of Soviet art that consists of much more than the stereotyped expressions of propaganda. 

Popkov’s enormous talent was recognised in both Russia and the West.  In 1967 he won a Diploma of Honour at the Paris Biennale and in 1975 was awarded, posthumously, the State Prize of the USSR. Popkov was born into the artistic era of Social Realism but refused to be limited by Soviet ideology.  He came to be one of the foremost proponents of the ‘Severe’, a style of painting which combined the formal elements of Social Realism with a greater degree of hope which Popkov, and others of his generation, felt for Russia in the wake of Stalin’s death and Krushchev’s release of prisoners from Gulag labour camps. 

The era promised a greater freedom of artistic and personal expression and Popkov created a diverse set of works which dealt with emotional issues of loneliness, vulnerability, fear of death, relationships and the identity of the artist. This humanity and personal artistic vision of the world will provide a refreshing perspective of Russian art to a western audience more familiar with the propagandist works of the Soviet era.  

The exhibition will include some of Popkov’s Severe Style masterpieces including Spring at the Depot (1958) and The Builders of Bratsk (1960-61) as well many of his works produced during his travels to the Mezen area of Russia and a significant number of self-portraits, including Father’s Overcoat (1970-72).

The complex historical context will be recreated through the lens of Igor Palmin, whose accompanying photos will provide the viewer with an understanding of the social and cultural backdrop that influenced the artist. An unofficial chronicler of Soviet life, his access to the inner circle of non-conformist artists in Moscow enabled him to capture the atmosphere and setting of their time.

The exhibition is a collaborative effort between British and Russian museums and supporters to provide new audiences with insight into a key individual and non-conformist of the 20th century Soviet art scene. Contributions from the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, the Russian Museum in St Petersburg and regional museums as well as from the collection of the Filatov Family Art Fund bring together for the first time 40 significant Popkov paintings. This important exhibition is supported by the Science Museum in London and the State Museum and Exhibition Centre ROSIZO in Moscow.