Dhe Moscow Tretyakov Gallery is currently presenting a retrospective of what is possibly the most charming painter of the Soviet era, Yuri Pimenov (1903 to 1977), who praised the grace of women in stylized descriptions of everyday life during the Stalin era, but also during the political thaw and afterwards. An icon of Soviet modernism is Pimenov’s painting “The New Moscow”, which shows a woman from behind at the wheel of a convertible. The picture, created during the great terror of 1937, exemplifies the optimistic anticipation of the future, looking pointillistically over the realities of the time. Pimenow, who was modeled by his then pregnant wife, shows how the emancipated Soviet citizen, who has pinned a carnation on her windshield in a socialist-romantic way, is on her way towards the new Stalin palaces in the center in bright weather. In 1944, the year of the war, the artist took up the motif of the self-confident charioteer – now in steel-gray tones – programmatically: On the “road to the front” you can see a blonde woman with a fur cap from behind at the wheel of an open jeep in an army column. Although the path leads through wintry city ruins, their calm and the shot down German tanks on the roadside also speak of cautious confidence in victory.
This impressionistic Pimenow stands in marked contrast to his earlier artistic self from the twenties, when, inspired by the German New Objectivity, but also by Ferdinand Hodler, he made figures of proletarians and athletes modeled like old masters his trademark. In the painting “Her mit der Schwerindustrie”, half-naked bronze-colored men are welded together to form a collective body against the background of a blast furnace landscape assembled from several perspectives. The large-format picture “Football” conjures up the dream of a person flying with three athletes jumping into the sky, over whom the ball hovers like a sun. During this time, the artist also stylized his signature in the style of the Dürer monogram.
When such “formalisms” were combated after 1931, Pimenow fell into depression and could not work for months. Then he reinvented himself as an artist, which unfortunately had the consequence that he destroyed earlier works that he was able to get hold of. The curators of the Tretyakov Gallery have now used magazine reproductions to reconstruct some of the lost pictures, which were among the most expressive of his oeuvre, to their original scale. The sinewy, elegant tennis players who hit the balls with a mannered look under pageboy hairstyles in machine-like rhythm, or the slender pair of runners on the finish line at least in black and white on sheet metal reminiscent of print templates can be admired.
Ever since he followed models like Renoir or Millet, Pimenow praised the working woman in semi-official paintings, but now in a bourgeois lyrical manner. His triptych from 1936, dedicated to the workers of the Uralmash engine plant in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg again) shows well-groomed proletarians in the middle who have placed a glass with flowers on their workbench. On the side wings you can see her sitting in the theater box with a necklace or at home drinking tea from porcelain dishes.
As the artist approached sixty, under Nikita Khrushchev, who had blocks of flats built for the masses, the state leadership seemed to be turning to the grassroots. Pimenow described this as a chthonically erotic act, he laid mighty concrete pipes in the ground churned up by excavators and furrowed by puddles and let young women float over it like butterfly-like harbingers of the future – the dream of flying became a gallant metaphor. On the painting “The first chic girls in the new building area”, a poster for the war film “The Cranes Draw” reminds us of the blood that was shed on this ground a generation earlier. But there seems to be no dirt to cling to the three girls in dainty pumps and fragrant Dior dresses, balancing over the coarse tubes like from a western advertisement. And in the famous painting “Wedding on the Street of Tomorrow”, Pimenow gives the bride and groom, who walks past giant pipes on wooden slats across the damp earth towards the viewer, the features of himself and his wife in early years, as if he, too, could Rulers finally got involved in their own country, make a fresh start.
Yuri Pimenov. In the New Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow; until January 9, 2022. The Russian-language catalog costs 36 euros.