Collecting Soviet-Era Artwork

Art collector Leah Fullinwider shares her Soviet-era art secrets and treasures.

Leah Fullinwider

From Russia with Love
Dallas art collector Leah Fullinwider finds the beauty behind Soviet-era artwork.

“Lunch Break.” Ivan A. Kozlov. Oil on canvas. 26″ x 39 1/2″. 1958. $7,500.

Seeing the happy workers on a  lunch break or a gray rural scene, some might dismiss Soviet-era art as unimportant. To do so is to miss the story behind the canvas. Art painted in Russia during the Soviet regime reveals more than the government-mandated propaganda, which made the U.S.S.R. synonymous with repression.

As Dallas art collector Leah Fullinwider puts it, “When you consider the harsh restrictions placed on Russian artists during the Soviet period, it is remarkable that they were able to develop a painting style that would allow them to meet the political requirements forced on them, and at the same time, produce a body of work that is both artistic and authentic.”

Fullinwider became interested in Soviet-era art when she traveled with her husband to the former U.S.S.R. in the early 1990s. She identified a love of beauty and a depth of soul in the paintings, a characteristic that others have recognized, including Raymond Johnson, owner of the Overland Gallery in Scottsdale, Ariz., who is credited for helping introduce Soviet art to international audiences.

“Worker.” Nikolai A. Groshev. Oil on board.
18″ x 13″. 1967. $2,200.

The art was produced beginning in the early 1930s, when Josef Stalin issued stifling edicts designed to force creative people – writers, architects,  artists, etc. – to bolster state interests. Artists were required to create works of Socialist Realism, that is, in the words of the charter, “a true and historically concrete depiction of reality in its revolutionary development.” And by “true,” they meant flattering to communism.

While those who produced the propaganda were paid well, those who refused assignments (such as Leonid Lamm) were punished. Lamm was arrested and sentenced to three years imprisonment, including a year in a work camp. Lamm created watercolors and sketches of prison and labor-camp life, which later helped form the basis for his first solo exhibit in the United States in 1985.

Although public art was a propaganda tool, many artists experimented with impressionistic styles in their free time. They often painted in thin layers, as paint was scarce. Their brisk brushwork depicts common people, landscapes, and scenes of daily life. Despite restrictions, the artists managed to convey beauty and defy the harsh realities of Soviet life.

As friends of Fullinwider saw paintings in her home, many asked her and her husband to buy art for them. In response, Fullinwider started a small import company, Art From Russia. In what she calls her “little storeroom” on Cedar Springs Road, she sells Soviet period art as well as work by current artists.

Art From Russia. By appointment only. 3515 Cedar Springs Rd. 214-929-1937.

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