Like many of his contemporaries, Vasili (or Vasliy) Nechitailo, a Russian painter active in the middle of the 20th Century, is not well known outside of his homeland. One reason for this is that little in the way of cultural exchange was allowed during the era of Soviet Russia.
Nechitailo studied at the Krasnodar Art Tekhnikum, the Surikov Institute and the Moscow Art Institute. He later returned to the Surikov Institute to teach.
Generally considered a realist, the painterly brushwork, bright colors and economically suggested subjects of Nechitailo’s later work also put him in the company of painters considered to be Russian Impressionists.
To the casual observer, Nechitailo’s idylic farms and fields, glowing under the sun of a Russian Summer, seem in keeping with the Impressionist’s portrayals of the French countryside, but the circumstances under which they were painted could hardly have been more different.
In Nechitailo’s case, the idealized fields, and the ennobled workers who toiled in them, were used as propaganda, extolling the virtues and hard work, dedication to the state, and the bounty of the Soviet farming economy. The approved style was called Socialist Realism and was meant to promote the ideology of the Soviet state.
In addition to those subjects and official portraits of government figures, Nechitailo also found time to pursue subjects of his own, without the political overtones, including scenes of Venice.
There is a show of Nechitailo’s work, the first solo show of a major Soviet era painter outside Russia, at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Art of Vasili Nechitailo is currently on view and runs until February 27, 2011. The museum’s site has a small slide show of paintings, but I’ve listed some other, more extensive resources below.
Ironically, the exhibition was assembled by Masha Zavialova, curator at the museum, who emigrated to the U.S. in 2001. Her childhood experience of growing up in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) under Soviet rule was one of an oppressive, closed society, in which work like Nechitailo’s was another arm of the government, pushing its ideological message into the lives of the citizenry with state approved art and propaganda posters.
She hated it at the time, but has now been able to look back with a fresh view, seeing it both within and outside of its original context.
There is an interesting article about the exhibit in the Minneapolis – St. Paul StarTribune, in which Zavialova is quoted:
“Before I just looked at the [Nechitailo] subjects and they were oppressive to me,” she said. “Now, I look at the canvases and brushwork and find them very interesting and they’ve stopped being threatening. (…) It’s the nature of time. Now I love his work.”