Painted in 1937 as part of the centenary celebration of the death of Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Ulyanov's A. S. Pushkin and his Wife, N. N. Pushkina at the Imperial Ball has been lauded as the quintessential example of Soviet history painting. Modern scholars have followed the lead of Soviet critics, who praised the painting for its insight into the psychology of the brilliant poet repressed by the tyrannical tsarist regime. According to this interpretation, Soviet viewers in the 1930s were to ponder on the tragedy of Pushkin's demise and rejoice that the victory of Socialism had freed them from such repression. However, this thesis suggests that Ulyanov embedded a secondary, subversive message in his masterpiece. Through careful manipulation of Pushkin's complex semiotic significance, Socialist Realist dialectics, and the Aesopian method, Ulyanov crafted an image that could be celebrated for its adherence to Soviet ideology, while simultaneously suggesting to those who detected his clues that artistic repression had not ended with the revolution. In this subversive reading, Ulyanov's masterwork becomes a psychological self-portrait of an artist living under Stalinist oppression during the Great Terror.
College and Department
Humanities; Comparative Arts and Letters
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Spjut, Annilyn Marie, ""How in This Cruel Age I Celebrated Freedom": Aesopian Subversion in Nikolai Ulyanov's Painting for the 1937 Pushkin Centenary" (2017). Theses and Dissertations. 6342.
Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Ulyanov, Aesopian method, socialist realism, 1937 Pushkin centenary, subversion, Soviet history painting, Soviet art