[…] In Russian Art and the West (2007), American scholar Alison Hilton discusses the particulars of the dialogue between socialist realism and Impressionism: because Russian modernists such as Kandinsky, Chagall, and Malevich had ventured so far into abstraction, the new revolutionary institutions didn’t see Impressionism as a threat. This was partly due to the fact that an earlier generation of Russian painters had already integrated the structure of French Impressionism into the particularly Russian style of en plein air painting, or painting directly from nature. This became one of the traits of the new socialist realism, opposed to the decadent bourgeois European art.
The story, however, becomes much more complicated when the presence and practice of Impressionism under the cover of social realism is extended to other geographical areas in the Soviet sphere, far from Moscow and St Petersburg. This is the tale told by Romantic and Progressive: Stalinist Impressionism in Painting of the Baltic States in the 1940s–1950s at the Kumu Art Museum of Estonia, which focuses on the region that is adjacent to Russia but was under German influence for centuries, then occupied by Soviet forces until 1990. After maintaining a complicated relationship to the Impressionist movement, painting in impressionistic style was banned in the Soviet Union academies since 1948 as a consequence of the war, but many of the pre-war traditions remained: Impressionism had taught Soviet painters much about landscape painting, particularly its uses of light, immediacy, excitement. With the reorganization of cultural institutions in Estonia, local artists and intellectuals were brought into this new cultural sphere, but social realism in Estonia remained a loose ideology controlled by lazy bureaucrats and subject to many preexisting European influences such as abstract art and Expressionism.
Read the full story on Hyperallergic.com