Helena Goscilo: Edifying the New Soviet Child in Boris Kustodiev’s Soviet Paradise

Renowned primarily for his memorable portraits (of Bilibin, Chaliapin, Remizov, Voloshin) and colorful paintings of lush female bodies, merchants’ lives, and rituals of seasonal celebrations, Kustodiev (1878-1927) also designed costumes and sets for the theater as well as illustrating children’s books. His last years showcased his skill in adjusting not only to the new Soviet regime, but also to the children’s literary texts that his graphics accompanied.детям_о_ленине2.bmp

Multifaceted and eloquent, those visuals range from Maiakovskii-inspired modernist minimalism to painterly pastel-lyricism, depending on the subject and ideological orientation of the pertinent verbal work. On the basis of four children’s books, I argue that in this genre Kustodiev’s political flexibility and ‘conformism’ translate into stylistic diversity, his images buttressing the specifics of each author’s ‘program’ of indoctrination while reassuring Soviet children of their country’s unique status as a beguiling secular Eden in the international arena.

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