New East Digital Archive

Mysterious Stalin portrait has Moscow museum stumped

28 September 2017

He is one of the most frequently drawn people in the history of Russia. Now, the Victory Museum in Moscow is looking for help in identifying the artist behind a rare portrait of Joseph Stalin.

The portrait, depicting Stalin in everyday clothes holding the USSR constitution in his hand, is now exhibited now as apart of a new show titled Living Chronicle of the War. This style of portrait is unusual when it comes to depictions of Stalin, as art historian Olga Shentseva notes in a post on the museum’s website: in Stalin’s lifetime, the majority of portraits presented him in military uniform, whereas the mystery portrait portrays a seemingly regular person. The painting was probably made to commemorate the 1936 ‘Stalin Constitution’ of the USSR.

The museum also notes that the painting was donated to them in 1995 by a woman called Mavra Megrelidze, who herself said that she received the painting as a gift in the 1960s. The museum has failed to locate anyone by that name or any information on the painting, and is now asking anyone who might have any information on the issue to come forward.

The artist’s name is not mentioned in official documents, even though only a strictly controlled circle of artists was allowed to paint portraits of Stalin. The quality of the painting also suggests that it was probably made by a famous artist. The museum has suggested that Stalin might have personally disliked the painting, either because it made him look too human or too authoritarian; in this case, the artist could either have decided to conceal their authorship on purpose, or was forced to do so by the government. Another theory suggests that the painting was the collaborative work of several artists.

The Victory Museum is also known as the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, and is situated on Poklonnaya Hill in Moscow. The painting can be seen at the Living Chronicle of the War exhibition, open until 20 September 2018.