New East Digital Archive

Witnesses to history: the turmoil of 1917 captured in children’s drawings

A remarkable archive held in Moscow since 1919 lets us see the revolution through the eyes of the children who lived it in this series of colourful, emotive and confused drawings

22 June 2017

How best to get a “feel” for the Revolution after all these years? Written histories usually provide the most comprehensive and illuminating accounts of past events, for sure: but the density of information rarely provides a sensual or emotional hit. Conversely, while they are unlikely to hold much scholarly academic credibility, artworks produced in the middle of historic upheavals like the October Revolution give us at least some sense of the mood, colour or timbre of life turned upside down. And if artists are a peculiarly sensitive type of eyewitness, then might children – doodling or daydreaming and blissfully unaware of the political meaning of what’s going on around them – offer a particularly sincere take?

The ground-breaking Soviet art historian Vasily Voronov thought so. Voronov believed that children’s art represented an underappreciated treasure trove of stylistic and social trends, of particular value during a period as turbulent as the immediate post-revolutionary one, and spent the first two years of Bolshevik rule collecting examples from schoolchildren in Moscow, Petrograd, and other major cities. In 1919, he donated his remarkable collection to the State Historical Museum in Moscow.

Nearly 70 years later, Voronov’s archive was reproduced in a book titled Moscow, 1917: Drawings by Child Witnesses. Aleksandr Poslykhalin, a Muscovite local historian who runs the online journal Podmoskovny kraeved, recently republished extracts from this book, bringing the naïvety, perceptiveness and energy of these largely anonymous young artists back to life.

Text: Samuel Goff

Images taken from the book Moscow, 1917: Drawings by Child Witnesses. From the collection of the State Historical Museum. Originally republished on Podmoskovny kraeved.

The Future Remains: Revisiting Revolution runs until December 2017 at the Calvert 22 Foundation