Evocative propoganda posters from the early years of the Soviet regime are to be sold in New York’s Swann Auction Galleries, marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution.
With prices of up to $15,000 (£11,550) expected for a single example at the May 25 auction in New York, these posters were often created by artists dedicated to the cause who nonetheless fell victim to Stalin’s purges.
Foremost among them was the Latvian Gustav Klutsis, pupil of the pre-eminent Soviet artist Kazimir Malevich, founder of the avant-garde Suprematist movement and a leading figure in Cubism.
Klutsis was a founding member of ‘October’, a group of artists dedicated to serving the needs of the proletariat throughout the USSR. He became the Soviet Union’s most prolific photomontage virtuoso, designing emblematic posters to inspire the communist cause throughout the 1920s and ’30s. In 1938, despite his exceptional work for the cause, Stalin had Klutsis arrested and executed along with other Latvians.
His 1931 poster, ‘The USSR is the shock brigade of the world’s proletariat’, is a fine example of Klutsis’ talent and is offered with an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000 (£7,700 to £11,500).
It is closely followed by ‘Long live the multi-million member Leninist Komsomol’, from 1932, an example of the militant art he envisioned as matching the needs of the class struggle and organisation of the masses, be it for military purposes, manufacturing or the development of technology.
‘Workers of the world, Unite! For the world in October!’ is a 1932 montage poster by Nikolai Andreevich Dolgorukov (1902-80), another Cubist who designed for Pravda, Izvestija and other periodicals. It is expected to fetch around $6000 to $9000 (£4,600 to £6,900), while other posters of his from the time, promoting aviation and the Soviet five-year plan have been pitched at $2000-3000 (£1,500 to £2,300) apiece.
Also on an aviation theme is the 1931 poster ‘Let’s build a fleet of airships in Lenin’s name’, an impressive design by Georgij Kibardin (1906-63) depicting Lenin mid speech above the crowd against a backdrop of the hoped-for airships. A striking view, the estimate is $2500 to $3500 (£1,920 to £2,690).
In all, the more than 30 lots of Soviet-era posters in the Graphic Design sale stand testimony to the importance of propaganda to the regime’s control, highlighting its obsessions, from the strength of the proletariat to Soviet supremacy in the space race.
Nicholas D. Lowry, head of the Vintage Posters department at Swann Galleries, said, “These posters exhibit many qualities, not only as fascinating historical documents and prime examples of the creative endeavour that was allowed relative free rein during an era of great central political control, but striking testaments to the mindset of both artists and people of the period.
“Some of them were avant garde in their design, with photomontage being put to exceptional use by various artists, while others were simplistic enough to be understood at a glance. The messages were all the stronger for the powerful graphics that were used to impart them. Their graphic design and decorative appeal is one of the primary reasons why these posters have a strong following among collectors today.”