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The Circle of Artists Society

28 June - 10 December 2007
Benois Wing

Activity of the Circle of Artists society is one of the bright, peculiar and, at the same time, utterly typical phenomena of the epoch. The Circle of Artists did not take the leading stand among numerous artistic unions of the 1920s, though the acute character and results of creative quests of its members aroused intense interest. Founded in March 1926 by graduates of VKhUTEIN (Higher Art and Technical Institute), the Circle of Artists society united mostly fellow-students. In the broadcasting declaration the young artists defined the goal of their creative efforts: "creation of the style of the epoch", "Collectivism" and "community of views" seem to be sure guarantees for the future success. There was another, no less important, argument for the foundation of this society: "impossibility of participation in other artistic societies in Leningrad". "We are former leftists…" — members of the Circle of Artist could repeat these words after the Moscow artists of NOZh (New Society of Painters). The main body of the future society was formed as early as in 1922-23, and then it was obvious that it consisted of young artists, who were influenced by "leftists" and avant-garde school. The decision to start the society was reached in March 1926, and in April eighteen artists and sculptors — V. Pakulin, A. Pakhomov, S. Kupriyanova, T. Gernet, M. Fedoricheva, D. Zagoskin, A. Poret, L. Britanishsky, I. Lizak, G. Lagzdyn, A. Rusakov, T. Kuperwasser, J. Shur, G. Kortikov, M. Guelman, Y. Gaskevich, S. Chugunov, and M. Verbov appealed to Glavnauka Administration with request to approve the statute of the Circle of Artists society. V. Pakulin was elected the chairman and S. Chugunov — the secretary. In the Statute and the declaration the young artistic union manifested its negative attitude to "utter individualism and superficial study-painting" in creative work and expressed its quest to reflect the most prominent modern phenomena in works of art. Soon the Circle of Artists proclaimed that it brings the "principle of a close-knit collective, that accomplishes both artistic-ideological education of its members and supervises their practical work" to the forefront. Over the whole time of its existence the Circle of Artists united more than fifty members. Its main body remained almost unchanged, still young artists entered the society. Three major exhibitions of the Circle of Artists were organized in the Russian Museum in 1927, 1928 and 1929 within the frameworks of the newly founded Department of modern art headed by N. Punin. Their works were also exhibited in the House of Educational Workers, 1927, in the club of the Red Triangle plant, 1929 and in the Moscow-Narva House of Culture (Modern Leningrad Artistic Groups exhibition), 1928-29. The exhibition of the Circle of Artists in Kiev, 1930, was the last one. Their works were presented at the First City Exhibition of Fine Arts in Leningrad, 1930, and the Artists of the RSFSR Over Fifteen Years exhibition, 1932. The second exhibition became the climax of the society?s activity. According to the members of the union A. Lunacharsky visited it. Painters, undoubtedly, constituted the avant-garde of the Circle of Artists. Comparing the works of many of the above-mentioned artists and noticing their peculiarities, one can see something in common in all of them. These are aspiration for typical images, prevalence of peasant motifs and tendencies of monumentalism in easel painting, resulting from declared "style of the epoch". Only art of the "big style" suits the new epoch. Its analogies can be found in traditions of Old Russian and the Renaissance art. One part of the members of the Circle of Artists stuck to this position, another one tried to combine achievements of modern French painting with the barest necessity to create "modern Soviet painting". In 1930, protecting themselves from accusations in formalism, members of the Circle of Artists declared: "Our epoch has to possess its own style". They thought themselves "blend in with Revolution", and their sincere faith helped them to create works, which became an epoch in the history of Russian art, the epoch of "Soviet Romanticism".