The exhibition Women in Soviet Art brings together thirty paintings by prominent Soviet artists to examine the visual representations of women during the Soviet era. Avoiding traditional depictions of the cloistered feminine world, Soviet art passionately propagated the images of women as active contributors to the socialist economy. From the TMORA permanent Collection, and on loan from the Ray and Susan Johnson Collection, these magnificent canvases reveal a Soviet fascination with women at work.

From its inception in 1917, the Soviet state proclaimed equality of the sexes and granted women an unprecedented spectrum of rights. According to the new Soviet Constitution and Family Code, women received the right to elect and be elected into the Soviets (local, district or national councils), and had unrestricted access to education and full-time employment outside the home. Lenin described the drudgery of housework as “barbaric, unproductive, petty, nerve-wrecking, stupefying, and depressing.” In 1918, Lenin’s close associate and a prominent Party member, Innessa Armand, advocated replacing “millions of tiny households with clean and shining communal kitchens, communal canteens, communal laundries.” Although the promise of a collectivist egalitarian paradise was never realized, by the 1950s the Soviet Union boasted the world’s highest percentage of women in the national work force.

The revolution in women’s role in society fueled bold interpretations of the Soviet woman as a dynamic cultural icon. Soviet art questioned the age-old dichotomy of feminine and masculine as essentially different. Women were seldom portrayed as objects of beauty, and neither were they stereotyped as seductresses, angels of the house, or damsels in distress. The exhibition Women in Soviet Art marshals a variety of strong female characters reflecting the changing approaches to women as subjects during the subsequent rules of Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev.

Women in Soviet Art will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery June 8 – October 20, 2024.

Igor Aleksandrovich Razdrogin
Worker, 1970
Oil on canvas, 43 7/8 in x 43 1/2 in
Collection of Raymond and Susan Johnson

Mikhail Yurevich Kugach
Ancillary Textile Works, no date
Oil on canvas, 45 1/4 in x 78 3/4 in
Collection of Raymond and Susan Johnson

Nikolai N. Baskakov
Milkmaids, Novella, 1962
Oil on Canvas, 47 in x 90 in
Gift of Pam and Jack Safar, 2015
TMORA Permanent Collection