From Tsars to Commissars

Significant paintings from Russian art history, in collaboration with the State Russian Museum. 65 works of art ranging from the early 19th-century via early 20th-century avant-garde to Stalinist-era realism.

Images: Nathan Altman, Portrait of the Poet Anna Akhmatova, née. Gorenko, 1914. Kazimir Malevich, Suprematism (Supremus No. 56), 1916. Aleksander Samokhvalov, Girl in a T-shirt-shirt, 1932. © 2014, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Nathan Altman, Portrait of the Poet Anna Akhmatova, née. Gorenko, 1914. Kazimir Malevich, Suprematism (Supremus No. 56), 1916. Aleksander Samokhvalov, Girl in a T-shirt-shirt, 1932. © 2014, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

October 2, 2014 – January 11, 2015

The exhibition takes place at Konstakademien.

The Peredvizhniki – Pioneers of Russian Painting, which appeared in the autumn of 2011, was one of Nationalmuseum’s best-attended exhibitions in recent years. This autumn’s exhibition will widen the perspective to cover artists who came before and after the Peredvizhniki, starting in the early 19th century and continuing through to the latter part of the Soviet era.

The exhibition will be an opportunity for Swedish visitors to experience a rich, multifaceted artistic culture that remains largely unknown in western Europe. The artworks are on loan from the Russian Museum in St Petersburg, home to the world’s largest collection of Russian art, and will include several prominent works from among the museum’s treasures.

Narrative and emotional content

From Tsars to Commissars will present some of the art produced by a society that underwent massive changes during the 150-year period covered by the exhibition: from the Tsarist empire through the revolutions and upheavals of the 1910s and ’20s to the Stalinist era and the Cold War, when the Soviet Union became a superpower.

Recurring themes include unemancipated peasants, Orthodox Christian imagery and traditions, and the consequences of social upheaval and world war. Narrative engagement and strong emotional expression typify many of the works in the exhibition. Examples of epic scale can be seen in both 19th-century realism and the propaganda art of the Stalinist era.

Modernist pioneers

Russian art history also includes some of the true pioneers of early 20th-century modernism. Kazimir Malevich and Vasily Kandinsky, long considered two of the world’s greatest artists, broke new ground with a style of painting that distanced itself from realism and the narrative tradition.

Also on show will be works by 20th-century painters less familiar to international audiences, such as Pavel Filonov, who developed highly personal imagery inspired by folk art and pictures drawn by psychiatric patients. The Soviet regime banned Filonov from exhibiting his works in public.

Socialist realism

For long periods, Russian artists worked under repressive regimes that imposed very restrictive rules regarding form and content. In Tsarist times there was strict censorship, and during Stalin’s leadership of the Soviet Union, artists were expected to serve the interests of the government. The officially sanctioned art of the Stalinist era, known as socialist realism, portrayed the progress made by Soviet society and the strength and dynamism of citizens.

Despite adapting to the requirements of the Soviet regime, some artists still managed to create visually interesting works. A leading example is Alexander Deineka, who depicted modern industrial scenes and the catastrophic impact of the Second World War.

The exhibition will comprise a total of 65 oil paintings by 40 artists, all on loan from the Russian Museum. Featured artists will include Ivan Aivazovsky, Alexey Venetsianov, Nathan Altman, Natalia Goncharova, Alexander Deineka, Vasily Kandinsky, Isaac Levitan, Kazimir Malevich and Marc Chagall. 

Aleksej Venetsianov, bondkvinna med lie och höräfsa, före 1825.
Aleksey Venetsianov, Peasant Woman with Schythe and Rake, before 1825. © 2014, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Sergej Gerasimov, Vladimir Lenin bland bondedelegaterna vid Sovjeternas 2:a kongress, 1935-36
Sergey Gerasimov, Vladimir Lenin at the 2nd Congress of Soviets Among the Peasant Delegates, 1935-36
© 2014, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg 


An exhibition catalogue will be published in Swedish and English, including illustrations of all the artworks with commentary by experts from the State Russian Museum.

Guided tours and programmes

Guided tours in Swedish and Russian are given weekly. We also offer lectures, talks, film screenings and art studio workshops in conjunction with the exhibition From Tsars to Commissars. Read more about tours and programs.

Book a tour

Book a special tour of the exhibition with one of our knowledgeable guides. Read more and book.


Photography and filming in the exhibition is not permitted.



Special thanks go to Anne-Marie and Herbert Lembcke, who were actively involved in the entire exhibition project from concept to implementation. Through their Ad Infinitum Foundation, they provided generous financial support for the exhibition, and valuable input in the form of ideas, contacts, knowledge and experience.


Art Library and Museum Archives,
Holmamiralens väg 2,
Skeppsholmen, Stockholm 

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