Wassili Jakowlew

Portrait of Georgy Zhukov, Marshal of the Soviet Union

Jakolew Portrait Of Georgy Zhukov State Tretyakov Gallery 1500
  • Wassili Jakowlew
  • Portrait of Georgy Zhukov, Marshal of the Soviet Union
  • 1946
  • Oil on canvas
  • 206 x 153 cm
  • The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Wassilij Jakowlew’s Portrait of Georgy Zhukov (1946) exemplifies the bombastic style of Stalinist socialist realism of the 1940s and early 1950s, characterized by academic technique, monumental classicism, and an emphasis on heroic portrayals of Communist Party leaders. In the aftermath of the “Great Patriotic War” (the term used by Russians to refer to World War II), nationalism and patriotism were among the chief concerns of party propaganda: in 1946, the Soviet Union reaffirmed its commitment to the “Zhdanov Doctrine,” wherein the world was seen as divided into two camps: imperialistic (United States) and democratic (Soviet Union). This prompted a second wave of cultural purges, to eliminate any traces of “foreign” influence in Soviet art, while proliferating triumphant images of Soviet victory during the war. Here, Jakowlew used the equestrian portrait, a traditional symbol of power and military greatness: General Zhukov, a Soviet military commander who had played a decisive role in the Battle of Berlin, is depicted on a rearing white steed, trampling a pile of fallen Nazi standards amid the flaming ruins of the German capital. Though exacting in its naturalism – Jakowlew had been a restorer of “old master” paintings in the national collections – the painting is far from an accurate portrayal of the war, because socialist realism was less concerned with fidelity to portraying events as they had actually occurred than with depicting how they should be understood. Monumental in both theme and size, Jakowlew portrays Zhukov as a larger-than-life figure, embodying the spirit of Soviet military might.

Rachel Wetzler

Biography of Wassili Jakowlew

  • Born 1893 in Moscow, Russian Empire
  • Died 1953 in Moscow, USSR
After studying mathematics and physics, Vasily Yakovlev trained from 1914 to 1917 at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture under Abram Arkhipov (1862–1930) and Konstantin Korovin (1861–1939). Yakovlev’s study of the European old masters and Russian icon painting was bolstered by his role as a conservator for various institutes and museums in Moscow. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, he visited Western Europe several times, including an extended sojourn in Italy at the invitation of Maxim Gorky (1869–1936) in 1932. A staunchly conservative artist, Yakovlev sought to couple the skill of Renaissance and Baroque painting with the ideological program of Soviet socialist realism. He produced many paintings, usually portraits, in a highly finished academic style throughout the 1930s and 1940s. During the Great Patriotic War (1941–45) Yakovlev visited the front to study military life, and in 1944 he created his iconic Portrait of Georgy Zhukov, Marshal of the Soviet Union. Yakovlev twice received the coveted Stalin Prize (1943 and 1949), and in 1944 he was bestowed with the title of People’s Artist of the RSFSR. In 1952 Yakovlev began work on his last significant project, supervising the restoration of The Siege of Sevastopol (1902–04) by Franz Roubaud (1856–1928).