When Fyodor Shurpin completed his painting The Morning of Our Motherland (1948), critics were enraptured and he was promptly awarded the Stalin Prize, then the highest honor for artists in the Soviet Union. This painting exemplifies what became known as the cult of personality, whereby the ideals and goals of the Communist Party were conflated symbolically in the single figure of Joseph Stalin. This so-called cult was accompanied by a slew of glorifying, ideologically imbued images of the party leader, in the form of both idealized painted portraits and mass-produced graphic works and sculpture for everyday public enjoyment.
The Morning of Our Motherland depicts a mature and distinguished Stalin with graying hair, seasoned by the trials of war. He stands in a field at daybreak bathed in sunlight and dressed in a resplendent white uniform, his coat draped casually over one arm. Behind him, the sprawling landscape bears witness to his achievements: smoke billows from factory chimneys, transmission towers string electrical wires into the countryside, and agricultural machinery drudges industriously across the freshly plowed land. This leader, however, is not content with merely surveying his previous successes. His gaze extends beyond the picture frame and into the direction of the morning sunlight. Shurpin’s image, therefore, not only celebrates industrialization, electrification, and collectivization, but also alludes to the country’s continued development, promising an even brighter future for the Soviet people.
Like several artists of his generation, Fyodor Shurpin came from a rural background and produced a body of work that took country life and landscape as its subject. His studies transported him from his humble hometown in Smolensk Province to Moscow, where he studied at the avant-garde academy Vkhutemas (later Vkhutein) between approximately 1922 and 1930. Shurpin regularly participated in official state exhibitions throughout the period of Stalinist Socialist Realism and was also invited to exhibit internationally. In 1948 he tried his hand at official portraiture and created his masterpiece Utro nashey Rodiny (The Morning of Our Motherland), which depicts Joseph Stalin in his resplendent white uniform before the backdrop of a rural landscape. The painting—commonly acknowledged as the most famous portrait of the leader—was met with critical and popular acclaim and earned Shurpin the Stalin Prize in 1949. In 1954 the work was shown in China as part of the influential exhibition of economic and cultural achievements of the USSR that took place at the Sūlián zhǎnlǎn guǎn (Soviet Union Exhibition Hall) in Beijing. In 1969 Shurpin initiated the founding of the Fotografii Galereya (Pictures Gallery) in the provincial town of Shumyachi (Smolensk Province), to which he donated fifty of his works.