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CultureAivazovsky's paintings remain banned in Russia

Aivazovsky’s paintings remain banned in Russia

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Nowhere has Russian culture been rejected and persecuted more than at home

Complaints that Russian culture has been rejected and unjustly banned in Europe and the United States have become more frequent in recent months. It is true that the contracts of several famous Russian performers in American and European theaters have been canceled, as well as tours of the Bolshoi Theater. In several other places, concerts with music by classical composers such as Tchaikovsky were temporarily postponed.

On the other hand, in Russia itself, banning and persecuting one’s own cultural luminaries is an old and immortal tradition. Its victims have become and are becoming world musicians, ballet dancers, directors and perhaps most of all – writers. Of the five Nobel laureates in Russian literature, only one has not been persecuted, accused or repressed. The sixth is the journalist Dmitry Muratov, whose Nobel Peace Prize – his publication was stopped, and he himself – attacked and flooded with red paint a few days ago. Artists also suffer from rejection. Two historical paintings by the greatest Russian mariner Ivan Aivazovsky were banned at the end of the 19th century and remain undesirable to this day.

There are pages in Russia’s history that the authorities are trying to hide. But, as they say, you can’t throw away a line from the song … Historically, it happens that the Russian people often starve, and not because there was not enough grain, but because those in power peeled the people’s skins in the name for their own benefit. One of these banned pages is the famine that engulfed the south and the Volga region in 1891-1892. And as a result – humanitarian aid collected by the American people and sent to Russia by five steamers, recalls the site Kulturologia.ru.

“Unexpected” disaster in Russia

No matter how much the authorities tried to shift the blame for the famine of 1891-1892 to adverse weather conditions, the main problem was the state’s grain policy. By replenishing the treasury at the expense of agricultural resources, Russia annually exports wheat. Thus, in the first year of famine, 3.5 million tons of grain were exported from the country. The following year, when fierce famines and epidemics raged in the empire, the Russian government and entrepreneurs sold 6.6 million tons of grain in Europe, almost twice as much as the previous year. The facts are simply shocking. Monarch Alexander III commented on the food situation as follows: “I have no starving people, only victims of the poor harvest.”

Leo Tolstoy describes the situation in the villages at that time: “People and cattle really die. But they do not writhe in the squares in tragic convulsions, but quietly, with weak moans, get sick and die in huts and yards … Before our eyes is a trial. impoverishment of the rich, poverty of the poor and destruction of the poorest … In moral terms we see spiritual decline and development of all the worst human traits: theft, malice, envy, begging and irritability, further supported by measures, prohibiting resettlement “.

Americans are collecting humanitarian aid

This movement was organized and led by philanthropist William Edgar, who in the summer of 1891 published articles in his journal North Western Miller about the famine in Russia. He also sent about 5,000 letters to grain traders in the northern states asking for help.

Edgar reminds his fellow citizens that during the Civil War of 1862-1863, the Russian navy provided invaluable assistance to their country by sending two military squadrons. At that time there was a real threat that England and France would come to the aid of the southerners. However, the Russian flotilla remained close to the American coast for seven months – and the British and French did not dare to provoke a conflict with Russia. This is helping the northerners win the civil war.

The calls of the American activist find a response in the hearts of his fellow citizens and the collection of donations begins everywhere. The work is done informally and on a voluntary basis, as the US government does not approve of the gesture of friendly assistance, but it cannot ban it.

In the early spring of 1892, steamers with valuable cargo arrived in the Baltic. One of them is the organizer of the food collection – William Edgar. From the beginning of spring to the middle of summer, five steamers with a total of over 10,000 tons of humanitarian cargo, valued at $ 1 million (today’s $ 32 million), docked in Russia.

Aivazovsky – an eyewitness to the historical event

The first Indiana and Missouri transport ships, the so-called “starving fleet”, arrived in the ports of Libava and Riga. Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovski personally witnessed the meeting of the long-awaited cargo, which helps to overcome the catastrophic situation in the country. In the Baltic ports, ships were greeted with orchestras, food wagons set off, decorated with American and Russian flags. This event impressed the artist so much that he reflected it in two of his paintings: “Ship of Aid” and “Distribution of Food”.

Particularly impressive is the second picture, in which we see a racing Russian trio laden with food. In the sleigh, a peasant proudly waves the American flag. In response, villagers happily waved handkerchiefs and hats, and some who fell by the roadside prayed to God and thanked America.

Aivazovsky’s paintings are strictly forbidden for public display in Russia. The emperor took them as a reminder of his futility and failure, which threw the country into the abyss of hunger.

Aivazovsky in America

At the end of 1892-1893, Aivazovsky left for the United States and took with him paintings unwanted by the Russian authorities. As a token of gratitude for the help, the artist donated his work to the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. From 1961 to 1964, the paintings were exhibited in the White House at the initiative of Jacqueline Kennedy. In 1979, they found their way into a private collection in Pennsylvania and were not publicly available for many years. In 2008, at Sotheby’s, the two historical paintings sold for $ 2.4 million, and one of the patrons returned them to the Corcoran Gallery.

These paintings, painted in 1892, were not allowed for public display in Russia. Who knows, if Aivazovsky’s paintings had remained at home in the late 19th century, perhaps more Russians would have maintained friendly feelings and gratitude to the Americans.

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