Lot 5
  • 5

Oscar Yakovlevich Rabin, b.1928

20,000 - 30,000 GBP
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  • Oscar Yakovlevich Rabin
  • Landscape with Culture
  • signed  in Cyrillic and dated 68 t.r.; signed, titled and dedicated in Cyrillic and dated 1968 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 80 by 100cm., 31½ by 39¼in.

Catalogue Note

Newspapers often feature in Oscar Rabin-s still-lifes and, like passports, fish, bottles of vodka, have become the trademark of his oeuvre. Such disrespectful juxtaposition of information sources and Communist party mouthpieces and common alcoholic beverages was not tolerated by the authorities and the artist was accused of anti-Soviet propaganda.

Indeed, bearing in mind the events of the turbulent year in which Landscape with Culture was painted, the political subtext of this painting seems obvious. 1968 was marked by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, several high-profile trials of political protesters and dissident writers; moreover, Rabin's close friend, poet Genrih Sapgir was indicted and then scandalously expelled from the Soviet Union of Writers for supporting the avant-garde literary circle SMOG and non-conformist painters. Newspapers, subscription to which was obligatory for every Soviet citizen, were aimed to reflect the official version of events.

Rabin had already experienced the power of the printed word when in 1966 an article titled ''Expensive Lentil Soup'' ('Dorogaya chechevichnaya pokhlebka') was published in Soviet Culture. The article was provoked by Rabin's unofficial exhibitions in London's Grosvenor Gallery in 1965 and in the Moscow district club Druzhba a year later. The article criticised Rabin harshly for his anti-Soviet paintings, accusing him of desiring to serve Western imperialist interests and blacken the image of life in the USSR. While minor ''misconducts'' of Soviet citizens were ordinarily overlooked by local authorities, an article in a leading newspaper was extremely serious and officials were expected to react in an appropriate manner. Rabin was interrogated publicly by his colleagues in the style of a criminal trial.

Landscape with Culture was completed after Rabin's family moved to a new flat in Moscow but, as with most of his other paintings, it exudes the grim and claustrophobic atmosphere of the barracks in Lianozovo where the artist used to live. Amid the squalid, smoky gloom, the shredded pages from the newspapers Soviet Culture and Pravda, both meagre sources of news and severely edited to comply with Soviet ideology, symbolise the shrunken informative space under a totalitarian regime. Dried fish and a bottle of sunflower oil represent the few products still available to the people in a collapsing economy. Although Rabin claimed he was a conventional Realist painter documenting everyday Soviet life, his paintings stand in stark contrast to the grandiose images of life in the capital projected by Communist propaganda.