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Details & Cataloguing

Art of the Soviet Union

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Serafima Vasilievna Ryangina
1891-1955
STUDENT EXCURSION TO THE BALTIC SHIPYARD
signed in Cyrillic and dated 30 l.r.; further bearing a Venice Biennale exhibition label on the reverse and the remnants of a Russian label on the stretcher 
oil on canvas
100 by 149.5cm, 39 1/2 by 58 3/4 in.
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Exhibited

Venice, XVIII Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte di Venezia, 1932

Literature

Exhibition catalogue XVIIIa Esposizione Biennale Internazionale d'Arte, Venice, 1932, p.271, no.95 listed as Le studentesse universitarie al lavoro
R.Kaufman, Serafima Vasilievna Ryangina, Moscow, Leningrad: Sovetskii khudozhnik, 1948, illustrated b/w and listed as Ekskursiya rabotnits na verfi. Leningrad  
S.Razumovskaya, Serafima Vasilievna Ryangina, Moscow: Sovetskii khudozhnik, 1957, p.89 listed as Ekskursiya rabotnits na verf'

Catalogue Note

Student Excursion to the Baltic Shipyard is the first major work by Ryangina to appear at auction. Commissioned by the Association of Artists of the Revolution (AKhR) in 1930, it is part of a series on the Baltic Shipyard in Leningrad. In 1932 it was exhibited at the XVIII Venice Biennale (fig.3) alongside such masterpieces of the period as Alexander Deineka’s Textile Workers (1927, State Russian Museum) and Petr Vilyams's Automobile Race (1930, State Tretyakov Gallery). In the official list of Soviet entries the present lot figures as no.109 and is priced at 400 rubles, the most expensive and evidently the most important of Ryangina’s exhibits that year.

The work responded to the agenda of the Soviet organisers who saw the Biennale as an opportunity to demonstrate the economic, industrial and moral strength of socialism. Ryangina depicts the new Soviet life in ‘revolutionary development’: the female engineering students are in the process of learning from one female and two male workers of the Baltic shipyard. The students' red kerchiefs serve as colour accents in the composition and can be read as proud symbols of their unwavering allegiance to socialism.

The most striking feature of the painting is perhaps its perspective. The unusual, elevated viewpoint is reminiscent of Rodchenko’s photographs from the 1920s and early 1930s (see lot 219). As was the case with many artists of her generation, Ryangina’s work of the period was later criticised by Soviet art history. Razumovskaya, for example, lauds Ryangina’s choice of subject and her depiction of the 'sombre silver-grey Leningrad sky', but dismisses this painting and another, Agitation Brigade (fig.2), as the works of an artist who ‘pays tribute to innovative, formalist explorations’ (S.Razumovskaya, Serafima Vasilievna Ryangina, Moscow, 1957, pp.26-27).

Student Excursion to the Baltic Shipyard is not only representative of this period of transition in the arts in the Soviet Union, but also of Ryangina's oeuvre in general. She is best known for her visual panegyrics to the new types of Soviet woman who emerged in the late 1920s, exemplified in her iconic work, Higher and Higher (fig.1). In the present lot, the female students and ship builder are immersed in productive activities, representing their active role in building the new society. Although the emphasis of the title is on the students, it is the female ship builder, depicted in the very centre of the composition, who is shown as the protagonist and role model for the new generation. Reflecting on her career in 1951, Ryangina remarked:

‘For thirty years, I have held the belief that the most exciting and brightest figure in our lives is the flourishing Soviet woman. In truth, this figure was the great force that came out of the first Five Year Plan and immortalised itself through heroic acts during the Great War. Representations of such women did not exist in the art of the past, since they were born out of the great flame of the October Revolution.’ (quoted in S.Razumovskaya, Serafima Vasilievna Ryangina, Moscow, 1957, p.49).

Published as a postcard by Izobrazitelnoe Iskusstvo in 1933 (fig.4), Student Excursion to the Baltic Shipyard is one of the few works from Ryangina's early career to remain in private hands.

Art of the Soviet Union

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London