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Monday, March 10, 2014

Ilya Glazunov

Copyright, Jim Lane
St. Petersburg (Leningrad) 2010
In the spring of 2010 my wife and I visited St. Petersburg, Russia. As Russian cities go, it's one of the more attractive and interesting places in that vast country to visit. That was not the case some sixty-eight years earlier when St. Petersburg, then called Leningrad, was besieged by the Nazi army for some twenty-nine months from September, 1941, until January, 1943, when the Soviet army managed to open a single thoroughfare into the city. The Siege was not fully lifted until January, 1944, a total of 872 days. It turned out to have been the most lethal siege in the history of warfare. As many as 1.5-million military and civilian casualties were recorded while 1.4-million (mostly women and children) were evacuated over what came to be called "The Road of Life," a single winter road across the ice of Lake Ladoga. Many of those evacuated died along the way. One who didn't was an eleven-year-old boy named Ilya Glazunov. The rest of his family weren't so fortunate. They died of starvation.

Diorama, Siege of Leningrad, 1941-45
(not by Glazunov)
Ilya Glazunov Self-portrait (detail), 1986.
He often includes his family in his paintings.
Indira Gandhi, 1987,
Ilya Glazunov
After the war, Ilya returned to Leningrad to complete his schooling and begin studying art. He finished his studies in 1957, married his childhood sweetheart, and began a career as a portrait painter. He traveled to Italy, painting portraits of Gina Lollobrigida, Anita Ekberg, and Indira Gandhi (above, right) among others. Then, in 1978 he returned to the Soviet Union to teach at the Moscow University of Art. His two children, Ivan and Vera have both become artists. In the years that followed, Glazunov won numerous awards including "The People's Painter of the USSR." One of his major undertakings was the illustration of Fyodor Dostoyevsky Brothers Karamazov. His triptych of The Grand Inquisitor (below) is among his best efforts.

"In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the light on the table and speaks. 'Is it Thou?'"
--Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
 PART II ,   Book V,    Chapter 5 ,
 "The Grand Inquisitor"

The Grand Inquisitor, 1983, (left panel), Ilya Glazunov
Golgotha, (central panel), 1983, Ilya Glazunov
Dostoyevsky, Night, 1986, Ilya Glazunov
In 1990, Glazunov completed the mural-size The Great Experiment (below), comprising virtually the entire history of the Soviet Union in one painting. It's a harsh, unforgiving indictment of the Communist movement and indeed, the entirety of 20th century Russian history. The painting was well received. The Soviet Union, however, was not. It ceased to exist on December 26, 1991.

The Great Experiment, 1990, Ilya Glazunov. His timing could hardly have been worse.


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