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Terror and Art

Author: Joy Neumeyer

Mar/Apr 2014
Page 28   ( 8 pages)

Summary: A witness to the turning point that was Patriarch Tikhon’s funeral, artist Pavel Korin devoted the rest of his life to putting it on canvas.


April 12, 1925 – It was twilight when the procession began. Almost 50,000 people were massed inside the solid pink walls of Donskoy Monastery. They stood with candles, crying and singing beneath a clear violet sky. Along the far side of the wall, the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church were walking with the casket of Patriarch Tikhon, the last, great defender of the Church against Bolshevik rule.

The artist Pavel Korin observed the procession from the crowd. Near him a group of beggars were singing “a strange, ancient melody.” An adolescent boy's “wild, piercing alto” howled from his “pointed, wolflike face.” Korin would never forget the words he sang: “We lift our hearts on spears.”

Korin picked up his sketchpad and began to draw.

As Korin watched Tikhon's haunting farewell, he decided to create a monumental canvas, the likes of which had not been seen since Vasily Surikov's epic Boyarina Morozova of the 1880s. Like Surikov, who depicted the schism of the seventeenth century, Korin planned to frame Tikhon's funeral as a greater moment in the Church's history: the final act before its destruction. The painting was to be called Requiem.

In a time of church closures and mass repressions, Korin managed to compose a monumental ode to Orthodoxy, and stay alive. Through the darkest years of Stalin's Terror, Korin produced dozens of different oil portraits in preparation for the work. He continued working on the painting off and on until his death in 1967.

But Korin's masterpiece was never finished; he never even touched a paintbrush to the 40-square-meter canvas. For decades, it stood empty in his studio, as one observer put it, “like a tomb.”

Korin's complete Requiem portraits, and many of his drawings, are now on display at the State Tretyakov Gallery for the first time. After languishing for decades in Korin's studio-turned-house museum, they have been returned to their original condition by Tretyakov restorers. The exhibition, titled “Requiem: Towards a History of The Passing of Rus,” seeks to cement the work's rightful place in Russian art. It presents Requiem not simply as an unrealized dream, but as an ode, an inspiration, and a daring act of remembrance.

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