Monday, April 10, 2017
Marches, rallies, lines, and battles in the streets of Moscow in the artwork and recollections of schoolchildren in 1917.
In 1919, Vasily Voronov, a scholar and graphic arts teacher, donated to the Russian Historical Museum a collection of children’s artwork on the First World War and the Revolution. Voronov had taught from 1906 at Ivan Alexandov’s non-classical secondary school in Moscow, and from 1910, also in the Lomonosov Preparatory School for Boys. In 1914 he began collecting children’s art about the war, adding drawings about the Revolution three years later.
The Voronov Collection contains artwork by boys from seven to 13 years of age—older kindergartners and pupils in the lower grades of specialized and regular secondary schools in Moscow. Most were done by his own pupils. Almost all of the pieces, Voronov himself tells us, were done at home, as a free choice assignment, with no assistance or guidance from a teacher, and were influenced only by what the city was seeing and feeling in the years of war and revolution.
In 1917, Voronov also began to collect children’s texts on what was happening at that time. He published some of them in 1927, to mark the ten-year anniversary of the February and October revolutions. Like those of most of the artists, the authors’ names are unknown.
Note: In all the quotes, the original spelling and punctuation has been retained.
“The Russian people didn’t like Tsar Nicholas II and they got the idea of replacing him. The tsar did what the people wanted and gave up the throne. Once they were free, the people started robbing and killing each other.”
“It was spring. People started getting upset and mayd a revolution.”
“During the war a commotion started in Moscow and one day when I was out for a walk with grandma and came home I found out that our lord and master had been chaised off the throne. When I sat down to tea, suddenly outside our window there wuz a racket, I saw a big crowd of workers.”
This piece shows the baroque arches of the triumphal Red Gates and the bell tower of the Church of the Three Sanctifiers (both demolished in 1927).
“On March 1 under the leadership of students tsarism was overthrown and in its place came the provisional Government. But it soon brought Russia to rack and ruing.”
“Soon the march came by, it was very big and magnifisent. They carried red banners trimmed with gold cord. Every mann or woman had a red band on. At thatt time I was taken over by a joyful feeling of love for everyone.”
This is one of the many demonstrations in the summer of 1917. Only the first letters of the words in the placard slogans are given, including “DZSDRP,” which stands for “Long Live the Social Democratic Workers’ Party”; “DZDR”—“Long Live Democratic Russia”; and “PVSS”—“Proletarians of All Countries, Unite.”
“As soon as the Revolution began, I could not stay home. And I was drawn to the streets. All the folks were going to Red Square, where students were making speeches down by the duma. Everybody was in a joyfull mood. Trucks with soldiers holding guns were driving down the streets.”
This shows one of the rallies held in the summer of 1917. The Pushkin monument is in its original location, where Tverskaya Boulevard gives onto Pushkin Square (in 1950 it was moved to the other side of the square).
“Under the tsar there wasn’t enough bread, but naw there’s even less. In September they started giving out a quarter-funt* [less than four ounces] each, and in some places they aren’t giving any.”
Thousands of Muscovites have gathered on Theater Square to protest the Moscow State Conference. It was called by the Provisional Government, was held in the Bolshoi Theater on August 12 – 15, 1917, and was chaired by Alexander Kerensky. Among the red banners is a black one, carried by anarchists. In the foreground is a red placard held by employees of the Sortirovochnaya Railroad Depot, which reads “Long Live the Democratic Republic!”
Lines (“tails” as they were known) became a hallmark of late 1916 and early 1917.
The food supply crisis primarily affected the large towns and cities, and for children, this was the first sign that things were not going well.
“The people divided up into a lot of parties, there were Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. The Mensheviks were landowners and rich people, but the Bolsheviks were the people, the workers, and the craftsmen and the peasants.”
This piece shows a Bolshevik going to a pre-election rally. He is carrying a flag showing the number five, which was the number of the Lenin-led Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (the Bolshevik Party) on the list of parties eligible to run for election to the Constituent Assembly.
“Now we’re getting to know just who is the bourgeois are.”
A Bolshevik and a Menshevik are facing off. The tiny Menshevik has on an expensive fur coat; the huge Bolshevik is wearing a leather jacket, trousers with multicolored patches, and felt boots, and he is armed.
“When I cam home I started drawing people going down the street with flags, and I drew a bunch of Red Flags, 14 of them. My father asked me when he cam, What are you doing? I told him I am drawing the Revolution!”
There was fierce fighting on Moscow’s Theater Square in October 1917. This pieces shows a green armored car inscribed with “S.R. i S.D.,” which stands for “Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.”
“One time I was walking across Sukharev Square and saw baricades, I didnt know what was going on. When I got home, I asked my mother, but she didnt know nothing too. In the evening when I was sitting and doing my lessons, we heard shots and then I knew it was the Revolution.”
“I had binoculars and was watching them through the window, shooting with a machine gun. For days and days it was dangerous to go out of the building, and we couldn’t get bread, we ate potatoes for four days. At night we slept in our close, and dad and the other men who live in our building took turns keeping watch with revolvers in the courtyard.”
The Kremlin is shown from Red Square. Projectiles are flying over the crenellated wall, and the St. Nicholas Tower shows gaping holes.
“Because our building stands on the corner of Myasnikskaya Street and Yushkov Lane, they were shooting from both sides along our building. A Bolshevik machine gun stood at our gate. Once we went out into the courtyard but suddenly they started shooting like mad and we went home. A bullet hit the window below our apartment. I went to look at it.”
“On Monday they are still shooting, my mom was standing by the window and nitting a stocking and as soon as she went away, a bullet hit our window but it didn’t come into the room, because it just broke the outside glass and stayed there on the window sill.”
“When they declared a truce, I ran to the center with two pals to see what the Bolsheviks and the junkers had won. We seen a lot of buildings shot up, with their large windows smashed to pieces and some buildings were burned right down. Folks were walking everywhere not abit bothered and they were all talking about how the Moscow war was going.”
“It was a lot of fun during the Rivolushun. And I won’t never forget the Russian Rivolushun.”
Members of the Red Guard who had died in the battles of the Revolution were buried in Moscow on November 10, 1917, with a total of 238 coffins being lowered into graves on Red Square. Two communal graves were dug along the Kremlin wall, on either side of the Senate Tower.
“The Bolsheviks did not hold funerals for the victims but they made speeches and music played and folks walked with red banners and ribbons. Before, I went to Red Squair to see them digging a grave and lining it with boards. Folks were arguing everywhere and some were cursing.”
From April 19 through June 19, 2017, the State Historical Museum will hold an exhibition titled “I Am Drawing the Revolution: Children’s Artwork During the Great Russian Revolution from the Collection of the State Historical Museum.” The exhibition will consist of children’s artwork, photographs of revolutionary Moscow, rare placards from 1917, and documented eyewitness accounts.
V. Voronov, “The October Revolution in Children’s Notes,” Vestnik prosveshcheniia, No. 12, 1927.
V. Voronov, “The February Revolution in Children’s Notes,” Vestnik prosveshcheniia, No. 3, 1927.
N.N. Goncharov, Moscow, 1917. The Artwork of Children Eyewitnesses. From a Collection Held in the State Historical Museum (Moscow, 1987).
Scholarly and Institutional Archive, Department of Written Sources, the State Historical Museum, op. 1, d. 154.
Department of Manuscripts and Scholarly Documentation, All-Russia Museum of Decorative, Applied, and Folk Art, f. 4, op. 1.
Take the Political Compass of the Revolution test and find out who you would have been 100 years ago – an Anarchist, a Cadet, a Right SR, a Bolshevik or a member of the Black Hundreds.
Translation of this article into English and its publication here and on the Arzamas Academy site is part of a collaboration between Russian Life magazine and Arzamas Academy. To read the original article in Russian, jump over here.
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