March 04, 2021

Lesser-Known Art of the Siege of Leningrad On Display


Lesser-Known Art of the Siege of Leningrad On Display
Anti-aircraft guns deployed in front of St. Isaac's Cathedral in Leningrad, 1941. Wikimedia Commons, The Eastern Front in Photographs, John and Ljubica Erickson

Yelena Oskarovna Marttila had just reached adulthood when the Blockade of Leningrad descended. As a student at the Leningrad Art School, she sketched the blockade winter, a city covered in snow, and bombed buildings filled with people with emaciated faces.

Her drawings are on display at the State Memorial Museum of the Defense and Siege of Leningrad in St. Petersburg, in an exhibit called "On the Road to Tavricheskaya." Marttila's art institute was on Tavricheskaya Street, and she elegantly sketched her daily route in a war zone. The exhibit is on until March 31, 2021.

According to the museum, one of the best works of art on exhibit is Marttila's self-portrait; she eerily drew it with the assumption that she would not live to see the next day and wanted her image to survive. However, she was evacuated from the city in April 1942.

Marttila's work is featured along with two other artists in a new book, Unofficial Art of World War II: Yelena Marttila, Pavel Afonin, and Sergei BabkovWhat makes their work unofficial is that they were not employed by the state and did not see the war through the lens of government tasks and propaganda imperatives. The two male artists were soldiers on the front, while Marttila captured city life during the siege. Most of the images in the book have never before been published.

Special thanks to Russian Life contributor, translator Robert Chandler, for sharing this story. We bet you had not heard of Marttila before this, since she does not even have an English-language Wikipedia page; only Russian and Finnish (her father was Finnish).

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

The Moscow Eccentric

The Moscow Eccentric

Advance reviewers are calling this new translation "a coup" and "a remarkable achievement." This rediscovered gem of a novel by one of Russia's finest writers explores some of the thorniest issues of the early twentieth century.
Moscow and Muscovites

Moscow and Muscovites

Vladimir Gilyarovsky's classic portrait of the Russian capital is one of Russians’ most beloved books. Yet it has never before been translated into English. Until now! It is a spectactular verbal pastiche: conversation, from gutter gibberish to the drawing room; oratory, from illiterates to aristocrats; prose, from boilerplate to Tolstoy; poetry, from earthy humor to Pushkin. 
Woe From Wit (bilingual)

Woe From Wit (bilingual)

One of the most famous works of Russian literature, the four-act comedy in verse Woe from Wit skewers staid, nineteenth century Russian society, and it positively teems with “winged phrases” that are essential colloquialisms for students of Russian and Russian culture.
The Latchkey Murders

The Latchkey Murders

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin is back on the case in this prequel to the popular mystery Murder at the Dacha, in which a serial killer is on the loose in Khrushchev’s Moscow...
Fearful Majesty

Fearful Majesty

This acclaimed biography of one of Russia’s most important and tyrannical rulers is not only a rich, readable biography, it is also surprisingly timely, revealing how many of the issues Russia faces today have their roots in Ivan’s reign.
White Magic

White Magic

The thirteen tales in this volume – all written by Russian émigrés, writers who fled their native country in the early twentieth century – contain a fair dose of magic and mysticism, of terror and the supernatural. There are Petersburg revenants, grief-stricken avengers, Lithuanian vampires, flying skeletons, murders and duels, and even a ghostly Edgar Allen Poe.
Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.
Driving Down Russia's Spine

Driving Down Russia's Spine

The story of the epic Spine of Russia trip, intertwining fascinating subject profiles with digressions into historical and cultural themes relevant to understanding modern Russia. 
Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod is a mid-sized provincial city that exists only in Russian metaphorical space. It has its roots in Gogol, and Ilf and Petrov, and is a place far from Moscow, but close to Russian hearts. It is a place of mystery and normality, of provincial innocence and Black Earth wisdom. Strange, inexplicable things happen in Stargorod. So do good things. And bad things. A lot like life everywhere, one might say. Only with a heavy dose of vodka, longing and mystery.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Our Contacts

Russian Life
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567

800-639-4301
802-223-4955