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).

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