Art Term

Socialist realism

A form of modern realism imposed in Russia by Stalin following his rise to power after the death of Lenin in 1924, characterised in painting by rigorously optimistic pictures of Soviet life painted in a realist style

Renato Guttuso, ‘Sulphur Miners’ 1949
Renato Guttuso
Sulphur Miners 1949
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© DACS, 2017

Sorry, no image available

Renato Guttuso
The Discussion 1959–60
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André Fougeron, ‘Martyred Spain’ 1937
André Fougeron
Martyred Spain 1937
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© The estate of the André Fougeron

The doctrine was formally proclaimed by Maxim Gorky at the Soviet Writers Congress of 1934, although not precisely defined. In practice, in painting it meant using realist styles to create highly optimistic depictions of Soviet life. Any pessimistic or critical element was banned, and this is the crucial difference from social realism. It was quite simply propaganda art, and has an ironic resemblance to the Fascist realism imposed by Hitler in Germany (see Entartete Kunst – degenerate art).

Outside the Soviet Union, socialist artists produced much freer interpretations of the genre as the paintings on this page illustrate.