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

Boris Taslitzky, ‘The Strikes of June 1936’ 1936
Boris Taslitzky
The Strikes of June 1936 1936
Tate
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2017

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.

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