Sunday, March 26, 2006

Yes, Prime Minister, and Putin's Pines in the Rye


Jim, the Prime Minister, was struggling with his first television address. His advisers told him to use Stravinsky's music and put an abstract painting in the background if he had little to say...

I remembered this when I saw a photo of Russia's President Putin, sitting pensively with a painting dear to every Russian heart, 'The Rye' by Ivan Shishkin behind him on his right, and the Presidential Standard on his left.

It is fascinating to see how an old landscape could still be used as a sophisticated
tool of political propaganda. While the Literary Gazette ("Литературная газета"), a shadow of
what it was in the 60-s and 70-s, provided no text for the photo, placing it alongside an analysis of the results of a presidential election) the message is

Shishkin ('The Rye', 1878, oil on canvas, 187 cm x 107 cm) was one of the best landscape artist of the 19th Century. To Russian painters art has been often a means
of expressing their political and ethical views. Shishkin's landscapes shine with powerful patriotism, an unequivocal belief in the strength of the country and the people. And generations of Russians, like myself, grew up associating Shishkin's art with exactly that. The endless sea of golden rye ready for happy harvest and the mighty pine trees standing like sentries guarding it, with a farm track winding through the plentiful fields, leading somewhere, where there is peace and everything is clear and safe, — this is, supposedly, the subtle symbol of Putin's presidency, that his team, his own Sir Humphrey, are trying to

There is also, I think, a secondary, less obvious, allusion to the military, specifically
the naval might, that the President is trying to associate himself with: the mighty pines in a Northern Russian woodland, in another famous painting by Shishkin, 'The Mast Forest', are shown as the building material for the navy. Over the years the two paintings have blended into one unified image.

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