Yuri Pimenov (1903-1977) had participated in the experimental period of Soviet Art during the New Economic Period, but decided with others to bring back the figurative and the canvas in the style of the Society of the Easel Painters.
A lot seems to be going on in the painting. At first glance, the picture reminds one of New York, as if it were based on a Bernice Abbott photograph. It is a young woman at the wheel. She is driving directly towards the newly constructed buildings (we do not see these monuments to Stalin in full). She is emancipated and young—having the freshness and ease of her counterpart in the capitalist world. However it was only flappers and modern women in the US that took the wheel in the 1920s and 1930s; the norm was to become a housewife.
Someone is in love with her; because there is a red carnation next to the side window. This is Soviet iconography. The red carnation is the symbol of socialism, and this motif is repeated in the pattern on her dress and in the red flags on the Union building straight ahead. The cars look like Fords.
They might be, but the convertible she is driving and most of the cars belong to the latest Soviet versions of Western automobiles. There were not many of these cars around—not many could afford them. If we look closely we see that most of the women in the painting are dressed as if they are going to see a show on Broadway. In other words, they are not peasants or workers. We get the feeling that the driver is on her way to the theatre, and this interpretation is not too far-fetched as Pimenov loved to do posters for the theatre, often for foreign plays.
This painting forty-five years after Levitan’s is telling of the incredible changes that had undergone in Russia. She is driving to Moscow as the site for salvation. In Levitan’s landscape the woman is leaving Moscow on the way to Siberia. Pimenov’s painting is a celebration of the city and the worker.
Those Soviet skyscrapers were built on the land of churches. The young, emancipated woman will drive past the Union building with the red flags and the statue of Stalin or Lenin. Stalinism was the new religion. The heroes of the realists, upon which they based their Christ in the wilderness, were now the enemies of the Stalinist state.
Many peasants and small hold farmers, the Kulaks, were killed in 1934 as the State moved toward total collectivization. In addition, nice as this city painting is, tens of millions were killed in the purges, and more to die as a result of collectivization of agricultural practices.
She may be the grand-daughter of the peasant woman on the way to Siberia, but it is tragedy behind her. Both Levitan and Pimenov faced censorship and restrictions. The latter however was able to travel and paint much of what he liked, as long as he painted Socialist Realist paintings once in awhile. One feels he did not really have his heart in these.
Images via http://art.mirtesen.ru/blog/43068747876/YUriy-Pimenov