Manifesto of 17 October 1905, painted in 1911 by Ilya Repin, is just one of a host of rarely seen Russian masterpieces being exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art in London from this Saturday.
The scene shows crowds celebrating a proclamation issued reluctantly by Tsar Nicholas II in response to the 1905 revolutionary uprising against him. It promised basic civil rights such as freedom of speech, universal male suffrage and a limited form of parliamentary democracy.
The tsar’s “manifesto” split the opposition against him. The liberal Kadet party celebrated it as a victory, but socialists warned that the concessions were cosmetic, and that ultimate power remained in the tsar’s hands. The socialists were soon proved right.
Repin is considered the greatest of the Russian realist school of painting that arose in the late 19th century. Many of his works depict scenes from Russian life documenting both the everyday lives of peasants and the political turmoil of the times.
His painting of October 1905 captures the political ambiguities of the period. Does it celebrate the crowd’s revolutionary spirit, or endorse its patriotic fervour?
In fact Repin disapproved of the successful 1917 revolutions that overthrew the tsar and he spent his remaining days in Finland. His realist style fell out of favour with a new wave of artists that explicitly aligned themselves with Bolshevism and modernism.
From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870‑1925
opens on Saturday 26 January and runs until 18 April. For more details go to » www.royalacademy.org.uk