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Poster, On the Eve of the World Revolution

This is a Poster. It is dated 1920 and we acquired it in 2014. Its medium is lithograph on paper. It is a part of the Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design department.

The huge figures dominating the composition of this Soviet poster stand as grotesque monuments to Russia’s imperial past. They are identified on pedestals as priest, tsar, and bourgeoisie—all cruel oppressors in the eyes of the new Soviet regime. Their rough-hewn faces crudely caricature the elegant, ostentatious sculptures of past tsars, and they tower over two naturalistically rendered everymen. Undaunted, these men reject the authority of the rulers, and set fire to them. Like many other posters designed in 1920, this anonymous work commemorates the third anniversary of the Russian Revolution. That year, the state press produced more than four times the number of posters printed in 1919. This aggressive print campaign was intended to reactivate public patriotism. As White Guardsmen and invading Poles threatened to destabilize the Bolshevik leadership, posters like this intended to revive faith in the Party cause, and remind viewers of their common enemy.
The enemies in this poster are not specific individuals, but ideological symbols, identifiable only by attributes like a bag of rubles or a royal crown. Just as the designer abstracts specific people into social categories, he reduces their bodies into fundamental shapes. The strategy reflects a mainstream embrace of visual abstraction, itself a recent development. This poster’s menacing lineup of priest, tsar, and bourgeoisie adapts an established motif, first depicted in a 1918 poster. The same trio appears in the earlier poster, but their likenesses are far more realistic. The three figures were villainized in many subsequent posters, though the manner of their representation evolved to suit artistic trends. While the tsar in the first iteration is recognizably Nicholas II, by 1920, he is shown here as a generic figurehead. Such changes are consistent with a growing trend toward allegory in Soviet posters. Whereas most posters printed in 1920 depicted military efforts, this scene shows a battle between good and evil in broader terms. Here, the idealized bodies of the proletarians offset the abstract, angular bulk of their foes, establishing stylistic tensions which would play out over the next decade of Soviet design.

This object was featured in our Object of the Week series in a post titled Toppling Monumental Foes.

This object was donated by Merrill Berman. It is credited Gift of Merrill C. Berman in honor of Ellen Lupton.

Its dimensions are

101.9 × 67 cm (40 1/8 × 26 3/8 in.)

Cite this object as

Poster, On the Eve of the World Revolution; Russia; lithograph on paper; 101.9 × 67 cm (40 1/8 × 26 3/8 in.); Gift of Merrill C. Berman in honor of Ellen Lupton; 2014-20-6

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If you would like to cite this object in a Wikipedia article please use the following template:

<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url= |title=Poster, On the Eve of the World Revolution |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=6 October 2022 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>