When we think of propaganda art, images of Soviet Stakhanovites furiously exceeding their production quotas, heroic tractor drivers on their mighty machines, and fresh-faced collective farm girls in abundant wheat fields fill the mind. Above it all rules Stalin, the Man of Steel, who comes in two basic versions: as the unshakable defender of Mother Russia against fascism, or as the bountiful father of the nation, whichever suits the occasion.

F. S. Shurkin’s Morning of our Fatherland from 1948 has it all: Stalin—the man who had dismissed the famine of 1932–33 as just a minor bureaucratic foul-up by a few overeager officials who were “dizzy with success”—positively glows with benevolence as he surveys the landscape, while the combine harvesters whir and the power lines sing. About the portrait, the wonderfully sycophantic artist...


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