Tuesday, 17 December 2013

цари воздухе: In the Air

The last two posts have been pretty sombre, so now, as one French pilot (Bernard Lafont of V220) remarked, 'I need to get flying and feel the chill of the slipstream'. Slipping the surly bonds of earth, therefore, here is some of the aviation art of the Soviet artist Alexander Alexandrovich Deineka (1899-1969).

Deineka was born in Kursk, the son of a railway worker.After the Revolution, he went to study in Moscow. There, his first works were in the heroic socialist style, but by the early 1930s had begun creating more 'conventional' landscapes and portraits. During the 1930s, he became increasingly interested in aviation as an expression of the modern world.

During the Second World War, he served as a war artist, creating works that showed the victorious advance into Germany. After the war, most of his work was in mosaics.

A cover for issue 6 of the the magazine Daesh of 1929, one of his first pieces of aviation art. Are those Fairey Foxes?? The light bomber only ever equipped one squadron of the RAF, but certainly look streamlined and modern, which is perhaps what the artist was looking for. The type only served until 1931, when it was replaced by the Hawker Hart; it also equipped the Belgian and Peruvian air forces. He later repeated the motif of parachutists and biplanes in an illustration of a projected children's book.
В воздухе - 'In the air' (1932); in the A.A. Deineka Gallery, Kursk. At first glance this looks like Man Dwarfed By Nature, but could equally be Man Determined To Conquer Nature. I have no idea where these craggy peaks are - they have a look of the Caucasus, but that's hardly a Holmesian deduction. Neither can I identify the aircraft with any certainty. It resembles a Tupolev TB-3 (see the next picture), but looks more streamlined, the tail is wrong, and the plane has no visible means of propulsion. The TB-3 was involved in setting new altitude records, but not until 1936. I think it may be some kind of generic plane, rather than a specific type.

Вомбовоз - 'Bomber' (1932); in the B.M. Custodiev Gallery, Astrakhan. A giant Tupolev TB-3 (the wingspan was 41.80 metres, 10 metres more than a Lancaster or B-17) comes into land. The aircraft was just coming into service when Deineka did the painting. Tupolev had spent some time with the clandestine Junkers factory outside Moscow in the early Twenties, and many of his early designs, like the TB-3, used the same corrugated metal construction. The metal used on production examples was too thick and heavy, so the aircraft itself was a bit of a slug. It saw service in Khalkin-Gol and against Finland, but had to be relegated to night work after the Nazi invasion. It remained a mainstay of the bomber force until 1943. It was also used as a mothership to two I-16 fighters in an experiment of 1941-42, but this use only increased the TB-3's vulnerability in daylight. 

Краснокрылый гигант - 'The Red-Winged Giant' (1938); State Museum of Turkmenistan. If the first painting was Man attempting to conquer nature, here he is, sailing high over clouds and mountains, with Nature duly conquered. The painting commemorates the non-stop flight from Moscow to Portland, Oregon, over the North Pole, by Valery Chkalov, co-pilot Georgy Baydukov and navigator A. Belyakov, 18-20 June 1937, in a Tupolev ANT-25.

Будущие летчики - 'The Future Pilots' (1938); in the State Tretyakov Gallery. Three boys watch a flying boat pass overhead, coming into land. The implication is that they will be inspired to become pilots. Deineka spent some time in the Crimean port of Sevastopol in the mid-30s, and the subject and setting reflect this. From his time there, he produced a number of sketches and illustrations featuring seaplanes.

Планеры в небе - 'Gliders in the sky' (1938) mosaic at Mayakovskaya underground station, Moscow. All the mosaics look upwards, as if they were skylights, following the theme '24-Hour Soviet Sky'

Перед вылетом - 'Before take-off' (1942); mosaic at the Novokuznetskaya underground station, Moscow. The theme of the decoration of the station is the Soviet fighter; not only are there mosaics, but also murals and statues on the same heroic theme.

Deineka's art is essential optimistic, even romantic. A painting like 'In the air', with its remote location and hints of the conquest of the unknown, is designed to act as a spur to the viewer to even greater achievements. 

But I think that, ultimately, Deineka was not an aviation artist, for, following the mosaics in the two metro stations, his work did not feature aircraft. So it would seem they were just a symbol, a means of expressing a wider point at that particular moment in time, one which was no longer valid after the end of the Second World War.

And if цари воздухе doesn't means Kings of the Air, then blame Google Translate, not me!

Pictures: the picture of the artist from Wikipedia; the first four pictures from www.deineka.info; the mosaics from art.liim.ru.

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