1910-11 by Mikhail Larionov
‘From Russia’, Royal Academy of Arts; permanently at Tretyakov Gallery
Smoking Solider was in the exhibition ‘From Russia’ at the Royal Academy. The exhibition was potent in its ability to demonstrate the huge variation of pictures that were painted in Russia across the nineteenth and twentieth-century, often forgotten amongst the wealth of European art. The painting is hugely topical; its Communist solider dominates the canvas, red cuffs and hat are the first details we notice. The jaunted angle of his head is slightly unsettling and we are left with the feeling that not only are we watching the solider, but the soldier is watching us. He stares, head cocked and smoking nonchalantly, no doubt an every day scene in early twentieth-century Russia. Smoking Solider perfectly encapsulates the marriage of stylistic influence upon Russia with its own heritage; the solider’s large hands and face recalling native painting, while the distinct crowding of Cubism surrounds him. The background could be one of Braque’s own, the brown and green tessellating shapes providing the busy-ness and reality of the world that lies behind — the coming of an unsettled Russian history.