Art Around the World

Stalin’s Descendants Turn to the Arts

By Tom Gross, September 12, 2000

In an unlikely, historical twist of fate, the descendants of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin are making their mark in the arts.

Stalin banned, persecuted and even killed artists who wouldn’t conform to the strict guidelines laid down by his regime. At a time when Western art was in a ferment of experiment and innovation, Soviet painters were supposed to confine themselves to the visual cliches of Social Realism.

This makes it all the more ironic that several of Stalin’s great-grandchildren are winning international recognition as artists, in a world of cultural values he condemned. One is a filmmaker, one a poet, and the one who is achieving the greatest international prominence, Jacob Dzhugashivili, is a painter.

Dzhugashivili who like Stalin grew up in the former Soviet republic of Georgia is being acclaimed for his new exhibition of oils that has just opened at London’s 27 Cork Street Gallery as part of the Visual Arts Georgia Exhibition.

The 28 year-old Dzhugashivili had tried to keep his infamous family heritage secret while he was studying at the Academy of Fine Art in Georgia and the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. However, he now acknowledges that some of those who are buying his work are as interested in the name at the bottom of the canvas as in the paintings themselves.

His great-grandfather was born Joseph Dzhugashivili, but changed his name to Stalin, which means “man of steel.”

In spite of Stalin’s tremendous crimes against humanity, which included the deaths of tens of millions of his fellow countrymen, the young Dzhugashivili defends Stalin, whom he calls “a truly great man, whom it is too soon to judge.”

But he says Stalin does not inspire his art, and that Francis Bacon, the late famous British painter, is the one who has made the greatest artistic impact. Ironically, much of Bacon’s work has surrealist aspects and homosexual references, exactly what Stalin would have burnt.

Article copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.