CREES Noon Lecture. “Stalin’s Export of Art, Andrew Mellon, and the National Art Gallery in Washington.”
In the 1930s, to aid Soviet industrialization the Stalinist leadership sold antiques and art abroad literally by the thousands of tons. It was unfortunate for the USSR that the most active period in the art export coincided with the world economic crisis. Market prices, including those for art, dropped drastically. To fulfill its “currency targets” the Soviet government had to shift from the export of ordinary antiques to masterpieces, including major works of art from the Hermitage. The masterpieces sold by the Soviet government to finance industrialization became important holdings of many world famous museums. This talk will explore the impact that Stalin’s art export had on building the core of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the role of the United States Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew W. Mellon, who became one of the most famous buyers of art from the Soviet museums.
Elena A. Osokina, professor of Russian history at the University of South Carolina, received her Ph.D. from the Department of History at Moscow University, Russia. She is the author of Gold for Industrialization: Torgsin (Rosspen, 2009, in Russian), Our Daily Bread: Socialist Distribution and the Art of Survival in Stalin’s Russia, 1927-1941 (M.E. Sharpe, 2001), Hierarchy of Consumption: Life under the Stalinist Rationing System, 1928-1935 (MGOU, 1993, in Russian), and numerous articles on Russian and Soviet social and economic history. She is currently engaged in a research project, “Rembrandts for Tractors,” that explores the social, economic and cultural effects of the Soviet mass art exports under Stalin to finance Soviet industrialization. Osokina is a recipient of the fellowships from the Kennan Institute-Woodrow Wilson Center, NEH, Fulbright, National Gallery of Art, Hoover Institution, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (Paris), Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian Studies, Aleksanteri Institute (Helsinki), and others.