Defense of Sevastopol

Alexander Alexandrovich Deineka • Painting, 1942, 200×400 cm
About the artwork
This artwork was added since it is referred to in the materials below
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Battle scene, Historical scene
Style of art: Socialist realism
Technique: Oil
Materials: Canvas
Date of creation: 1942
Size: 200×400 cm
Artwork in selections: 43 selections

Description of the artwork «Defense of Sevastopol»

Alexander Deineka created his Defense of Sevastopol painting after he learnt the news that the Germans had broken through the defenses. In TASS, he happened to see a photograph of a bombed city from a German newspaper. Deineka loved Crimea and Sevastopol in particular, and this was a cruel blow to him. The artist later recalled: "This period of my life fell out of my consciousness, it was swallowed up by a single desire to paint a picture.”
In his painting, Deineka surprisingly combined the monumentality, almost posterity of the image with deep psychological meaning and symbolism: it seems that the defenders of the city in an incredibly snow-white uniform are fighting not only and not so much with the enemy army, but with the grey forces of evil.
Alexander Deineka travelled to the area of hostilities near Yukhnov, made many pencil sketches there, which he used in the Defense of Sevastopol. Thinking over the composition, he immediately saw the central image of a sailor with a bunch of grenades. Deineka treated nature without any reverence, mostly made nature sketches, and then he worked thoroughly in the workshop, trusting more to his imagination, memory and sketches. But in this case, it was important for him to register the central figure as accurately as possible. In wartime, it turned out to be difficult to find a man of athletic build who would agree to pose. And Deineka painted the wounded central fighter of his girlfriend, the champion in rowing.
The painting was created in 1942, when there was no question of victory, Sevastopol was given away. Therefore, Defense of Sevastopol does not reflect the historical reality, its task is to strengthen the spirit and, perhaps, predict that the defense will not be broken in the end.
In this picture, the bright, happy sea city appears as a bloody blazing glow. The faces of the Soviet sailors bear an unshakable determination to defend the city, giving their lives if need be. The figure of the fighter with a naked torso on the left side of the canvas is also half-turned, echoing the figure of the central sailor. In the middle ground, a Soviet sailor in white and a German soldier in grey-green come together in hand-to-hand combat. On the right, the canvas seems to be cut off (Deineka liked this technique generally), we do not see the rear attackers, but we see their bayonets, thus an effect of depersonalization arises, increasing the feeling that the sailors are not opposing specific invaders, but the world’s evil.
Only German soldiers are depicted dead in this painting. Deineka did not stoop to a caricatured image of the enemy, like some of his brush brothers who painted military pictures. Death is never a reason for him to kick a lifeless body. The deceased German in the foreground is depicted without any acrimony. In this sense, the Shot Down Ace picture is indicative, which was even recognized as “ideologically inappropriate”. Deineka expressed his support for his people in a different way — the heroic pathos of the canvas, the depiction of a victorious battle, although in reality victory was too far at that time.
Deineka showed his Defense of Sevastopol in the autumn of 1942 at The Great Patriotic War exhibition. Critics reproached for schematism and posterity, but they could not deny that the artist managed to embody the image of not a specific battle, but the whole confrontation, to create a symbolic image of the entire Second World War — as seen by those who defended their homeland. “I don’t know whether it’s a good picture or a bad one, but it seems that it’s real,” Deineka himself evaluated his work.
Written by Aliona Grosheva