The first UK exhibition dedicated to one of Russia's most acclaimed artists will provide a fresh perspective on an important period of Soviet art

The UK's first exhibition entirely dedicated to Viktor Popkov, one of Russia's most acclaimed artists, will be hosted at Somerset House as part of the UK-Russia Year of Culture. The exhibition will provide an exceptional vision of an often-overlooked period of Soviet art that consists of much more than the stereotyped expressions of propaganda. Popkov's evocative and expressive artwork showcases the complex relationship of citizen with his country at a tense point in its history. Viktor Popkov: Genius of the Russian Soul will be enhanced by the addition of an extraordinary selection of photographs by Igor Palmin who had unique and very intimate access to the artistic community of that time.

The exhibition, which will be held in Somerset House's West Wing, is organized by the State Museum and Exhibition Centre ROSIZO in Moscow with support by the Filatov Family Art Fund. This is a collaborative effort between British and Russian museums and supporters to provide new audiences with insight into a key individual and non-conformist of the 20th century Soviet art scene. Contributions from the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, the Russian Museum in St Petersburg and regional museums as well as from the collection of the Filatov Family Art Fund bring together for the first time 40 significant Popkov paintings. This important exhibition is also supported by the Science Museum in London.

Popkov's enormous talent was recognised in both Russia and the West. In 1967 he won a Diploma of Honour at the Paris Biennale and in 1975 was awarded, posthumously, the State Prize of the USSR. Popkov was born into the artistic era of Social Realism but refused to be limited by Soviet ideology. He came to be one of the foremost proponents of the 'Severe', a style of painting which combined the formal elements of Social Realism with a greater degree of hope which Popkov, and others of his generation, felt for Russia in the wake of Stalin's death and Krushchev's release of prisoners from Gulag labour camps.

The era promised a greater freedom of artistic and personal expression and Popkov created a diverse set of works which dealt with emotional issues of loneliness, vulnerability, fear of death, relationships and the identity of the artist. This humanity and personal artistic vision of the world will provide a refreshing perspective of Russian art to a western audience more familiar with the propagandist works of the Soviet era.

The exhibition will include some of Popkov's Severe Style masterpieces including Spring at the Depot (1958) and The Builders of Bratsk (1960-61) as well many of his works produced during his travels to the Mezen area of Russia and a significant number of self-portraits, including Father's Overcoat (1970-72).

The complex historical context will be recreated through the lens of Igor Palmin, whose accompanying photos will provide the viewer with an understanding of the social and cultural backdrop that influenced the artist. An unofficial chronicler of Soviet life, his access to the inner circle of non-conformist artists in Moscow enabled him to capture the atmosphere and setting of their time.

This exhibition was first shown in December at the Academy of Arts in Moscow before travelling to Venice where it was displayed at Ca' Foscari Esposizioni in February. The London exhibition, marking the UK-Russia Year of Culture, recreates this unique opportunity allowing art lovers in the UK and international visitors to London to appreciate Popkov's oeuvre.

Dates: 22 May - 18 June 2014

Address: West Wing, Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 1LA

Transport: Temple, Embankment; Charing Cross, Waterloo


Viktor Efimovich Popkov (1932 - 1974) was a famous Russian painter, graphic artist, portraitist, landscape and genre painter who won the Grand Prix at the Paris Biennale in 1967, becoming one of the most celebrated Soviet artists of his time. He started his career during Nikita Khrushev's Cold War "Thaw" and was commissioned in the 1950s and 1960s to travel extensively around the country, visiting ambitious Soviet construction sites. His life was abruptly ended by a tragic accident in 1974 when he was mistakenly shot dead by the driver of an armoured cash transport car. In 1975 he was posthumously awarded The State Prize of the USSR.

Somerset House is a spectacular neo-classical building in the heart of London, sitting between the Strand and the River Thames. Since opening to the public in 2000, Somerset House has produced a distinctive public programme that annually draws over 2.5 million visitors to the site, providing a stimulating environment for exploration and relaxation. The varied, year-round programme includes an open-air film and concert season and ice rink, as well as temporary exhibitions focusing on contemporary fashion, design, art and architecture, family workshops and free guided tours. Since September 2009, Somerset House has been the new home of London Fashion Week.

The Science Museum's world-class collection forms an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical achievements from across the globe. Welcoming over 3 million visitors a year, the Museum aims to make sense of the science that shapes our lives, inspiring visitors with iconic objects, award-winning exhibitions and incredible stories of scientific achievement.

State Museum and Exhibition Centre ROSIZO was created under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1959. It is a professional organisation specializing in the implementation of diverse and complex exhibition programmes of the Ministry of Culture of Russia, and of numerous customers, including government and commercial bodies. Within the framework of its activity ROSIZO offers a full set of exhibition services, ranging from concept development and artwork selection to framing. In the last decade, ROSIZO has organized over 600 exhibitions in Russia and abroad.