The deserter
1990 - 1992

Conceived as a pair, this powerful diptych explores the theme of patriotic duty. The husband and wife are divided physically by the sheet and also metaphorically by an emotional rift. The stern expression of the soldier's wife seems to indicate her displeasure at her husband's desertion. Equally, however, it may signify a dignified acceptance of the grim reality of the situation. Her husband seems to sink under the weight of his shame, head bowed and a rucksack which seems to weigh down his soul. The man seems caught in a moment of confusion, as if unsure whether to kneel and pray for his forgiveness or rise to his feet having received it.


Oil on canvas


200 × 120 cm; 78¾ × 47¼ in.

Gely Mikhailovich Korzhev
1925 - 2012

​As early as the 1960s, the paintings of Korzhev – People's Artist of the USSR, laureate of the country's State Prizes, full member of the USSR Academy of Arts, and one of the distinguished masters of the Soviet and Russian school of painting – stood out among the works of his generation of artists. In his works, Korzhev asserted the moral and ethical principles he held to be true, traditional, and as his subjects he chose real people, their existence in time, their experience of their world.

The Great Patriotic War (World War II), coinciding with Korzhev's youth, became a formative event of his life and art. In July 1941 he turned sixteen and having completed his 'Voroshilov Marksmen' training, resolved to go to the front. It was only after persistent pleas from his teachers at the Moscow Special School of Art that Korzhev agreed to be evacuated to the village of Voskresenskoe along with other students of the School. He would remember his three years there for the rest of his life as a time of hardship and hunger, but also extraordinarily exciting intense learning and early achievement. It was during this time of war that the artist's core 'imperative' and romantic ideas were formed, to do with the necessity of fighting for life, man's moral strength and resilience in the face of death.