This powerful work shows a Russian boy whose father has died in the war returning from an exam. The boy has inherited his father's coat, even though he is too small to fit it. He has also metaphorically inherited his father's responsibility to provide for the family. The family's hopes depend on him yet he returns with low marks. The mother and sister seem keenly aware of the significance whereas the boy's younger brother and his faithful dog seem oblivious to the emotional drama.
This magnificent but bleak tableau was painted in 1948. World War II had only just ended and Russia was struggling to come to terms with the loss of 29 million lives.
This work is likely to be the prime version of a composition also held by the Tretyakov Gallery. The argument for this is based on the inclusion of a painting on the wall which is an initial sketch for Arrived on holidays, painted in 1948 and awarded the Stalin Prize in 1949. In the Tretyakov Gallery's version, the background painting is a completed work and the painting dates to 1952.
Reshetnikov frequently illustrated his works within his paintings and Low marks again itself appears as a background detail in Re-examination, a later painting that depicts the same boy studying before re-sitting his examinations.
OIl on canvas
102 x 93 cm
Reshetnikov was a prominent Soviet painter who primarily worked in the Socialist Realism art genre and is also known for his caricatures. He was born in Sursko-Litovskoe, a village in modern Ukraine, to a family of an icon painter and studied in Vkhutein and later at the Moscow Art Institute from 1929–1934. In the 1930s he took part in the Soviet polar expeditions as an artist-reporter.
He was the winner of two Stalin Prizes, in 1949 and 1951. He taught at the Moscow State Surikov Art Institute (1953–1956), where he was a Professor from 1954. In 1974 he became a People's Artist of the USSR.