This is one of Popkov's finest and most lyrical works. It was painted shortly after he had graduated from art school and his sense of controlled optimism is apparent. The formal elements of the work correspond to Social Realism. However, Popkov does not paint the workers as happy in their labour simply to illustrate an ideological Communist agenda. He paints them as happy since, in the wake of Khruschev's 'Thaw', these handsome young men and women believe they have a happy future ahead of them.
The 'Thaw' never quite delivered the new Golden Age that had been hoped for and a style of painting emerged, known as 'the Severe', which combined depictions of heroic toil with a sense of self knowledge and perspective. In this work, however, Popkov clearly intended the young tree in the foreground, with its sprouting leaves, to act as a metaphor for a sense of growth and positivity.
Popkov's palette is also much warmer in this work than in his previous compositions. The warmer colours and the deft handling of paint, particularly in the depiction of steam beneath the train's wheels, recall the French Impressionists, perhaps Monet's series of Gare Saint-Lazare compositions. Popkov did not travel abroad for the first time until 1959 but his interest in 20th-century painting seems clear.
Oil on canvas
168 x 245 cm
Popkov was one of the leading artists of the Severe Style. In 1948–1952 he studied at MVHPU and continued his studies at the Surikov Moscow State Institute of Fine Art. In 1975 he was posthumously awarded The State Prize of the USSR. Popkov started his artistic career during the "Thaw". In 1950–1960 the artist travelled extensively, visiting Irkutsk, Bratsk and other Siberian cities which were the sites of intensive construction work. This led to the painting of one of his masterpieces The Bratsk Hydropower Station (1961 Tretyakov Gallery). In the mid-1960s Popkov totally changed his style. His marriage to Klara was under strain and he had attempted suicide. Popkov's personality is very much in evidence in his paintings and he freely expressed his opinion of human beings and the world at large.
His work pinpointed the theme of a lost generation whose lives had been traumatised by the Great Patriotic War (The Mezen Widows Cycle, 1966–1968). The self-portrait occupies a special place in the artist's work (Father's Overcoat 1970–1972). Popkov died in an accident in 1974.