By the White Sea

The tone of this picture is one of emotional tension. Fighter jets leave a vapour trail in the sky whilst a cow lows at the sea. Beside the cow a cross lies horizontally as if wrenched from the churchyard ground. 

The mid 1960s were difficult years for Popkov. His relationship with Klara had deteriorated and a number of his paintings had been withdrawn from exhibitions due to a hostile relationship with the leadership of the Artists' Union. The year after this painting was completed, Popkov attempted suicide. 

Conceivably this painting acts as therapy. The small figure of an artist is visible in the right hand corner of this painting. Popkov seems to suggest that the power of art is sufficient to overcome military might, bestial emotion, and even the power of spirituality.


Oil on canvas


120 x 170 cm

Viktor Popkov
1932 - 1974

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.