Revolution and war

Resistance and conformity

Anti-war motifs were a recurrent feature of Latvian painter Kārlis Padegs’s art, in work such as Madonna with Machine Gun, 1932.

With his exuberant dandy persona and his confrontational, often grotesque art, Padegs was a unique figure in 20th century Latvian art. He died from tuberculosis in 1940, aged just 29. Read more about his brief and fascinating life at Wikipedia.

In Poland, the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, known as the Ringelblum Archive, is a unique collection of documents. Salvaged after the Second World War from milk cans buried beneath the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto, the archive was clandestinely compiled between 1940 and 1943 under the leadership of historian Emanuel Ringelblum. Its testimonies and materials, gathered from the natives of Warsaw and refugees from hundreds of other localities, comprises 35,000 pages, including documents, materials from the underground press, photographs, memoirs and more. Only works by two artists survived: Gela Seksztajn and Rozenfeld, whose first name remains unknown.

The Ringelblum Archive is a unique documentary record of the wartime fate of Polish Jewry, whose importance is recognised by UNESCO. It shows that – even in the most extreme circumstances – art can be created. To learn more about the archive, visit the website of the Jewish Historical Institute where the archive is housed.

Whilst the freedom of artists to express themselves in turbulent times has varied, the power of art to influence public opinion has long been recognised. This is demonstrated by those who have censored art and used it for ideological ends. In his social realist work Grain for the State, 1953, Estonian artist Viktor Karrus presents an idyllic vision of agricultural abundance delivered by mechanization and collective farming.

Join us again on 20 June for the next chapter of Faces of Europe, where we’ll discover how artists across Europe expressed their ideas through landscape painting. In the meantime, click here for a chapter preview.