The art history of Latvia from 1940 to 1956 is one of the little-researched areas examined in this book.
The book has four chapters further divided into sub-chapters, covering the main events in three spheres: the work of the Artists’ Union and its subsidiary institutions; the role of the Latvian Academy of Art as nurturer of young artists and its political and artistic activities; and a look at the life of Latvia’s art museums, including provincial museums with significant art departments.
Chapter one examines the historical events in Latvia following the Soviet occupation of June 1940, which disrupted the natural development of art and culture and caused tragic human losses in the terror inflicted from the very beginning of the occupation. This was accompanied by demands to employ Socialist Realism in art. Chapter two attempts to follow those artists who, as loyalists of the Soviet regime, fled to the USSR; however, this is hampered by limited access to archives in Russia. Chapter three covers the period after the Second World War when Soviet rule, interrupted in June 1941, was re-imposed. Chapter four is devoted to artists who were persecuted in this brutal period, and how those who physically survived were marginalised from artistic activities temporarily or for the rest of their lives.
The year 1953 was a turning point in Soviet history. A power struggle in the top echelons began immediately after Stalin’s death on 5 March. The central event of the thaw was the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR in 1956, which ushered in significant social and political changes. Khrushchev’s report detailed facts about the creation and manifestation of Stalin’s cult of personality, at the same time softening the criticism to avoid “desecrating the past”.
However, the period of liberalisation was short lived; problems began in the autumn of 1956, as the USSR violently suppressed uprisings in Poland and Hungary. This also dealt a blow to yearnings for freedom in Latvia. The screws were tightened in all fields of art, although it was impossible to completely return to the Stalinist shadows. A new generation had emerged which had discovered the modern world, its lifestyle and art, and it refused to submit to the dictates of a bloody totalitarian regime.