This printed poster celebrates wartime Russian mothers. Its title reads ‘Glory to the Mother Heroine’. Her great fertility has provided men for the military forces. It dates from 26 September 1944, when just how many sons had been lost was painfully clear.
In true socialist realist style the image concentrates on the ideal, emphasises the positive, the idea of growth towards future. The viewer has to look physically up towards this woman and to admire her. The crowded faces recall the tight groups of figures in some icons.
The printed posters are less tied to specific war events than the TASS Windows. In July 1944, a decree was passed awarding the title Mother-Heroine to those mothers who had 10 or more children. They received larger pensions and were given greater financial help during pregnancy from this date. This poster is also a general celebration of the part played by mothers in raising children, in running families while the men folk are away at war, and contributing in these ways in an heroic fashion to the war effort.
Other points about this policy, which were intensified at different times until it was discontinued in 1986, included the need to ensure that the Russian population as distinct from other ethnic groups continued to grow in the USSR. This mother and her ten children have clear Russian ethnic features.
These printed posters, often in large print runs, were destined to be displayed in the workplace, in government offices and educational institutions. Unlike the TASS Windows, they were not specifically for external display and disposal once the implied event is passed.
Firstly, this printed poster draws its inspiration from 1930s Soviet poster art. Socialist realism sought model heroes and heroines to lead the struggle towards the utopian future. Secondly, however, that need to find models and to find ways of presenting them seemed inevitably to draw the designers towards the motifs of religious art for inspirational power.
The artist borrows from depictions of the virgin and child in several ways: in the mother’s pose holding her youngest child; in her centrality to the composition; and in the steady gaze at the spectator adopted by mother and child in comparison to most of the other figures. The family in this poster is also drawn tightly together reminding of the way the saints are posed in groups in religious icons.
Nina Vatolina is one of the few women artists represented among the printed poster designers, and this is one of the relatively few printed posters which devotes itself to women on the home front.
As well as closeness to religious motifs, colour is important in this design. Through her bright red dress, Vatolina effectively overlays the mother with a Soviet, political and propagandist role. It is reflected in the red star badges of the young men in uniform, and scarves of the young pioneers. The white of innocence and the blue of the virgin still infuse the clothing of the younger children, and the eyes of all of them are blue, echoed in the idyllic blue sky behind. They all have the blond hair typical of angels and cherubs.
Overall, Vatolina has created a skilful item of propaganda which recalls the important red signifier of the Soviet state while also evoking the immense power of Russian religious art. The religious frame operates powerfully to validate the new politics.