Commentary

The landscape here depicts the Russian homeland under siege, but at last being rescued by the stalwart cavalry. It reminds the population of their difficult situation and what they stand to lose. The people emerging from hiding, in the simple gesture of the woman, have been desperate but are now saved.

These lines of verse remember those who have already been sent to German prison camps as a result of being in occupied territory. So the ‘sacred duty’ of the title is not so much a religious one, as an obligation to save fellow Russians and their common homeland.

Facts

TASS window
1115
Title
A Sacred Duty
Created
22 December 1944
Artist
A.A. Przhetslavskii
Writer
A.A. Zharov
Original dimensions
128cm x 101cm
Collection number
MS 281/1/76

War Context

By December 1944, the last winter of the war, the Russians were ousting the Germans from occupied territory. Many Russians had already ended up in German concentration camps.

The irony is that many of those incarcerated by the Germans were sent to Russian prisons on their return, for fear they might be spies or fascist sympathisers.

Artistic Roots

This image has the scope and depth of a traditional landscape, but one whose natural tranquillity is marred by the destruction of war. It combines landscape with a narrative through the scene of rescue in the bottom right corner. The almost cartoonish, rough drawn peasants being liberated are at odds with the traditional painting that frames them.

Artist

Przhetslavskii has drawn two horses and riders in the thick of liberating occupied territory. He has skilfully caught the agitation in the movement of the horses, especially in their heads and in the body of the darker one. The dark colours and the scenes of destruction in the background give an emotional tinge of fear and destruction, and spatial depth to the painting. The cameo scene of rescue, bottom right, provokes palpable relief.

Writer

The picture is heroic as these modern knights rescue suffering Russians, significantly here a young woman. Zharov’s poem is not a comment on the picture so much as a call to carry on the sacred duty of the cavalry and rescue those Russians imprisoned in Germany.

The verse is direct, simple, and a rousing declaration to those who are struggling to survive the war that their loved ones will return.

Compare this scene with the fruitful plenty of TASS Window 1039, with its neat fields and bumper crop. The writer is the same, A.A. Zharov. Only four months separate the two posters. This comparison indicates the range of skills demanded of the poster artists and writers, and the multiple targets of Russian propaganda.