Commentary

This image must have been a welcome one after more than three years of war in Russia. A noose is symbolic of punishment and death. The practice of fortune telling was still widespread in Russia and it took many forms. Subjecting the enemy leader to this variant using candle wax and a bowl of water, here evidently with a damning outcome, brought its own degree of exhilaration.

The variant shown here was to light a candle, and allow the wax to drop down into the saucer of water, and then the shapes that are formed could be 'read'. The clever 'magic' of this illustration is that the candle projects the image of the witch and shape of the wax, horrifyingly onto the wall.

Facts

TASS window
1126
Title
New Year Fortune Telling
Date created
3 January 1945
Artist
P.A.Sarkisian
Writer
A.A. Zharov
Original dimensions
179cm x 80cm
Collection number
MS 281/1/78

War Context

The Red Army had spent the winter since October 1944 preparing to besiege the Hungarian capital of Budapest. Horthy had been forced out by Hitler for betrayal, and Hitler needed to retain the valuable oilfields nearby. Stalin was anxious to have the city under Soviet control, before the Yalta conference in February 1945 which was to determine the fate of Europe.

At the end of December 1944 the Red Army had surrounded the city, but the affair was not concluded until February after intense fighting on both sides. Generally, Hitler was being driven relentlessly back towards Germany, as the Allies forced their way to Berlin. The New Year 1945 would be decisive for him.

Artistic Roots

The use of shadows as portents of death is a well-used trope in graphic representation, going back as far as medieval painters and illustrators. The ‘grim reaper’ is frequently a figure of darkness and shadow. The noose itself is a universal symbol of doom. The poster makes its point graphically and immediately. The words add a touch of fun as they express Hitler's shock that he could be subject to such a fate.

Artist

The choice of a noose as a the central image is both graphically dramatic and a sign of retribution. Sarkisian brings a world of chilling shadows to a midnight fortune telling. It is a spooky scene. The use of shadows enables him to magnify the size of the noose, and to bring Hitler, in the form of his shadow, uncomfortably close to the noose itself. Shadows also signify death.

The blend of colour adds even more atmosphere: the deep maroon of the floor matched to the pinkish blues of the wall enhance the effect of the darker shadows. In his dressing gown( or an old army coat?), a scarf, female-fashion, around his head, Hitler takes on the shape of an old witch. Such demotion of a terrifying enemy cuts him to size, even makes him comic. The trick here, however, is the double caricature of Hitler: firstly, as the old witch and secondly, in the exaggerated features of the shadow of death on the wall.

Writer

The verse captures Hitler’s fears, using his words, as he sets about his New Year task. Hitler’s voice is framed by a narrator who watches the process gleefully in contrast to Hitler’s evident terror. The narrator has the final say: 1945 will be decisive, and bring Hitler to his final reckoning.

Built round repetitions, the verse chimes with the incantations of spells and ritual. In the Russian, the lines begin with ‘Hitler’ and ‘fear’, and end with the coming ‘reckoning’ that is the work of ‘fate’. This structure is well designed to catch the eye as well as the ear. The lines integrate well with the image. Hitler’s spluttered, appalled responses add touches of the comic.