Nina Vatolina, ‘Thank you dear Stalin for our happy childhood, 1950
1950 saw the release of another poster in a long-running and popular series of posters on the theme of a ‘happy childhood‘. ‘Thank you dear Stalin for our happy childhood’ by Nina Vatolina depicts a grey-haired Stalin in military uniform, standing on a podium.
He reaches out and touches the arm of the young Pioneer boy, yet is separated in the picture plane from the two children and elevated above them.
The girl carries a bunch of flowers to give to Stalin, but holds it off to the side, reaching up to touch Stalin with her right hand, as one might touch a holy icon. A huge bunch of red roses forms a barrier between them and the little girl cannot actually reach Stalin, just the flowers.
The colour palette in Vatolina’s 1950 poster is more vivid than in earlier posters. The flowers are depicted in a more realistic style and occupy a large space in the image.
The figure of Stalin floats in an undifferentiated background of pure light that illuminates the face of the boy. In earlier happy childhood posters, children are relaxed and celebrating. Not all of them look at Stalin and, where they do look at him, it is with binding affection, from within the same space. Frequently, one of the children engages the viewer by looking directly out from the image.
In the later posters of this genre, the children have been reduced in number and importance and are restrained and respectful. It is clear in this poster that merely to be admitted to Stalin’s presence is an honour and reward. The boy appears in profile and the girl is viewed from the rear, no child engages the viewer’s gaze or embodies the ‘happy childhood’ of the poster’s text.
In 1950, a happy childhood consists entirely in being loyal and dutybound to Stalin. As Stalin is portrayed wearing military uniform, the formality of the occasion is reinforced, and the viewer is also reminded that all citizens owe Stalin a debt of gratitude for victory in the war.
After 1950, the ‘happy childhood’ theme slipped into the background in Soviet posters and poster artists focused on depicting obedient children performing their duty to Stalin by studying hard or taking oaths of allegiance at Pioneer ceremonies.
Dr Anita Pisch
Anita’s new, fully illustrated book, The personality cult of Stalin in Soviet posters, 1929 -1953, published by ANU Press, is available for free download here, and can also be purchased in hard copy from ANU Press.