GLAZOUNOV, Ilya Sergeyevich (1930 - 2017)

Oil on canvas
212 x 647 cm
Date of entry at UNESCO
Country of origin Russian Fed.
Donation made to UNESCO by the Russian Federation
© Photo: UNESCO
Ilya Glazunov

This painting, made specifically for UNESCO in 1980 and donated by the (ex-)U.S.S.R., is currently exhibited in the entrance hall of the building located next to the Japanese Garden designed by Isamu Noguchi. Despite some opposition at that time between the communist authorities and Glazounov, this collaboration was made possible thanks to the artist’s strong nationalistic feeling. Together, they wanted through this work to express the importance of Soviet culture within the general context of world civilization. The painting brings together various people, coming from different eras and social classes, all in a genuine desire to display the glory of what was at the time the USSR. It is interesting to note that the artist included elements coming from the fields of education, science and culture. One can observe, among others, the presence of several illustrious characters from Russian culture such as Dostoyevsky for literature, the astronaut Yuri Gagarin for science, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff for music, but also St. Basil’s Cathedral on the Red Square for architecture. Moreover, the wide variety of costumes represented reflects the cultural wealth of the Soviet Union and its contribution to History. Indeed, at the time, the U.S.S.R. covered almost one sixth of the earth's landmass.

Two of the artist’s favourite themes are present in this work: History and religion. Icons, a great inspiration to the artist, are represented here and testify his attachment to the Orthodox religion.

As regards the work’s composition, it seems as if divided into two parts: on the left, colors are lighter and daylight is represented, whereas on the right, colors are darker, with a night sky. This separation is made more visible by the depiction of several large figures. The bottom center of the painting is taken up by the representation of the writer Dostoyevsky holding a book by candlelight. The contrast with the light emitted by the candle is made all the more apparent by the significant darkness of the lower part of the work.

Artist Biography

Ilya Sergeyevich Glazounov was born on June 10, 1930, in Leningrad (today St. Petersburg, Russian Federation). His father was an historian and his mother an artist. Having survived the siege of St. Petersburg, during which his family was decimated by hunger, he started studies at an art school. In 1957, Glazounov won the international competition for young artists, which gave him recognition and allowed him to hold a personal exhibition in Moscow. It was also at that time that he started to gain international recognition as a talented portraitist. He produced many portraits of public figures, including UNESCO’s Director Generals until 1987. Furthermore, Glazounov, with the help of his wife, created set designs and costumes for several operas throughout Europe. He also applied his talent in the field of literature by illustrating several books, including those by the Russian writer Dostoyevsky. Throughout his career, Glazounov was inspired by Orthodox icons, which gave him a predilection for historical and religious themes. This also earned him the dislike of Russian authorities of the time, with the result that he focused mainly on teaching until the fall of communism. Today, he is considered to be one of the main founders of the Russian Realist school.