See "Bolshevik" by Boris Mikailovich Kustodiev at the Royal Academy. (©State Tretyakov Gallery)
"Bread, peace and land," promised Russia’s revolutionary Bolshevik party in 1917 before overthrowing the government and enabling working people to establish their own system of democratic rule. It was a decisive turning point in world history, followed by similar working-class upheavals in other countries.
This year, London marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution—one of the most momentous events in our recent history—with three major exhibitions featuring artifacts, famous artwork and a letter to London’s British Museum penned by Lenin himself.
At the British Library, "Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths" (28 Apr-29 Aug) shines a new light on the world-changing events of the period, as seen through the eyes of ordinary Russians. Beginning in the reign of the last czar, explore the transformation of Russia’s traditional monarchy into the world’s first communist state.
Along the way, you’ll get up close to original posters, photographs, banners, weapons, recordings and films made before the October Revolution. There’s even a letter written by Lenin in 1902 applying to use the British Museum’s Library, signed with his pseudonym, Jacob Richter, which he used in order to evade the czarist police of the time.
"It is a remarkable institution, especially that exceptional reference section," Lenin writes of the British Museum’s Reading Room. "Ask them any question, and in the very shortest space of time they'll tell you where to look to find the material that interests you." Elsewhere in the exhibition, you’ll find a luxury souvenir album of the czar’s coronation and propaganda wallpaper hand-painted by female factory workers.
In the meantime, over at the Royal Academy of Arts, you’ll find "Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932" (to 17 Apr). It's an all-encompassing survey of the artistic landscape following the fateful events of 1917, as socialist realism emerged alongside idealistic aspirations.
Enter a full-scale recreation of an apartment designed for communal living and ponder the legacy of propaganda posters in this must-see show of groundbreaking Russian art. Featuring powerful artwork by the likes of Chagall, Brodsky, Kandinsky and Malevich plus photography, sculpture, graphic design and filmmaking, this exhibition looks back at a 15-year period in Russia when possibilities seemed limitless, and the "people’s" art flourished.
There is yet more creativity to mark this major centenary in the city: the Design Museum explores the “new look Moscow” in its exhibition “Imagine Moscow: Architecture, Propaganda, Revolution" (15 Mar-4 Jun). Here, you can see how a new generation of brave, bold architects and designers reimagined the city in the 1920s and 1930s. Large-scale architectural drawings present their idealistic version of the Soviet capital in different projects, including communal living and urban planning.