Victor Arnautoff and the Politics of Art

Victor Arnautoff and the Politics of Art

Robert W. Cherny

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780252040788

Publisher: University of Illinois Press


Victor Arnautoff, an artist, was born in 1896 in the Russian empire. After serving as a cavalry officer in WWI and then in the White Siberian army during the Russian Civil War, he became part of the Russian diaspora, working for a Chinese warlord, studying art in San Francisco, and working with Diego Rivera in Mexico. Returning to San Francisco, his art was acclaimed during the 1930s, especially his public murals, most financed by New-Deal art programs. He joined Stanford University’s art faculty. He and his wife became citizens and secretly joined the Communist party (CP). They threw themselves into work for Russian war relief during WWII and became active in Communist front groups. After WWII, the rise of abstract expressionism marginalized Arnautoff’s social realism, and he found a new cultural home in the California Labor School. Arnautoff’s activities in Communist front groups brought FBI surveillance. He was called before a HUAC sub-committee, and the Stanford administration tried unsuccessfully to terminate him in a case involving standards of academic freedom. After retiring from Stanford and the death of his wife, Arnautoff emigrated to the Soviet Union. There he created several large public murals before his death in 1979.