Putin the painter

Hunting, fishing, fighting, kissing babies, Machiavellian political maneuvering, ruling with an iron fist…and painting? Is Vladimir Putin the most complete human of the 21st century? Putin’s debut painting, a delicate if somewhat rudimentary water color based on a Nikolai Gogol story, will be auctioned for charity this weekend. The work is part of a collection ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
589494_090114_putin5.jpg
589494_090114_putin5.jpg

Hunting, fishing, fighting, kissing babies, Machiavellian political maneuvering, ruling with an iron fist...and painting? Is Vladimir Putin the most complete human of the 21st century?

Putin's debut painting, a delicate if somewhat rudimentary water color based on a Nikolai Gogol story, will be auctioned for charity this weekend. The work is part of a collection of paintings by celebrities to raise money for a cultural fund in St. Petersburg. The painting has some weird resonance with current events, the Telegraph reports:

According to organisers, Mr Putin popped into the exhibition unexpectedly on Boxing Day where, after drinking some mulled wine, he agreed to reveal his previously hidden artistic talents by contributing a painting of his own.

Hunting, fishing, fighting, kissing babies, Machiavellian political maneuvering, ruling with an iron fist…and painting? Is Vladimir Putin the most complete human of the 21st century?

Putin’s debut painting, a delicate if somewhat rudimentary water color based on a Nikolai Gogol story, will be auctioned for charity this weekend. The work is part of a collection of paintings by celebrities to raise money for a cultural fund in St. Petersburg. The painting has some weird resonance with current events, the Telegraph reports:

According to organisers, Mr Putin popped into the exhibition unexpectedly on Boxing Day where, after drinking some mulled wine, he agreed to reveal his previously hidden artistic talents by contributing a painting of his own.

According to the rules of the exhibition, Mr Putin was required to paint an image related to the Night Before Christmas, a story by the Ukrainian born author Nikolai Gogol, the bicentenary of whose birth is celebrated this year.

Set in Dikanka, a village in central Ukraine, the story tells of events on a blizzard-swept Christmas Eve thrown into chaos because the Devil has stolen the moon.

With Russia locked in a bitter gas dispute with Ukraine, the theme is replete with ironic symbolism with even the frost encrusted windows unwittingly suggesting freezing homes across central Europe after Mr Putin ordered all supplies through Europe to be cut.

I have a feeling the mulled wine bit is journalistic embellishment. Putin is, famously, a light drinker or at least unlikely to appear sloshed in public.

Rather than a drunken whim, this seems like a well calculated move to soften Putin’s already sufficiently manly public persona. Not everyone’s buying Putin’s sensitive side though:

“A leader who demands that the world play by our rules could hardly have painted such a picture,” said one painter, who asked to remain anonymous for his own security. “It looks as if it was painted by a sentimental woman. It is too sweet; you can feel it in the brushwork and the palette. The core theme is feminine too.”

The charge was denied by exhibition organizers. “He did the painting all by himself, but he was given advice by a lady artist,” said Polina Vavilina, press secretary for Tsarskoe Selo.

I have to say, Vavilina’s explanation really raises more questions than it answers.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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