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Seventy Years Ago Today...

Today is June 22. Seventy years ago European hostilities mounting since Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 erupted into the cataclysm now known as World War II. June 22, 1941 is the day the Nazi forces initiated Operation Barbarossa, the full-scale invasion of the former Soviet Union. This action broke the spurious Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact signed by representatives of both nations and brought two totalitarian titans into a head-to-head battle that would escalate to global warfare, endure for four desperate years, and claim nearly sixty million lives.

A somber anniversary indeed. Yet behind the terror and devastation of the front lines, a studio of artists in Moscow was fervently producing an array of unusual, vivid and large-scale stenciled posters to reassure and rouse the Soviet citizenry and document the progress of war on the Eastern front. In the midst of 1,418 days of war, the TASS studio produced some 1,240 designs treating subjects that reflected the progress of the war from the Soviet perspective and incorporating an extraordinary range of literary and visual styles. The resulting body of work is—in its size, scope, and variety—unique in the annals of Soviet visual propaganda, constituting a singular chapter in the broader history of graphic art and poster design. It is a chapter all the more intriguing because it has been hitherto absent from the histories of these subjects in the West.

These rare and historically significant posters will be the subject of the exhibition Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941–45 opening to the public on July 31.

—Jill B., Research Associate, Department of Prints and Drawings

Citizens of Moscow, including two young brothers, listening to the address of foreign affairs minister Viacheslav Molotov’s announcement of war over a public loudspeaker, June 1941.

Tags: TASS