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7:45 am: In Moscow, art on a war footing in an exhibition of paintings

Ukraine, 2023. Russian soldiers pose with their Kalashnikovs, overlooking a city in ruins. In front of them, the light brings out a young woman carrying a large flag and a bulletproof vest marked with a “Z”, a symbol of support for the offensive. This collective portrait, which is intended to be epic, opens a new exhibition – “We are Russians, God is with us” – bringing together in Moscow imposing patriotic paintings in the tradition of realism from the tsarist, then Soviet era, and supposed to galvanize conflicting minds in Ukraine.

“Stand there, near this painting which shows that our victory will be final”, throws a man with a mustache to about forty children in black uniform, pupils of a military school visiting the exhibition during a school outing. In the middle of the schoolchildren, Vassili Nesterenko, 56, master of contemporary Russian realist painting and artist covered with honors by Vladimir Putin. It was he who painted the picture.

Before taking a photo all smiles with the future soldiers, the painter, white hair and serene face, answers their questions and makes a remark: “Being a soldier is for life, as for artists. The great hall of the Manege, a stone’s throw from the emblematic Red Square, is hosting around a hundred paintings by Vassili Nesterenko until June 25, including several monumental paintings celebrating the exploits of the Russian army through the centuries.

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