Fine Art Connoisseur

DESPERATELY YOUNG ARTISTS WHO DIED IN THEIR TWENTIES

How many artists’ lives were cut short before they reached their full potential? How have our museums and private collections been diminished by those artists’ early passing? Did each make his or her maximum contribution despite the brevity of their days? For some unfortunate artists, the answer to this last question must be, regretfully, no.

Just inside the main entrance of St. Petersburg’s Repin Institute is a marble wall on which the names of student artists killed in action are listed in gold lettering. The entire class of 1942 was sent to the front line, barely armed and with little military training. Less than half came home alive. Likewise, the grand staircase in the old Leningrad Art Union was once lined with hundreds of photographs of young artists who died in service to the Motherland during the Great Patriotic War (World War II). Socialist Realism expert Dr. Vern G. Swanson recalls:

Each time I visited this wall I would choke up at the immensity of our loss. Some of these were great artists, and it chills and saddens one to think of these young people never living out the full extent of their artistic potential. I wanted to see every artist’s face again and hear their names one more time. As painful as it was, I just didn’t want them forgotten.

The cruelty of unfulfilled artistic potential can be glimpsed in the United States, too. During a visit to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, I came upon a spirited painting by Dennis Miller Bunker (1861–1890). Today he is

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