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Elkin, Vasilii Nikolaevich

Елкин, Василий Николаевич

Born March 9, 1897, Krylatki, Moscow Region, Imperial Russia; died January 12, 1991, Moscow, USSR

Vasilii Nikolaevich Elkin was a Soviet graphic designer and a poster artist. From 1911 to 1916, he studied drawing with the Sytinskaia, a group of artists that taught in a Moscow school operated by the prominent Russian publisher Ivan Sytin. During World War I, Elkin was called-up for duty in the Imperial forces and he served in an aviation unit. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, he enlisted in the Red Army and was sent to the Volga Region and Ukraine during the Russian Civil War.

Returning from the military, Elkin studied in the graphics department at VKhUTEMAS [Higher Art and Technical Studios] in Moscow from 1923 to 1928. During this period, he worked as a designer for the State Publishing House. Around 1927, Elkin became a member of the Oktiabr' (October) artists group where his artistic style was further developed. The artist also served as a technical editor of Agitprop (Agitation and Propaganda Department) that was supplying visual propaganda for the Bolshevik cause.

Vasilii Elkin participated in several exhibitions during his career such as: the International Press Exhibition (“Pressa”) in Cologne, Germany; the First Exhibition of the October Artists, (1930, Moscow); the Anti-Imperialist Exhibition (1931, Moscow), the First All-Union Exhibition of The Poster in the Service of the Five-Year Plan (1932, Moscow) held in the State Tretiakov Gallery; the International Poster Exhibition at Liege and Verviers (Belgium, 1932), and more.

Some of Vasilii Elkin’s poster titles include: “Every collective farmer, every brigade, every MTS should know the Bolshevik sowing plan” (1931); “Trade unions - to fight for a counter plan, 10 million tons of pig iron ..." (1932); “Komsomol members! Let's fulfill the demands of Comrade Voroshilov" (1932); "Long live the Red Army - armed detachment of the proletarian revolution!" (1932); “15 years of October. We have. They have” (1932, with artists Bukharova and Kulagina). In 1931, Elkin became secretary of the Bureau of the Graphic Arts of the Union of Soviet Artists of the USSR, a union formed out of the Federation of Associations of Soviet Artists (FOSH). In addition, the artist was an editor at the magazines Stroitel'stvo Moskvy (Moscow Construction) and Moskovskii rabochii (Moscow Worker).

In 1934, the life of Vasilii Elkin dramatically changed after being convicted of designing anti-Soviet propaganda. The artist was given a three-year prison sentence at the Dmitrov Corrective Labor Camp where he worked in the KVO (kul'turno-vospitatel'nyiotdel) Cultural-Educational Department as an artist and illustrator. During his incarceration, he traveled to construction sites along the Volga canal and made sketches of what he saw. From that material the book "Sketches from the track" was published. During this period, he illustrated the series, "Construction of the Moscow-Volga Canal", and he supplied illustrations for the book “From Crime to Labor” (1936) authored by Ida Averbakh, wife of Genrikh Yagoda (head of the USSR’s internal police) and the sister to Soviet-era writer and critic Leopold Averbakh.

Following his return to society, Elkin re-joined the State Publishing House and designed posters for Izogiz, the publisher’s fine arts section. During World War II, he designed posters for the war effort and provided book illustrations for the publishing houses Detgiz (Children's Literature), Malysh (Kid), Melodia Gvardia (Young Guard), and others. His poster work after World War II includes the titles: "Let's give the Motherland more cars!" (1946), “…Be equal to the leaders of socialist construction!” (1947), “Matrosov’s example is worthy of imitation: work like him and help others…(1947); “I will be a machinist” (1948), and others. Late in his career, Elkin’s designs shifted to a traditional aesthetic. His work encompassed landscapes of the Moscow region, Pskov region, and the coasts of the Azov and Baltic Seas.


Draskoczy, J.S. (2019). Belomor: Criminality and Creativity in Stalin’s Gulag. Brighton: Academic Studies Press. (KVO defined)
Tupitsyn, M. (1995). Glaube, Hoffnung, Anpassung: Sowjetische Bilder, 1928-1945. Oberhausen: Plitt Verlag. (artist bio) (artist bio) (date of birth) (date of death)