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The Art of JAMA
November 3, 2015

PanicNikolay Viting

JAMA. 2015;314(17):1780-1781. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.12063

The theme of human emotion has a long tradition in pictorial art. Most paintings of emotional states feature the face because it is the most expressive aspect of the human form. Panic, by the Russian painter Nikolay Viting (1910-1991), is reminiscent of the expressive art work of middle European painters such as Max Beckmann, Emil Nolde, Alexej von Jawlensky, and Oskar Kokoschka, which was influential in Russia at this time. It has been suggested that styles of art emphasizing emotional experience are more likely to emerge during times of social upheaval, and this was certainly the case in Russia during the era when Panic was painted, which was characterized by mass uprisings, changes of government, and civil war. During the first three decades of the 20th century, many Russian artists responded to the public sentiment for transferring power from the elites to the people as a whole, and initially Viting and other Russian artists had the freedom to pursue their personal styles. Panic was inspired by a film that dramatized an episode of popular resistance, the mutiny on the battleship Potemkin. In 1905, the officers of the Potemkin served soup made with rotten beef to the crew and then threatened to shoot them for refusing to eat it. The crew attacked the officers, killing the captain and six others, and sailed the ship to the Black Sea port of Odessa, where striking workers had been harassed by police. The mutiny ultimately failed, but years later Vladimir Lenin, leader of Russia’s Bolshevik Party, praised the mutineers and made the Potemkin a symbol of resistance to oppression.

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