Aleksandr Gerasimov (August 12, 1881 - July 23, 1963) was a leading proponent of Socialist Realism in the visual arts, and painted Stalin as well as other Soviet leaders.
Gerasimov was born on August 12, 1881 in Kozlov, now Michurinsk, in Tambov region. He studied at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture from 1903 to 1915. There he championed traditional realistic representational art against the avant-garde.
During World War I and the Russian Civil War he served in the army. Subsequently he returned to his hometown to become a stage designer, helping to present plays glorifying the Revolution and the Soviet government.
In 1925 Gerasimov returned to Moscow and set up a studio, combining techniques of academic realism with an Impressionistic light touch. He favored a style known as heroic realism, which featured images of Revolutionary leaders such as Lenin as larger-than-life heroes. However, as Stalin tightened his grip on the country, Gerasimov's work descended into pompous official portraits, such as "Stalin and Voroshilov at the Kremlin Wall," for which he won a Stalin Prize in 1934. He produced a large number of heroic portraits of Kliment Voroshilov, to the point that Nikita Khrushchev would later accuse Voroshilov of having spent most of his time in Gerasimov's studio, to the detriment of his responsibilities as People's Commissar of Defense.
His heavy-handed leadership of the Union of Artists of the USSR and the Soviet Academy of Art were notorious, and he was at the forefront of the attacks against cosmopolitanism and formalism during the Zhdanovshchina.
Although his excessively fawning portraits of Soviet leaders and his political activities against artists who would not toe his line have gained him a reputation as a political hack, Gerasimov did not entirely lose touch with his genuine artistic abilities. Even at the end of his career, he continued to follow a moody, almost Impressionistic treatment of landscapes, curiously at odds with the stridency of his official portraiture.