In 1946, an artist named Nikolai Getman was imprisoned in the Soviet Union’s Gulag, a forced-labor camp that claims millions of people’s lives. Getman spent 8 years in the Gulag, simply for witnessing another artist draw a caricature of Stalin on a cigarette paper in a café. Although he survived the gulag, the horrors were seared into his memory of the horrendous life and death inflicted on so many millions of innocent people. Over four decades, Getman painted portraits to tell this story – one of the few artists who recorded the life of prisoners in the Gulag.
Getman’s collection is unique because it is the only visual record known to exist of this tragic phenomenon. Unlike Nazi Germany, which recorded and preserved in detail a visual history of the Holocaust, the Russians prefer not to remember what happened in the Gulag. If film or other visual representations of the Soviet Gulag exist, they have been largely destroyed or suppressed. The Getman collections stands alone as a most important historical document.
“The Gulag Collection” at the Reagan Library showcases 13 of these original paintings.