Pinkertonovshchina in Soviet Russia


The Pinkerton detective agency has been in existence since the mid 1800s. Allan Pinkerton started the agency after moving to the United States from Scotland in 1842. His goal was to create the largest detective agency in the world, and his wild success reached a paradigm in the early 1890s, when the agency employed a higher number detectives than soldiers in the US Army. Pinkerton became more prominent in American culture in the early 1900s due to their involvement in many labor issues. This prominence led to a pop-culture standing in the United States, which surprisingly caught on in Soviet Russia.

The Nat Pinkerton craze in early 20th century Russia is well documented in many books and scholarly articles. The reasons for such idolization of an American detective series are widely debated, but the most realistic cause is also the reason for the success of Sherlock Holmes in Russia: Western ideologies permeating into Eastern culture.

Western products and ideas have entered the Eastern European and Russian markets through various mediums, and the commercial craze of multiple detective series from 1907 through the 1920s was a major presence in Soviet culture. The Nat Pinkerton magazines were the most endearing for citizens of all ages because of their “cross-cultural link” to Soviet Realism. The ideologies present in the short reads often paralleled Soviet culture at the time, and allowed people to bask in the ongoing revolutionary culture that was a staple of early Soviet years. The magazines were even loved so much by early Soviet leaders, that a series known as the “red” Pinkerton was considered.

In the Soviet Union, it was a well-known fact that Lenin was a voracious reader in the crime/ detective genre. One of the major Soviet debaters, Nikolai Bukharin, thought the Pinkerton craze was interesting, but could be put to better use. This would have involved a somewhat communist Pinkerton propaganda figure, who would have stoked up young communists in all parts of the country. Because of Stalin’s reluctance to accept any type of art in the country, such a character was never created. However, the Nat Pinkerton craze did change young Soviet life through the short, but to-the-point dialogues between characters, along with the engrossing plot developments that symbolized many prominent Soviet ideals.

The Nat Pinkerton series was not be as well received in modern day Russia, but it spiked a long-standing interest in detective novels and shows, epitomized today by the recent high-budget Sherlock Holmes series on Russian television.




A Dniepr Night from an Expert of Light


When one thinks of history’s great painters, names such as Van Gogh, Monet, Rembrandt, and Picasso come to mind. All of these artists brought a unique feature to their specific period in art, thus achieving greatness through differentiation. However, many phenomenal artists who succeeded in a specific trait have unfortunately been relegated to the obscurity of eclectic, coffee table-sized art books. A name that is probably unknown to the majority of art lovers and non- Russian historians, is that of Arkhip Kuindzhi. Kuindzhi has many interesting paintings credited to his name, but none stand out more than those depicting landscape illumination. Combining the artistic techniques of shadowing, negative space, and illumination, Kuindzhi was able to make paintings “light up”, in a time period when electric lamps were non-existent in the region. Moonlit┬áNight on the Dniepr was the paradigm of his illumination prowess, and truly stands out as one of the most interesting paintings in any gallery an art enthusiast may visit.

Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to visit the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow back in 2012, and this painting stood out as a diamond in the rough among other odd Russian pieces. Our tour guide breezed past this masterpiece without any background on its origins, so I made it a priority to revisit the work and get a chance to enjoy its wondrous qualities. I remember very few paintings by name and location, but Moonlit Night on the Dniepr has stuck in my head to this day as one of the most interesting works I have seen anywhere in the world.

Kuindzhi was one of many artists in the Peredvizhniki (Wanderers) movement, but made his mark on modern realism by truly living up to his “artist of light” moniker. Hopefully, art historians will eventually look back at Kuindzhi’s inventive techniques, and applaud them for their unique and almost impossible qualities.

-Alex M.