By Caner Karavit*
The painting “Machines for Turkey”, one of the masterpieces of Ryabinin, is not well known neither in Russia, nor in the West. (Figure 1). This is due to the fact that the painting is only exhibited occasionally in the exhibition halls of the museums. The painting is in the collection of the State Museum and Exhibition Center (also known as ROSIZO).
The painting, which has finally met the audience, was presented at the ‘New Tretyakovka Gallery’ in Moscow between 27 April-6 June 2021 with a collection exhibition titled “Socialist Realism: Metamorphosis, Soviet Art between 1927-1987” (Figure 2).
As the title of the exhibition shows, a section of art depicting a “bright communist” future, the goal of the USSR from its establishment to its dissolution, is presented to the audience. In this context, we see that the Soviet art of the 1930s and the 1950s, had a utopian influence, as the ideological trend of that period show us. In the evaluations made regarding the exhibition; it is emphasized that the social realism, which Ryabinin also represents, is not only a concept brought up by the government for a short period, but an overall tendency which meets the inner spiritual needs of both the audience and of the majority of artists of that period. All vital elements of that time period, had to be activated in order to obtain a significant industrial power, which was the primary objective of the newly established state. And under these conditions, the people who have found the necessary spiritual support in the arts, depicting the life not as it was, but as it how it should be. In this sense, the socialist realism reflects an era of building a new society and of a new utopian world. Some of the works in the New Tretyakovka Gallery were only prepared for the well-known “Industry of Socialism” exhibition in 1939, but this exhibition never took place.
Nikolai Nikolaevich Ryabinin was born in St. Petersburg in 1883, and was graduated from the Academy of Arts in 1910. He was very interested in the history of Russia. Admiring all the artistic trends of his time period (modernism, abstractionism etc.), he created his own trend, which he described as the Russian realism (Figure 3). Some of Ryabinin’s work are also found in the arts of theatre and cinema, where he also proved himself as a stage and costume designer and as a decorative artist. Therefore, he took part in the “Wandering Exhibitions” from 1908 to 1910, of the Community of Artists (Obshchina Khudozhnikov), which was formed mostly around Repin.
The group of artists that cut and ate thin slices of ‘Antonovka’
“Community of Artists”, of which Nikolai Ryabinin has been a member of along with it founder Ilya Repin, was mostly established by the graduates of the Higher School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture art in the Imperial School of Arts. This community aimed to “promote the development and spread of arts in rural Russia”. The community’s new charter adopted on 2 August 1923 stated: “The main branches of activities of the Community are; to reshape the arts in order to spread and develop it more during this revolution, to create an artists’ community to learn new ways in art and in life, to find ways in which arts can be best accommodated among the masses, to preserve and protect the emerging new artistic talents, to increase the technics and skills in arts, and to ideologically define the aspects of arts…” However, despite taking part in artistic events in accordance to the post-revolutionary ideology, the group was still being criticized for being “bourgeois”. In an article of the AChRs magazine in 1930 titled “Art for the Masses,” the critic A.I. Kuindzhi has made a mockery of the group: “This group gathers in the evenings, drinking their evening tea, ‘chewing’ on their thinly sliced Antonovka apples, while drawing the patterns of nude models in a warm environment heated by a cozy stove… It is warm… A soft light surround the place… They all have thinly sharpened pencils, and erasers to give some ‘luminescence’… Very calm and quiet conversations… They deem themselves intelligent in this community. The pungent odor of lack of culture and prevailing ignorance is the main working material for this community… They say they wish to educate young people, but all the work of the community is only limited to small exhibitions. This is the only way they chose to educate the masses.”
Nikolai Ryabinin and his fellow artists have described their nostalgic feelings in their “Places of My Childhood” triptych, in which they paint lovely scenes from their hometowns on their sketchbooks. Pictures of Ryabinin are quite timid, but are full of lyricism for his love for his own homeland. Every single tree, pond or trail his paintings, give a sensation of serenity and peace. Ryabinin, who is better known for his watercolor paintings, has also transferred this characteristic of the watercolor technique to his oil paint techniques, which allows to see the white color of the paper. Therefore, his paintings contain an interesting luminescence that is difficult to describe in the definition of peinture, which evokes feelings of brightness and hits directly into the soul.
On the painting “Machines for Turkey”
Ryabinin’s painting “Machines for Turkey” is a visual summary of Kayseri and Nazilli Sumerbank textile factories which are the first initiatives in the Turkish textile industry, taking place within the framework of the First Five-Year Industrial Plan, in the first years of our young Republic. These first textile factories of Sumerbank, were established with the support of the Soviet Union. During the era of rapid industrialization, the Soviet industry was second only to the United States in the whole world and was even able to export its factory equipment. This leap in the industrialization was so important that the artist must have desired to reflect it in his painting. As Ryabinin’s painting depicts, both the Soviet and the Turkish delegations have made several bilateral visits and agreements before the establishment of these factories. The Turkish delegation that visited the Soviet Union between 1930 and 1937 to discuss the necessary equipment to be taken for these Sumerbank factories; was represented by important statesmen such as Ismet Inonu and Celal Bayar, and the Soviet delegation was represented by leaders such as Stalin and Voroshilov, the Defense Minister of the Soviet Union of that time period. In this context, let’s examine the time period and individuals of these delegations, to determine which visit Ryabinin has taken as reference to create this painting.
Anonymous figures of Ryabinin
The artist depicted in his painting one of the visits that coincided with the year of opening of the Nazilli Sumerbank Textile Factory (1937). In the painting, the interior of the “Red Proletarian” factory in Moscow, was designed from a single-point perspective and the figures from both delegations were placed in the center. Although the places and machines were detailed thoroughly, some figures in Ryabinin’ paintings left anonymous. However, we can still distinguish these two delegations from each other from their clothing or appearances. The first group consists of the Soviet representatives – engineers, foremen and workers, and is presented in the front. We can distinguish these figures from their fairer skin and hair colors and their clothing. Another detail is that all Soviet representatives have badges on their collars. When we take a closer look at the badges on their collars in more detail (Figure 4), we see that they resemble the badges that reflect the ideology of that time period (such as badges of Lenin, or a Red Star).
Another notable detail is the first figure from the left. This figure stand in fancy boots and a bow tie, and watches the machines work with his hands in his pockets, takes a very relaxed and fuzzy stature among the members of such an official delegation (Figure 5.B).
The second group, which consists of figures with darker hair and skin colors in the painting is understood to be a high ranking official delegation from Turkey that visits to examine the factory equipment. Ryabinin perhaps used the ‘stereotype’ in his head when painting the Turkish delegation; brunette or dark hair, thicker eyebrows, large black eyes (Figure 5.A). Standing right next to the machine and inserting the yarns to the machine, the Turkish delegation seem very pleased to watch the transformation of the fine yarns they hold, into meters of textile cloth in a miraculous arrangement. And they also dream of a time when this miracle will happen in Turkey as well.
Another notable element is the tall figure with a hat that stands at the furthest back of the delegation in the middle. This figure looks completely indifferent to the senior officials who are studying on a plan in detail in front of them, and staring directly to the painter in a strange manner (Figure 6).
When we examine the visits by the Turkish delegation to the Soviets between 1930-37 in the context of the theme of this painting, we see that two specific visits stand out. The first is the visit in which Soviet and Turkish experts negotiated on the factory equipment order for Kayseri and Nazilli Sumerbank Textile Factories. During this visit, the Turkish delegation visited many Soviet factories and examined the machinery and tools to be ordered for Kayseri and Nazilli Sumerbank Factories. This visit, which began in early 1933, lasts for 5 months until the month of July, and many factories are visited during this entire time. Meanwhile, the blueprints of the Kayseri factory are prepared, while Nazilli Factory blueprints are still in preparation. The purpose of this visit fits neatly to the title of the painting: “Machines for Turkey”. I think most of the image refences that Ryabinin can use in his painting, should be taken during this visit. However, there are 4 years between this visit and the making of this painting, so it should be quite hard for him to access the images. Among the Turkish industrial delegation, there is the Hereke Factory manager Resat Bey, and Feshane Factory manager Sevket Turgut. However, the faces of these two important people in the delegation, do not resemble any of the figures in the portraits. Second and more reasonable possibility is that Ryabinin has depicted the second visit in 1937. There are some dates matching in the year of the visit, on which we can make predictions about the figures in the painting. A photo hangs on the left wall of the People’s Commissar of Heavy Industry Sergo Ordzhonikidze, who died in February 1937, and that photo was perhaps hung in the wall in his memory. The Turkish delegation arrived in July 1937 to Moscow, where the factory is, and the Soviet media has widely covered this visit. Which means, Ryabinin probably got plenty of material to paint this event. The Nazilli Sumerbank factory was opened in October 1937, and Ryabinin probably completed his painting around the end of 1937. It is as if the painting summarizes the opening of the Sumerbank factory. And now, let us try to know who the Turkish delegation were, that visited in the same year; Foreign Minister Tevfik Rustu Aras, Interior Minister Sukru Kaya and the Tekirdag Province MP Rahmi Apak. When we take a closer look at the figures in Ryabinin’s painting, we see that the appearances of the delegation on the left, that were examining the “Red Proletarian” factory, really bear a fair resemblance to individuals from the Turkish delegation (Figure 7). In this context, Ryabinin may have used the images of the delegation that came that year, for his painting which I think is a reference to the opening of Nazilli Sumerbank Factory, the first example of the “Social Factory Project” in Turkey.
Social complex projects from the Red Proletarian Factory to Sumerbank
First of all, let us focus on the factory that is the main theme of the painting. Based on the evaluations made about the painting and on the photographs taken during the event, we can agree that this place visited by the Turkish delegation, was the ‘Red Proletarian Factory’ (Krasny Proletary) in Moscow (Figure 8).
This facility was first established by the Bromley brothers. At first, it was a small workshop producing metalware and hand tools. It was nationalized after the revolution, and in 1922 it was renamed the “Red Proletarian” at the request of the factory workers. And the evacuation of the factory began in 1941. However, the evacuation of some of the equipment was cancelled due to its production success during World War II. Today, some of the buildings within the factory complex are occupied by smaller workshops. Such factories in the Soviet Union had some social complexes, and set a precursor to the Sumerbank social complexes that was going to be built in Turkey. The ‘Red Proletarian Factory’ holds some resemblances to the social complex projects of the Nazilli Sumerbank Factory in this regard. For the construction of these factories in Turkey, the Turkstroy company was established and these projects were carried out by Ivan Sergeyevich Nikolaev, who has specialized in textile factory projects. Nikolaev was specifically assigned to complex factory plants (Kombinat) projects outside Russia, that contain its own social complexes. In terms of the social complexes and the facilities provided to its employees, Nazilli Sumerbank Factory is the first experiments of the “Social Factory Project”, that was in Ataturk’s mind. Nazilli Sumerbank Factory was not only a place of production. It also contained a laboratory where “Research & Development” was carried out, a school where proper education was given, a cultural complex with all kinds of arts and sports facilities, in short it was a “living space”. The factory blueprints that Nikolaev designed contained a healthcare facility, ballroom and dance halls, movie theaters, hippodromes, community houses, public baths, exhibition halls, sports fields, a large workshop, its own electricity and water plants, and a drawing workshop for fabric pattern designers.
Nazilli Sumerbank’s contribution to arts and culture
About the story that stretches from the “Kombinat” projects of the Soviet Union, to the Factories of Sumerbank, let us not forget to mention the contribution of these projects to national culture and arts. This factory had many cultural activities such as; a workers’ choir, a theatre community (Sumer Theatre Group), art exhibitions, ball events and dance activities organized by the factory, and its own sports clubs (such as the Sumer Sports Club). One of the most important elements of these activities were the textile designers in the factory. Some of these designers were graduates of the Istanbul Academy of Fine Arts, and some of them were talented high school graduates. One of these textile designers, Muzeyyen Nalbantoglu, was known as Turkey’s first female designer (Figure 9).
Exhibitions of paintings by these designers were also shown in the ballroom and such events have developed the fine arts in the town of Nazilli. They have also contributed to the artistic activities of the factory with their designed theatre décor costumes. However, the contributions of the Nazilli Sumerbank Factory, to fine arts was not limited to these. Thanks to such social activities of the factory theatre club, some talented actors were also discovered and brought to the arts community. Another success of Nazilli Sumerbank Factory, is that it had produced the famous dress worn by the Turkish beauty queen Azra Akin, when she won the title of World Beauty Pageant in London in 2002. This red dress, which was designed by the famous Turkish fashion designer Cemil Ipekci, and reflected some patterns from the Anatolian culture, was rewarded the “Best Dress” title of the competition (Figure10).
In addition to those, these workers at the factory also had some other privileges as a part of the social complex project of the factories, such as healthcare facilities for workers, free woven cloth to use, housing complexes, and transportation were among those. A mini train called “Gidi-Gidi” was used to transport the workers to the factory, which is 3 kilometers away from the town center of Nazilli. Bedri Rahmi Eyuboglu, a famous Turkish painter who came to Nazilli in 1953, explains his observations as follows: “The collar of city lights surrounding Nazilli’s two sides, go all the way up to the Textile Mill. It shines a dim green light instead of the yellow streetlights. We strolled under this line of lights. A kind servicemen, which I could not understand if he was a city servant or a police officer, called out to a little boy and said ‘Take these lovely guests to Gidi-Gidi…’. At first I thought it was the name of a neighborhood around here… It was instead a little lovely tram carriage. It was used to transport the factory workers at certain times… Gidi-Gidi sounds like a name for my cat that I would give… I am telling the locals this place looks like a metropolitan area and not like a remote town. They say the factory has caused all this change around here.” (Figure 11).
Factory equipment bought in exchange for citrus
So where would these equipment that were illuminated in the painting, by the light coming from the saw tooth roof windows of the factory, go to? This machinery that were inspected by the Turkish delegation in Ryabinin’s painting, are cloth weaving machines. As a result of these visits, some of these machines that will be sent to Nazilli Textile Factory, were purchased from the Soviet Union in exchange for citrus. During my research on Sumerbank, I learned that the story of the purchase of this machinery given to Turkey, is still taught in Russia today. At the Russia Investment Days conference which the journalist Sule Perincek attended in 2019, a Russian State Duma member told a story about this: “Back in the Soviet Union, they were against future grants as a principle, while lending machinery and equipment for abroad. However, the economic situation of Turkey was dire at the time. Therefore, the Soviets have agreed to lend the weaving machinery, in exchange for one of the most abundant products we produced, citrus. The citrus have arrived in so large bulks in return for the machinery, that even a Soviet official finally said: ‘An orange tree is going to sprout out of us if we have some more’.” At the time, Soviet authorities were being honest and suggested the machines that were most efficient for Sumerbank Factories in Turkey, while also expressing their concerns about the equipment that were not as efficient. Some of these machines were from “Northtrop” company, with purchased licenses. Some of these machines have the words ‘Zavod IM. Sverdlova Leningrad’ written on it. (Figures 12-13)
So, some of these machines in Nazilli Factory actually belong to the “Zavod IM. Sverdlova” Factory in Leningrad, and not to the “Red Proletarian Factory”, as it is shown in the painting. As we mentioned above, the Turkish delegation visited many factories and decide to order the most efficient ones recommended by the Soviet authorities. However, let us also mention that all of the machinery parts of the Nazilli Factory, were afterwards produced first in Nazilli, and later by the MKE (Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation), a government agency in Turkey.
Are there any references to Trotsky in the picture?
Another detail in Ryadinin’s painting is the black-and-white photographs of Soviet leaders of the time, hanging on the walls of the factory. Let’s first take a look at the photo that hangs on the left wall. The photo is a portrait of Sergo Ordzhonikidze (1886 – 1937), who died at the beginning of the year which the painting was made (Figure14). One of the reasons why there was a photograph of Ordzhonikidze in the factory, must be in the memory of his death in early 1937.
Another reason is that Ordzhonikidze was the People’s Commissar of Heavy Industry in the USSR from 1932 to 1937. So, he was in charge of this position before he died that year, when the painting was made. At the same time, Ordzhonikidze, was an important figure in the politburo, and was jokingly referred to as member of the “Caucasian Clique” along with Stalin and Mikoyan. And let’s take a look at the two photos hanging on the wall of the right side of the factory. These two photos belong to Stalin (top right) and to Lenin (further in the back). What is interesting about this painting from Ryabinin; is that the photographs of the main revolutionaries of the Soviet Union look more undetailed, unclear and sketchy, than Ordzhonikidze’s portrait (Figure 15). A comment on modern Russian social media argues that there is a “Trotskyist approach in the painting”, in this context. I think the reason for this comment is Georgy Pyatakov, Ordzhonikidze’s fellow helper in the Commissariat of Heavy Industry (NKTP). Pyatakov had previously worked with Stalin’s main political rival, Leon Trotsky. Due to that, he was accused of being part of a plot to overthrow the Soviet administration and was arrested in 1936 and executed in 1937. Due to giving such hierarchy in portraits in the painting, a Trotskyist message may have been given to the painting over the close friendship of Ordzhonikidze and Pyatakov.
Sumerbank did not just produce cloth, but also music
We went too deep into Sumerbank nostalgia when talking about Nikolai Ryabinin’s painting. There is no doubt that anyone who lived through to get to know Sumerbank products, all have many memories of these times. It had such a wide range of memories, from the cloth for men’s suits we bought at Sumerbank stores, to the famous striped pajamas we used during military service… Some of these products that we were used to seeing in every corner of our homes; quilt sheets, curtains, kitchen covers, bedsheets, pillowcases still come out of those old chests in our houses from time to time… Sumerbank did not only dressed the Turkish people with its cloth, but also caught with the culture it created. These cloth patterns that were at first influenced by the Soviet designs, and later on came with the original patterns of its own designers, and have created an aesthetic; with its animal, fruit & vegetable and flower motifs, stripes, geometric patterns, checkered, polka dot, plaid and cultural themed patterns. We watched the Former Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit in his famous blue shirt and his wife Rahsan Ecevit with her rose patterned dress. Sumerbank did not just produce basic fabrics, it also contributed a lot to our cultural lives as well. Paintings made by trained or untrained designers appeared in exhibitions. A famous theatre artist was raised, from the “Sumer Theatre Club”, who was seen in TV shows and in cinema. A famous football player for the national team, was raised from Sumer Sports Club. And lastly, it was not enough for Sumerbank for the Turkish beauty queen Azra Arkin to be titled Miss World, but her dress was also titled the “best dress” of the competition. That dress was awarded that year, but Sumerbank factories were unfortunately also shut down in the same year. It was a passion for Ataturk, who said “now this is the music” for Sumerbank, and look at how much it has entered to our daily lives…
• Thanks to Sule Perincek, Dr. Mehmet Perincek and Ilhan Oden for providing information to this article.
• Afet Inan, Memoirs and Documents About, 5th edition by Ari Inan, Turkey IsBank Culture Publish House, İstanbul, 2007
Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts – Professor Sami Sekeroglu Cinema-TV Center movie archive
• Sule Perincek, Aydinlik Newspaper, Istanbul, issue of 14th February 2016
• Sumerbank in the 50th anniversary of the Republic: 1923-1973, Tica Publish House, Ankara, 1973
• Asil Iskender, The Search of Architectural ‘Modern’ Identity of the Republic in its early years; Sumerbank Kayseri Cloth Factory Sample, Posgraduate Thesis, Istanbul Technical University Institute of Science and Technology, İstanbul, 2002.
• Two Shores, One Sea, Editors: Dr. Mehmet Perincek-Orhun Semin-Perihan Yucel-Volha Vatveyenka, Deniz Culture Publish House, İstanbul, 2015
• Demeter Vandov, Turkish-Soviet Relations under Ataturk Leadership, Kaynak Publish House, Istanbul, 2014
• Mehmet Perincek, Secret Pages from the Turkish-Russian Diplomacy, Kaynak Publish House, Istanbul, 2014
Turkstroy is the name given to the organization established in Soviet Russia in 1934, to conduct trade relations between the Republic of Turkey and the USSR.
 Ivan Sergeyevich Nikolayev (1901-1979) graduated from the Moscow Higher Technical School in 1925. Being the most successful architect of the Soviet Era, he was commissioned for the planning of factories (Kombinat) with social complexes, outside the USSR. He took part in the famous “Orloff delegation” that came to Turkey to determine the optimal locations of these facilities to be built in Turkey. Some of his famous projects are the 1934-1935 Sumerbank Kayseri and Nazilli Printing Factories, and Tirana and Harbin Textile Factories.
 The legislature in the Russian Empire was named “Duma” between 1905-1917. With the constitutional amendments implemented in 1993 after the dissolution of the USSR, the lower chamber of the Parliament of the Russian Federation was renamed the “State Duma of the Russian Federation”.
 The “Sverdlov” machinery tool factory used to be one of the largest enterprises in Russian Empire, and was founded before the 1917 Revolution. The main production plant of the factory was located in the Kalininsky district of Leningrad (now known as St. Petersburg). It was nationalized in 1919, and by 1922, its name changed to Y.M. Sverdlova. During the Soviet era. the Leningrad Machine Tool Manufacturing Association (LSPO), named after Yakov M. Sverdlov, produced factory tools for textile, stationery supply and sugar factories. At first, its purpose was to assemble the imported machine parts and workbenches, then he produced his own tools and machinery. Bankruptcy was declared fort he company in 2003.
* Caner Karavit is professor of art in Istanbul’s Mimar Sinan University, teaching in the fundamental art education department. Karavit has published several articles in Turkish and international media, while also working as an artist and realizing several national and international exhibitions. Between 2013 and 2015, Karavit has stayed in China to pursue theoretical and practical strudies on Chinese painting. He is specialized on fundamental art and design education, authentic printing, traditional Chinese painting, Far East Asian art, comparative theories of composition in the West and the East.