The Proletarian

Date: 1920
Media: Plaster
The Proletarian


In 1920, Stone Island in St Petersburg was renamed Workers Island. The new Bolshevik government had nationalised all private estates on the island back in 1918 and now planned to reopen them as “Workers’ Houses of Relaxation”. The grand opening of the transformed workers’ island was scheduled for 20 July 1920.

The plans included the creation of a site for public gatherings and mass events where Middle Alley met Side Alley at 25 Malaya Nevka Embankment. The centre of this square would be adorned with the figure of a worker symbolising “liberated labour”. The commission to create the statue was awarded to Mikhail Blokh.

Inspired by Stefan Erzia’s monument to Liberated Labour in Ekaterinburg and his own desire to “outdo Michelangelo”, Blokh sculpted an even larger statue known as The Proletarian. The enormous figure of a naked man, wielding a hammer with his legs apart, was ready just in time for the opening ceremony on 20 July 1920.

Valentina Khodasevich recalled: “People entered the square and stopped, completely stunned, in front of the indecent, white, plaster, muscular Proletarian sculpture. They walked round it slowly, uttering comments which, while I remember them, I find awkward to write down, even though many of them were quite witty...”

The horrified authorities told Blokh to immediately cover up the statue with a fig leaf. But this was impossible, because the plaster had all been used up and the surrounding scaffolding had already been dismantled. The artist was given one night and as many assistants as he required to cover up the offensive statue.

Mikhail Blokh managed to create a plaster “apron” to cover the worker’s genitals, which also had to be chipped away to fix on the apron (the plaster was found by raiding the local hospitals). But this still left the muscular backside of the young proletarian exposed... The following morning, the sculptor had a heart attack...

Unfortunately, The Proletarian did not stand for long. After about a year, the plaster began to crumble and the Colossus of Petrograd eventually collapsed. Mikhail Blokh suffered much the same fate as his statue. Later that year, after criticising the regime, he was accused of spying for Poland and executed by firing squad.

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