Leonid Steele (11.04.1921 - 10.04.2014) was born in Lebedin, a town in the Sumsk Region of the Ukrainian SSR. As a child he lived through the horrors of 1933 famine in the Ukraine, also known as "golodomor". He started painting when he was four and in 1939 was included in the World Art Exhibition at the World Fair in New York as his first show.
He served in the Red Army during World War II (the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union) and suffered a severe concussion from an air bomb during the siege of Kharkov in 1941. After recovery, he continued serving in Siberia. During recovery and service in Siberia he began studying plein air painting with Evgeny Kudriavtsev – then director of the important State Tretyakov Gallery and student of legendary turn-of-the-century landscape painter Isaak Levitan.
In 1947 Steele entered the Leningrad Repin Institute of Arts of the Soviet Union Art Academy (Russian Imperial Academy of Arts) where he studied first with Professor Platunov and later in the class of Professor Rudolph Frentz. In 1953, a fresh graduate of the painting department, Leonid received his first professional recognition with his diploma painting exhibited in Moscow's State Tretyakov Gallery and in Leningrad's Kazan Cathedral on the occasion of the Fourth Conference of Peace Activists. This painting, entitled Defend the Peace, was reproduced in many editions in the USSR and abroad.
In 1958 he became a Member of the Union of Artists of the USSR with union ID 508.
Some of his best known multi–figure paintings are Komsomoltsy, The Land, The Family (Cossacks Kind Will Never Die), Mothers of the World, and Remembrance. He has participated in 80 exhibitions, including 11 All–Union Exhibitions held at The Central Exhibition Hall, Moscow Manege, and being the most prestigious of all in the USSR. In addition, his paintings and his story were featured in numerous top Soviet mass media publications - such as Ogoniok, Rabotnitsa, Pravda, Izvestia, Sovetskaya Kultura, Smena, and Ukraina - as well as a variety of regional and local newspapers, radio programs and TV shows.
In 1968, Steele traveled around the world with his works, visiting 22 countries. It was an exceptionally rare opportunity for an artist at that time.
A passionate “internationalist” who
deeply believed in the equality of all people his works of the series bear a
stark witness account of social and racial inequality and neo – colonialist
The artist became a friend of many Soviet celebrities over the years, including Leonid Utyosov, Dmitri Shostakovich, David Oistrakh, Yuri Gagarin, Pavel Popovich, and Alexander Vertinsky. He was also an early supporter of a prominent and widely influential protest songwriter of the 1960s, Bulat Okudzhava, whose public appearances were restricted by Soviet authorities at the time. Steele did two live portraits of Bulat, hosted his early underground concerts and made home recordings.
with people, he has created a gallery of portraits of his contemporaries full
of deep humanistic empathy to his subjects. All based on living models and
unique in their expressive power alone with the subtle plasticity, they convey
the intimately personal emotional life of his era.
years painting romantic landscapes outside of Moscow in the 80s produced a fine
series of works marked by the sensitive and somewhat nostalgic mood.
Steele has devoted a great deal of his time to social service, organizing art
museums in Moscow and in the Ukraine.
style evolved through the years. Never settling with any achievement he pressed
on in a continuous pursuit of a new artistic challenge. Almost every decade were
marked by a distinctive stylistic difference reflecting a new stage of his
artistic development. Harsh to himself he was always known for his restless
spirit and straight forward stubbornness, which times and times again would get
him in troubles with scores of bureaucratic officials.
to his own experiences, his works are full of expressiveness and individualism.
They are standing through the time as an evidence of an era that is already
gone and will never be repeated, as a collective portrait of the nation during
the long and memorable part of its history. This particularity of the soul is
Leonid Steele's trademark.
Leonid Steele spent last 24 years of his remarkable life in
the United States, in California. To his last days he was painting with the same youthful passion and energy
clearly evidenced in the series of his masterful and penetrating portraits of
his personal friends who were part of his aging Great Generation. A great Master remained
loyal to his life-long subjects.
Amidst all changes
Leonid Steele’s extraordinary body of work remains a vibrant legacy to the Art
of the Soviet Union while his story stands as a vivid testimony to the life melted
fully into Art.