Vincentas Gečas painted Shop Window in 1960, after Stalin’s cult of personality had been officially condemned in the Soviet Union and a series of political reforms had been launched that came to be known as the “Thaw”. More importantly, however, it was also a time of rapid urban growth in Soviet-occupied Lithuania, with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s promising to ensure the provision of basic consumer goods to all Soviet citizens.
In this painting we see the representatives of this new urban consumer class, a couple of passersby gazing skeptically but doggedly at a symbol of the promise of a new era: a mannequin posed in a shop window. Perhaps they’ve been drawn to the vivid red color of the outfit – such a stark contrast to the drab reality of Soviet life. Beyond them we see the bustle of a growing city.
Where are we, the audience, in this image? We observe the entire scene from inside the store – an original and unexpected perspective at the time. The early 1960s was a favorable period for artistic experimentation and, as it took advantage of changed circumstances, Lithuanian art embarked on a course of cautious renewal.
Much in this painting was new and unusual for socialist realism: the composition itself, with only the legs of a mannequin placed in the foreground, the shimmering impressionistic brushstrokes, the reflections, and the use of contrasting, bold colors. Gečas sought to master modern means of expression, portraying daily life in a new way.
Vincentas Gečas’ own life seemed to embody the contradictions of the period. As the long-serving rector of the Vilnius Art Institute, Gečas made a name for himself as a skillful manager: he not only founded the Dailė network of art workshops, but also fought to ensure suitable living conditions for artists by advocating for the construction of housing and studios. At the same time, however, he was a fierce defender of the Communist Party line, openly opposing the expansion of artistic freedoms and rejecting innovations that ran counter to party policies. Even under such circumstances, however, Gečas’ work revealed him to be an astute observer of his era, in the process recording details he may never have intended to capture.