by Larry Lefkowitz
She sits, belled light blue ribbon around her neck, on
an orange pillow, plump and prissy. The painting is unsigned.
The painter, they say, disappeared in the gulag. Others claim
that he still lives in Moscow. Others, that Stalin himself
painted it. It once adorned Stalin’s office wall, they say.
Or that of his dacha on the Black Sea. Now rumor has it in the
Hermitage museum. Or sold, or given, to an American magnate.
Some say Southeby’s is tracking it down for an auction on
Soviet non-realistic art, though a dispute about whether it
falls within this category remains unresolved. There are
rumors that the painting was destroyed by Stalin after a
midnight drinking bout with cronies in the Kremlin, that
he, sober the next day, ordered a new painting, but that
the artist (the original or another) could not capture the
essence of the first (despite the leader’s description), and
was exiled to Siberia. Maybe it is the second painting that
exists, maybe not. Oddly enough, nothing is known of the fate
of the cat. Svetlana, Stalin’s daughter, who of course called
it “the Cheshire cat,” claimed that it never existed.