War and Peace in San Francisco

In a momentous event in world history, from 4 to 11 February 1945 US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin convened in Crimea’s Livadia Palace to decide the future of post-war Germany. As a result of the controversial Yalta Conference, the country was divided into four zones of occupation, with each assigned to the management of one of the four wartime Allies: the USA, the USSR, Great Britain and France. Within months conflict between the occupying forces of the divided Germany would ignite the Cold War.

Watching the escalation of tensions with concern, Russian-born American artist Anton Refregier decided to include a permanent reminder of the wartime alliance as the triumphant centrepiece of his 27-part mural in the Rincon Annex Post Office in San Francisco.

The mural had been commissioned by the Section of Fine Arts of the Treasury Department as one of the last projects of the New Deal art programmes. By the time Refregier’s mural was unveiled to the public in 1949, Cold War hostilities between the United States and the Soviet Union made the contents of the work highly contentious. The prominent position Refregier afforded to the Soviet symbols of the hammer and sickle led to accusations of communist subversion and the mural became the subject of a prolonged debate, with many groups calling for its removal. In the end the defense of freedom of expression proved victorious, and Refregier’s depiction of the history of California remains open to public view in which is now the Rincon Center office and apartment complex.

Image: Anton Refregier, War and Peace, 1948. Mural, Rincon Annex Post Office, San Francisco. The Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

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