David King, Collector of Soviet Political Art, Dies at 73

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One of David King's books on the Stalin era.

David King, a graphic designer and design historian who amassed one of the world's largest collections of Soviet political art and photographs, which he drew on for revelatory books on Leon Trotsky and the Stalin era, died on May 11 at his home in London. He was 73.

The cause was a heart attack, said his partner, Valerie Wade.

Mr. King was the art editor of The Sunday Times of London magazine in 1970 when he traveled to the Soviet Union to gather material for an article on the centenary of Lenin's birth. A leftist with Trotskyist leanings and a fervent admirer of 1920s Soviet poster art, he became obsessed with ferreting out images of his hero, as well as photographs, posters, pro paganda art and other ephemera from the Soviet period.

Mr. King pursued his Trotsky obsession over the years to the point of acquiring a ceramic mug decorated with Trotsky's face.

"I traveled to Mexico, New York and all over Europe to find the few people who had known Trotsky and were still alive," he told the British newspaper Socialist Worker in 2005. "I came back with thousands of photographs of Trotsky. The oldest was taken when he was 9, and the last was taken as he was being cremated."

He packaged his findings in "Leon Trotsky" (1972), a large-format book with text by his Sunday Times colleague Francis Wyndham, and returned to the subject later in "Trotsky: A Photographic Biography" (1986).

< p class="story-body-text story-content" data-para-count="521" data-total-count="1932">His collection grew to more than 250,000 items, which in recent years has generated a series of exhibitions at the Tate Modern in London, where a special gallery is dedicated to his material. Mr. King also drew on his archive for the major studies "Ordinary Citizens: The Victims of Stalin" (2003), "Red Star Over Russia: A Visual History of the Soviet Union From the Revolution to the Death of Stalin" (2009) and "The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia" (2014).

"He was a one-man archaeological expedition into the lost world, the destroyed world, of the original Soviet leadership," Stephen F. Cohen, emeritus professor of Russian studies at Princeton and New York University, said in a telephone interview. "He was determined to unearth everything that Stalin had buried so deeply and so bloodily."

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David King Credit Judy Groves/Metropolitan Books

David John King was born on April 30, 1943, in London, where his father was a bank manager. A socialist uncle instilled in him a burning sense of the injustice of the capitalist system, and it fueled most of his endeavors.

After studying typography at the London School of Printing and Graphic Arts, renamed the London College of Printing by the time he graduated in 1963, Mr. King found work as an assistant to the designer of Queen, a glossy magazine that focused on the young and stylish "Chelsea set."

An early marriage ended in divorce. In addition to his partner, he is survived by a sister, Pamela Hearne; a son, Robin; a daughter, Josephine King; and two grandchildren.

Mr. King was recruited by The Sunday Times's magazine in 1965, and he and Michael Rand, the art director, went on to transform it visually, using punchy graphics, sans-serif type and dramatic photo cropping. Mr. King applied the lessons of the modernists he most admired: the Soviet poster artists of the 1920s, the Weimar photomontagist John Heartfield and the filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein.

While at The Sunday Times he also produced, as a freelancer, some of the most recognizable album covers of the late 1960s, including "The Who Sell Out," "The Crazy World of Arthur Brown" and "Axis: Bold as Love," the second album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

For the third Hendrix album, "Electric Ladyland," Mr. King commissioned a photograph of 19 nude women, in various sizes and shapes, which he intended as a rebuttal to the Playboy image of women. In the United States, it was regarded as risqué and was replaced with a head shot of Hendrix.

Shortly before leaving The Sunday Times in 1975, Mr. King, who had taught himself photography, documented Muhammad Ali's training sessions for his bout with George Foreman in Zaire and published his photographs as "I Am King: A Photographic Biography of Muhammad Ali" (1975).

In the 1970s, Mr. Ki ng designed posters for several political groups, including Apartheid in Practice and the National Union of Journalists. He came up with the red-and-yellow arrow logo for the Anti-Nazi League and designed the posters for the Rock Against Racism concerts and marches. He was trying, he told the graphic design journal Eye in 2003, to create a visual style for the left.

His Russian research led him to a trove of early-20th-century satirical journals, which provided the material for "Blood and Laughter: Caricatures From the 1905 Revolution" (1983), which he wrote and designed with Cathy Porter.

With the arrival of Mikhail S. Gorbachev and the policies of glasnost and perestroika, Mr. King's collection became a coveted resource for scholars intent on re-examining Soviet history and for museum curators keen to organize exhibitions on Soviet design and political art. For them, the material illuminated the past. For Mr. King, the political questions of 1917 were very much present.

"I used to dream, like all children, how life would be in the 21st century," he wrote in the introduction to "Red Star Over Russia." "If anyone had told me that there would still be inequality, racism, kings, queens and religious maniacs stalking the planet, I would have considered them crazy."

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