Vladimir Putin cradles a fragile chick, hugs his dog and lets a tear roll down his cheek in an exhibition of kitsch paintings that opened this week after his re-election to the Kremlin. The oil paintings aim to show a softer side of the Russian strongman, the artist said as the exhibition titled “A Man with a Heart of Gold” opened in Putin’s northwestern home city of Saint Petersburg. “I wanted to create human portraits of Vladimir Putin that provoke good feelings,” painter Alexei Sergiyenko told AFP. Putin has built up a macho image with stunts including riding bare-chested and shooting a wild Siberian tiger with a tranquilizer dart, but seemingly allowed himself to show emotion after he won a third Kremlin term this month. One painting focuses on the tear that glistened on Putin’s cheek as he gave a victory speech to flag-waving crowds on election day. To some, it was a sign that the hardman had feelings too, but Putin later blamed the wind. “I prefer to believe that his tears came from his feelings,” said Sergiyenko, who describes himself as a Putin supporter. In other brightly colored pop art style paintings, Putin carries a small boy on his shoulders, cycles through the countryside with young women and holds a bunch of flowers. Some reproduce Putin’s cuddlier photo opportunities, including a visit to an agricultural show when he held up a chick in his manicured fingers and stared it in the eyes. He is also shown receiving an affectionate lick from his labrador retriever Connie, who became sufficiently well known during Putin’s presidency to have her “own” weekly column in a women’s magazine. The exhibition of 12 paintings runs to March 29 in Sergiyenko’s gallery in Saint Petersburg.