Russian Sculpture

Soviet period sculpture

Sculpture created in the Soviet period included was made by talented individuals whose work can be seen by spending an afternoon in the Krymsky Val section of the Tretyakov gallery.  In addition to the monumental public monuments they were required to make for the state these sculptors created a fine body of more personal work using stone, plaster, bronze and wood. Outstanding sculptors of the Soviet period include Aleksandr Matveev, Vera Mukhina, Sergei Konenkov, Joseph Chaikov, Ivan Shadr, Evgeny Vuchetich, Matvei Manizer, Sara Lebedeva and Ekaterina Belashova.  For many years such sculpture was not on public view in the Tretyakov but the Tretyakov has recently started displaying such sculptures again and held its first dedicated Soviet Sculpture exhibition for many years in May 2012.

Galina Ulanova, bronze, c 1950 by Elena Yanson - Manizer
Galina Ulanova, bronze, c 1950 by Elena Yanson – Manizer

There is an outdoor monumental sculpture garden known as the Fallen Monument Park which can be found beside the Krymsky Val building in Moscow which houses the 20th century collection of the Tretyakov Gallery.  The origins of this expatriate name are unknown.  In Russian the park is either simply called the Sculpture Park of the Central House of Artists or The Muzeon Park of Arts (its official title).  It was created in 1992 and displays over 700 sculptures from the Soviet period.  The future of the park and this section of the Tretyakov Gallery looked in jeopardy when Elena Baturina, the wife of former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luchkov, drew up plans to develop the whole site and replace the buildings and park with a Norman Foster designed complex named ‘Orange.’  However, since this former Moscow power couple fell victim to a Moscow power struggle the buildings and park seemed to have been spared.

The large-scale Soviet era statues that were erected all over the former Soviet Union normally depicted Stalin, Lenin or other party leaders.  Communist symbolism was of great importance to the cult these figures liked to create around themselves and sculptors tend to show them in motion striding forwards into the brave new Soviet age.  Some of these sculptures were removed for safety reasons to the sculpture park after the fall of communism…others languish in storage or abandoned in the former Soviet republics.

One of the most famous of these monumental sculptures was Vera Mukhina’s Worker and Kolkoz woman that was created for the 1937 World Fair in Paris.  At the fair the Soviet and German pavilions faced off against each other on either side of the Eiffel tower.  At 25.5m high the worker holds a hammer and the kolkoz woman a sickle.  Due to the weight of the sculpture Mukhina had to make the Paris version out of beaten sheets of tin.  She later made some smaller versions in plaster when back in Moscow.

Worker and Kolkuz woman
Worker and Kolkuz woman

Mukhina was an outstanding sculptor of the period who was well versed in classical sculpture having studied in Paris and Rome before the revolution.  She won this commission against fierce competition from the other leading sculptors of that time such as Shadr and Korolov.

Soviet sculptors were highly trained and created some beautiful work which is little known to collectors although highly regarded by Museum Officials as can be seen by the effort they put in to creating the catalogues of the vast sculpture holdings of the Russian Museum and Tretyakov gallery.

Woman Athlete, 1947, bronze by Matvei Manizer
Woman Athlete, 1947, bronze by Matvei Manizer

The Tretyakov gallery sculpture catalogue, for example, was published by Red Square publishers in 2002; State Tretyakov gallery, Catalogue of the Collection, Sculpture of the 18th – 20th Century, 2 Vols, and is beautifully photographed and painstakingly researched.

Maxim Gorky, bronze, 1938 by Ivan Shadr
Maxim Gorky, bronze, 1938 by Ivan Shadr

Non-monumental Soviet period sculpture is a story waiting to be told.  There are books in Russian on individual sculptors but no book on the overall period.  Until recently collectors did not take Soviet period painting seriously and yet now, the Soviet painters of the 1930’s are in demand such as Deinika, Pimenov and Samokhvalov.  1960’s painters such as Plastov, Stozharov, Korzhev, Ivanov, Popkov and Sidorov are also starting to attract attention.  The same will happen with Soviet period sculpture when collectors realize the quality of work that was produced in this period.

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