The turn of the century brought to Russian art a highly original master who created deeply psychological images in all the various forms of sculpture—from small-scale pieces to monumental works. Pavel Trubetskoi gained renown as a sculptor who showed a striking and poetic affinity with nature.
He was born on his parents’ estate near the Italian town of Intra, near Lake Maggiore. His father, Pyotr Trubetskoi, was a Russian prince, his mother was American. From the age of eight Pavel became interested in sculpture, and under the influence of his brother Pietro, a scene- painter, he made his first sculptures for a puppet theatre; two years later he attended classes with the artist Danielo Ranzoni. Serious lessons in sculpture began in 1884 inMilan, first at Donato Barcaglia’s studio, and then with Ernesto Bazzaro. Trubetskoi never, in fact, received a systematic artistic training, but his rare talent and willpower assured his success.
It was in 1886 that the young sculptor first displayed one of his works—a statue of a horse—at an exhibition in the Italian town of Brera; thereafter his works appeared at exhibitions in France and America. He sculptured portraits and small animal figures, and experimented in monumental art. In 1891 he took part in competitions to design monuments to Garibaldi and Dante.
In 1897 Trubetskoi came to Russia, the homeland of his father. Inspired by new impressions, he began to work very intensively, and soon started teaching at the Moscow School of Art, Sculpture and Architecture.
The bronze sculpture A Moscow Cab Driver (1898, RUSSIAN MUSEUM, SAINT PETERSBURG) was the first work he completed in Russia. It is a genre composition with an apparently traditional subject. Similar genre scenes were quite common in the work of the Russian sculptors Ye. A. Lansere and L. V. Posen. For Trubetskoi this work was an embodiment of his first Russian impressions, devoid of any ‘ethnographic’ speculation, touchingly sincere, and with great plastic expressiveness in its gentle, flowing forms.
Trubetskoi’s exhibition works were sharply criticised in the conservative circles of the St. PetersburgAcademy, where his innovatory method was considered a violation of ‘classical’ canons; but they attracted the attention of leading representatives of Russian society and of the artistic intelligentsia. He got to know such people as Ilya Repin, Isaak Levitan, Valentin Serov and Fyodor Chaliapin, and got on very well with Lev Tolstoy. In the words of V. A. Bulgakov, Tolstoy’s secretary, ‘The sculptor Paolo Trubetskoi was one of Tolstoy’s favourites . . . He loved him for his simple, open heart, his uprightness, his hatred of high-society conventions, his love of animals and his vegetarianism.’ Tolstoy willingly sat for Trubetskoi, and they had long conversations both in the sculptor’s studio and at the writer’s estate, Yasnaya Polyana.
His bust of Lev Tolstoy (1899, RUSSIAN MUSEUM, SAINT PETERSBURG) and the statuette Lev Tolstoy on a Horse (1900, RUSSIAN MUSEUM, SAINT PETERSBURG) are famous throughout the world. In them, the sculptor reveals the salient qualities in the character of the great Russian writer: calmness and wisdom; intolerance of hypocrisy; simplicity and generosity.
In 1900 Trubetskoi’s works were displayed in the Russian pavilion at the World Exhibition in Paris. For his portraits of Tolstoy and L. Golitsyn and his Moscow Cab Driver Trubetskoi received joint first prize—the ‘Grand Prix’— together with Auguste Rodin.
After this Trubetskoi produced a series of excellent portrait figurines, each unique in its characterisation: e.g. an elegant and emotional likeness of Levitan (1899, RUSSIAN MUSEUM, SAINT PETERSBURG), an inspired Chaliapin (1899-1900, RUSSIAN MUSEUM, SAINT PETERSBURG) and a cheerful, good-natured Doctor Botkin (1906, RUSSIAN MUSEUM, SAINT PETERSBURG). Trubetskoi’s sculptures employ vivid artistic devices, displaying mobility and clarity of plastic forms, and a desire to avoid smooth, even, and therefore inert, surfaces. It is in this mobility of form that the innermost, spiritual aspects of the model are revealed.
Trubetskoi’s female portraits are distinguished by keen perceptiveness, softness of modelling and lyricism. All are unique works of art, from the striking portrait of M. K. Tenisheva in her ball gown (1899, RUSSIAN MUSEUM, SAINT PETERSBURG) and the aristocratic Golitsyna (1911, State Art Museum of Byelorussia, Minsk) to Mother with Child (1898, RUSSIAN MUSEUM, Saint Petersburg, TRETYAKOV GALLERY, MOSCOW), Mother with Son (1901, RUSSIAN MUSEUM, SAINT PETERSBURG) and the charming Dunya (1900, RUSSIAN MUSEUM, SAINT PETERSBURG).
His portraits of children are especially poetic: cf. Children—Nikolai and Vladimir Trubetskoi (1900, RUSSIAN MUSEUM, SAINT PETERSBURG) and Girl with Dog (Friends) (1901, RUSSIAN MUSEUM, SAINT PETERSBURG). His animals portraits are also remarkably profound psychologically: Dog (1899, TRETYAKOV GALLERY, MOSCOW), Horse and Foal (1899, Smolensk Regional Museum of Local History), Siberian Husky (1903, RUSSIAN MUSEUM, SAINT PETERSBURG) and A Saddled Horse (1898, RUSSIAN MUSEUM, SAINT PETERSBURG).
Between 1899 and 1909 Trubetskoi worked on a large-scale monument to Alexander III. For this purpose he was given a special studio- pavilion of glass and steel on Old Nevsky Pros- pekt, near the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. In the preparatory stages of this work, Trubetskoi made eight small-scale models, four life- size ones and two on the scale of the proposed monument.
Emerging in 1900 as winner of a competition for the right to create a monument to Alexander III, Trubetskoi paid little attention to the jury’s remarks about the structure of his monument. S. Witte in his Memoirs complained about the sculpture’s ‘unaccommodating character’. Trubetskoi disregarded both this comment and that of the Grand Prince Vladimir Alexandrovich, who saw the monument as a caricature of his brother. The Tsar’s widow, however, who liked the portrait’s verisimilitude, allowed Trubetskoi to complete the work.
The monument is essentially different from most other monuments to Russian tsars in that the sculptor sought neither idealisation nor outward splendour. Ilya Repin very succinctly summed up the idea behind the work: ‘Russia, oppressed by the burden of one of the most reactionary of tsars, has dug in its heels and refuses to go on.’
In the monument Trubetskoi embodied his creative credo: ‘A portrait should not be a copy. In clay or on a canvas I convey the idea of the person portrayed, that which I see as characteristic of him.’ Whether the words ‘I’m not interested in politics; I merely depicted one animal on top of another’ were really spoken by Trubetskoi or not, the monument conveys the impression of a dull, crushing force. Alexander Benois remarked that this was a result ‘not merely of the master’s good fortune, but of his profound penetration of the task at hand.’
Even before the monument was unveiled, Trubetskoi could sense the hostility of many members of the tsar’s family and of high-ranking civil servants. Nicholas II wanted it removed to Irkutsk, ‘to send it into exile in Siberia, as far as possible from my offended filial eyes’, and to have another monument erected in the capital. S. Witte recalled that the sculptor did not even receive his invitation to the unveiling ceremony in time, and arrived too late in St. Petersburg.
Having fallen into disfavour with the authorities and having been deprived of the possibility of starting work on a new commission, Trubetskoi went abroad.
Between 1906 and 1914, inParis, he made, sculptural portraits of Auguste Rodin, Anatole France, Giacomo Puccini and S. A. Muromtsev, and in London, one of George Bernard Shaw. However he continued to participate in competitions and art exhibitions held in Russia. Personal exhibitions of his work were mounted in 1912 inChicago and Rome.
In 1914 Trubetskoi went to America, where he constructed monuments to Dante (San- Francisco) and General Otis (Los Angeles).
In 1921 he returned to Paris, and the last years of his life were spent in Italy. He carved a marble statue of the famous Caruso for the La Scala Opera House in Milan, designed a war memorial for the town of Brera, did a sculptured portrait of Gabriele D’Annunzio, a self-portrait for the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and a portrait of one of the most famous Italian artists, Giovanni Segantini.
He travelled to Egypt (1934) and Spain (1935) with exhibitions of his own work.
Pavel Trubetskoi died in Italy on 12 February 1938.
Although he spent a comparatively short time in Russia, Trubetskoi made an invaluable contribution to Russian art. His profundity, spirited forms and distinctive styles have had an enormous influence on the development of Soviet sculpture.