Naum Aronson (1872-1943) was born in Kreslavka, a village near Vitebsk in Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire. Following his move to Paris in 1891, he began to acquire international recognition as a sculptor, having been influenced by the work of Rodin.
At the turn of the 20th century, he travelled to the village of Yasnaya Polyana, Russia, to meet Leo Tolstoy and his family. It was Aronson's intent to study, observe and sketch Tolstoy with the ultimate purpose of capturing the unique essence of the writer in bronze. First, Aronson made a clay bust of Tolstoy's wife, Sofia Andreevna, which so impressed Tolstoy that he warmed to the idea of a sculpture executed in his likeness, despite his initial reluctance. Still, he refused to pose for the artist, instead suggesting that Aronson work in his study while the author finished his novel, Hadji-Murat.
Aronson returned to France with a clay model, over sixty sketches, and many fond memories of the world-famous Tolstoy. After refining the sculpture in 1901-1902, Aronson cast the bust in bronze at the Alexis Rudier Fondeur in Paris, one of Rodin's favorite foundries. The work was exhibited at the Fine Arts Academy in St Petersburg in 1902 to immense acclaim, the critics in agreement that it truly captured Tolstoy as a deeply contemplative philosopher. Only a few casts of this bronze bust are known to exist.
See S. A. Tolstaya, Diary 1897-1909; V. Lakshin, Odesskiy listok, with Aronson's notes about his visit to Yasnaya Polyana in August 1901.
L.Tolstoy Museum in Yasnaya Polyana (life size plaster); L. Tolstoy Museum in Moscow (plaster, bronze); State Tretyakov Gallery (reduced plaster)
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