A bronze figure of a child , Prince Paul Troubetzkoy, 1897
- bronze, marble
Troubetzkoy’s aversions to reading and formal education were hardly accidental. He believed books kept people from seeing things with their own eyes, and held similar views on the influence of classical art. It was said of Troubetzkoy that you could find him anywhere except at a gallery, exhibition or museum. He would walk by great works of sculpture unmoved and disinterested. The street was his gallery. Nature was his artistic mentor. “Close the studio doors to literature, to tradition, to everything that is not form, expression and colour,” the sculptor would tell his students. Nature, he would remind them, is already endowed with “the entire beauty and grandeur of existence”.
Autonomous, independent and contemptuous of convention, Troubetzkoy was essentially an impressionist. His fluid modelling style allowed for the sketchy movements, vibrating light and blurred contours associated with the genre. The appeal of his sculpture is immediate since it requires no grounding in the classics. Allegory and symbolism are conspicuously absent. Nudes are rare. There are no Greco-Roman heroes here; no sylvan goddesses, either. Instead, humanity is glorified by spontaneous truth, not the broad strokes of ancient myths.
Troubetzkoy’s work is intimate, sincere, lyrical and warm; never overstated or dramatic. It avoids the pitfalls of sentimentality and cliché. The sculptor’s subjects are slender, svelte, with long legs, fluted throats and delicate fingers. The men look like fauns; the women resemble nymphs. The intelligent gaze – so often the domain of painting, cinema and photography – is ubiquitous in Troubetzkoy’s production. As Tolstoy wrote to his publisher, Vladimir Chertkov, on 5 May 1899: “He [Troubetzkoy] appears to live by how much inner life his sculptures express through their faces—the eyes being especially important, in my view.”
Troubetzkoy cross-pollinated with many great artists. Carl Fabergé placed a miniature golden replica of his most famous work inside the Alexander III Equestrian Egg. Serov and Repin painted his portraits, Bakst and Benois eulogised his work, Tolstoy and Diaghilev called him a friend. His sitters comprised artists, patrons, magnates and dancers, and included sculptor Auguste Rodin, collector Princes Maria Tenisheva, writer George Bernard Shaw, painter Amadeo Modigliani, and members of the Rothschild, Roosevelt, Vanderbilt and Romanov families. His work resides at the Metropolitan in New York, the Cleveland in Ohio, Musée d’Orsay in Paris, at the Rome and Venice academies, in Berlin, in Dresden, at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, at the Russian Museum, and at the Marble Palace in St Petersburg. Even though he never learnt the language, Prince Paul Troubetzkoy is often cited as Russia’s greatest sculptor.
In his 1933 essay about the methods and ideals of modern sculpture, Professor Herbert Maryon concluded: “Troubetzkoy has shown the world how a true feeling for the life, the structure, the pose and the character of his subject may be combined with an amazingly direct and brilliant execution.” His exceptional technique had been remarked upon two decades earlier when Christian Brinton wrote: “The sheen of silk, the soft flutter of an ostrich plume, the rhythmic undulation of the coiffure, or the rose-petal radiance of a delicate complexion—each seems to have presented but scant difficulty” to Troubetzkoy. George Bernard Shaw famously said that his favourite sculptor was “one of the few geniuses of whom it is not only safe but necessary to speak in superlatives”. Troubetzkoy thought only those who find it “an irresistible necessity” should devote themselves to art, and argued that a single true artist was worth more than “any quantity of mediocrities”, which is why he remained sceptical throughout his life that art could be taught.
The sculptor moved to Milan in 1884. He apprenticed to Donato Barcaglia and Ernesto Bazzaro whilst enlarging his social circle to include musicians, journalists and painters. According to Oliver Wootton, Troubetzkoy participated in every major show in Milan from 1887 until his departure to Russia, in 1898.
In 1913 art critic Raffaello Giolli identified the sitter of the present lot as the daughter of Ernesto Consolo, a pianist who lived in Milan around the time Troubetzkoy sculpted this girl (1890-1892). Her plumpness and introversion distinguish her from most of the sculptor’s subjects. A Troubetzkoy sitter is usually looking out into the world; this sitting girl is looking in. She is consumed by the crumpled cloth in her hands, playing with its folds, entirely unaware of her surroundings. Troubetzkoy’s acute eye for truth in posture, gesture and gaze can be glimpsed here in relation to children. Consolo’s daughter is caught in the act of developing her senses in solitude. The viewer is compelled to feel that nothing in the world could be more fascinating than a crumpled piece of cloth in the hands of a little girl.