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- 4.11 Morning of homeland - a hope for peace and prosperity
- 4.12 Miner – fearless State’s worker
- 4.13 Labour – a high mission and duty of Soviets
- 4.14 Vladimir Gnezdilov – a beginning of sculptural portraits series
- 5. THE HORRORS OF THE II WORLD WAR
4.10 Partisan with a gun - an obedient woman-warrior
The same subject of a woman with a gun is used in creation of small format
sculpture. It is interesting that Nina Slobodinskaya consciously turns to a small format
sculpture, discovering its aesthetic value and revealing the enormous expressive
potential in it; - the sculptor mentioned it in her talks with her son. Small format
sculpture lately becomes one of the most favourite genres of the artist. The partisan
with the gun – a small-format work in plaster cast, dated 1938. We see a statuette of
a determined young Uzbek woman standing on her knees and firmly holding a gun
in her hands. Elaborated in realistic manner, the sculpture’s forms are laconic; the
figure is minimally decorated, making an accent at the main feature – a stretched
like a spring, female figure. The drapery of a national traditional Uzbek cloth
emphasizes the main straight line of the figure.
Yet Andre Gid wrote on a possipility of this phenomena’s appearance. See: Жид, А. Возвращение
из СССР. M.: Два взгляда, С.99.
N. Slobodinskaya, The partisan with a gun, 1938, plaster cast.
N. Slobodinskaya The partisan with a gun, 1938, bronze.
Photo of N. Slobodinskaya’s work The Partisan with a gun, in the Sovetskoe iskusstvo, 1938, N24.
The face expresses strength, will, determination, braveness and fearlessness. She
seems a panther which is gathering all her strength before a final jump in attempt to
catch its victim. The masculine face with a pronounced chess hides any feminine
trait. It’s not surprising that this sculpture was featured by the Soviet press and its
photo was published. The sculptural image incarnates all the qualities the Soviet
State required the nation to develop: a subordinated and obedient passionate
service to the Patria.
As we can observe in all art genres of the epoch the image of femininity just
disappears in any type of portraits. The main reason - is there was no social official
commission on it. The State was not interested to evoke and accentuate mass
public’s attention on the eternal values of humanity, such as maternity, love, mercy
as it distracted people from service to the State. It needed an obedient impersonal
man or woman-warrior, which in case of necessity could replace him. Especially it
concerned women. The previous wars took away many men’s lives. Logically the
female population was dominant and that supposed that the hope and the trust of
the State were given to them. It also explains that a very significant part of official
Soviet monumental propaganda was dedicated to Russian women. It seems
incredible how openly through different art forms (posters and sculpture especially in
1930s) the official state’s commission visualizes the type of citizen which they
intended to create and consolidate in the population’s mind as the only right one:
an impersonal warrior who is on service of his state’s order with an aggressive
readiness to destroy any enemy. Finally, an important number of Soviet populations
accepted and assimilated this ideal, trying to correspond to it. And even the dualism
and ambiguity of the Soviet Government in its attitude and behaviour towards the
nation did not weaken the trust of many. This fact once more confirms the naive and
trustful character of the nation.
4.11 Morning of homeland - a hope for peace and prosperity
Another plaster cast sketch I would like to describe as the Morning of homeland – a
small-scale model of public monument project Nina Slobodinskaya worked on.
Neither the dating can be exact, nor the final purpose of its creation. Luckily, the
preserved photo permits us to study the model almost in every detail.
The pedestal is shaped in a form of the stairs. The central figure represents an
ascending and stepping further woman. Following traditional Asian manner the
woman carries on her head some lading. The straight back emphasizes the
impression of dignity and self-confidence. Her figure is full of majesty and loftiness.
The female figure sublimely continues her way upstairs.
The composition is clear, laconic, built up horizontally, not complicated by
unnecessary details. It recalls Vera Muchina’s attitude towards a model, she always
insisted on that details’ congestion can destroy the main idea and the whole
impression of monument
years of her creative work: you never find Slobodinskaya’s sculptural image with
details’ exuberance. From the first sight the drapery of the central figure’s cloth
seems to be shaped schematically but if we look closer - they underline and give
continuity to the vertical axis of the composition. At the same time the drapery
reminds a falling down stream of a waterfall and creates the impression of lightness,
transparency, and refinement which accentuates the lightness of heroine’s step. The
figure at the lower stair creates a balance and brings wholeness to the composition.
Where the female figure is directing? In terms of Soviet iconography and a direct
future! The female figure symbolizes a motherland which takes care of all her
beloved inhabitants and leads to the prosperity, well-being and peace. There is a
warrior on his knees, which is certainly on guard, serving and guaranteeing peace
and tranquillity to his motherland and its inhabitants.
If we look further and try to perceive its image, revealing other strata of meaning,
we see the female sculpture which embodies a goddess of prosperity – an image
often used in Slobodinskaya’s imagery system. By her majestic pose and full of
dignity and lightness step, she seems to climb the Olympus, reminding a goddess of
Personal recallings of the sculptor kept and recalled by her son Andrey Gnezdilov at the interview on
antiquity. In any interpretation the monument incarnates the message of hope,
peace, and prosperity – which responds to the needs of exhausted by the multiples
changes and psychologically tired Soviet population.
As we know any Soviet artist could escape such subjects as heroes, war, revolution,
labour and work if he wanted to be accepted into the obligatory artistic unions, in
order to get commissions, to be able to present their works at exhibitions and to earn
for living expenses. In accordance to these social circumstances, it is not surprising
that in the artist’s early creative period these subjects are explored and displayed in
a variety of sculptural forms.
N. Slobodinskaya, The soldier, 1930s, bronze.
In 1930s one of the principle places in the hierarchy of heroes occupied militants
and labour representatives. So, no wonder, that in sculptural range of Nina
Slobodinskaya we see the Miner- a masculine figure represented in haut-relief in
bronze. Unfortunately neither location, nor exact date of its creation is known.
Supposedly, it was created as a memorial desk for a thumb decoration. During 1920
-1930ss due to the tragic historical collisions a lot of new cemeteries were founded
and numerous burials took place (especially a huge quantity of unknown war,
revolution and work heroes of the new regime were buried on expense of The State).
Consequently it entailed multiples commissions of memorial desks as the
government used to commemorate their deeds in order to give an example of
patriotism to the rest of population. Many of those heroes were unknown – the fact
which required the stylized and generalized images sculpted in realistic manner. The
subject of commemorative sculpture
in Soviet epoch deserves a special interest
as the richness and variety of the imagery created by numerous artists is truly
Formally Slobodinskaya’s haut-relief responses to the basic characteristic of this
memorial genre – a man seems to represent a warlike character, a determination to
achieve his goal. Holding a working tool in his arms he tries to make it work. As in
previous artists’ military based images the expression of his face, emphasized by light
and shadow rich contrasts depicts readiness, determination, strength and will. The
inclined pose of the man emphasizes even more the braveness and energy of the
sculptural figure’s character. The bronze clearly outlines the gloomy stubbornness of
the man. It seems that nothing will stop this Soviet miner-worker, his decisiveness to
complete his task and his duty – only death.
Subject of Russian memorial sculpture deserves a special approach and research. For a deeper
understanding and study one may address to the following research sources: Полякова, Н.И.
Скульптура и пространство. М.: Советский художник, 1982, C.199.,
Азизян, И.А. “Мемориал: функция, концепция, композиция”. Декоративное Искусство СССР, 1972,
№3, С.10-15.; Компанец, С.Е. Надгробные памятники XVI первой половины XIX вв. Практическое
пособие по выявлению и научному описанию. Научно-исследовательский институт культуры. М.:
ПО «Мосгорпечать», 1998, C.68.; Пирютко, Ю.М., Тимофеев, В.Н., Ефремова, Н.Н. Монументально-
декоративная скульптура Санкт-Петербурга. Справочник, СПб.: Арт-Бюро, 2002, C.318; Пирютко,
Ю.М. Царскосельский некрополь. Петербургские чтения 96, Ассоциация исследователей Санкт-
Петербурга, СПб.: БЛИЦ, 1996, С.278-280.; Маркина, Н.Л., Рогулина, Н.В., Савинская, Л.П., Шмелева,
O.A. Новодевичье кладбище. СПб.: Белое и черное, 2003, C.558.; Левинсон, Е.А., Васильева, A.B.,
Бартенева, И.А, Рогачевский, В.М. Пискаревское Мемориальное кладбище-музей. Л.: Художник
РСФСР, 1962, C.64.; Полякова, Н.И. Скульптура и пространство. М.: Советский художник, 1982,
C.199.; Соколова, Л. Когда горит свеча. Никольское кладбище Апександро-Невской лавры. СПб.:
Ч.П. Базунов, 2002, C.223.
N. Slobodinskaya, Labour, 1930s, plaster cast.
4.13 Labour – a high mission and duty of Soviets
Another curious work of the early period which is worth mentioning - a sculptural
sketch of a small-format monument, called Labour. The whole composition is
depicted schematically, Slobodinskaya proposed an original visual solution to the
subject of labour. It appears to be a truly direct visual message which proclaims an
idea that labour ennobles a mankind – a direct appeal to every Soviet man and
woman, manifests an example to be followed and a high mission and duty to
complete. It seems to be a promotion’s action reflected in sculpture.Two a bit
prolonged but proportional figures are actively involved in work process -gathering
of harvest. Both are passionately implicated. A man seems to stare with admiration
at the working woman; a female figure is concentrated at her work. The whole
composition is laconic, elaborated basing on a profound knowledge of the
architectonic laws. Moreover there is a rhythmic movement expressed in the whole
group, resembling a wave’s movement.
Curiously, in the sculptural works of Slobodinskaya there is always a hidden inner
rhythm which gives a special richness to every depicted image and reminds a
. As to the genre of small format sculpture, would be
important to recall that it opens many artistic means of expressiveness as mentioned
previously. Among other advantages it permits to make a detailed examination of a
subject, presents a model’s situation, and offers an artist a scope for affirmation.
Small‐size sculptures can represent quick sketches, consummate, highly intricate
sculptures or statuettes that usually underscore a character of the work. As to viewer
this format opens multiples viewpoints. Nina Slobodinskays worked in different
genres. Unfortunately we can’t affirm that all her creative work was embraced in our
research but we can definitely be sure that this period is characterized by the variety
of genres she worked on. The sculptural portrait was not an exception.
It may be significant, that precisely Anna Golubkina in her writings occasionally observed how
important is a feeling – as the basic starting point for work process is. Sculptor affirmed that feeling is
always right and one should not underestimate it or destroy it, giving too much importance to one or
another form. N. Slobodinskaya as a rule worked on models of personalities, who would provoke her
respect, admiration or would cause on her a deep impression. We might not find a model, which would
be worked out in indifferent manner. Possibly due to a strong emotional link existed between sculptor
and her husband, but the realistical portrait of Vladimir Gnezdilov turned into a full of humanism, of
warm feeling, an authentic deep intime personality’s characteristic.
N. Slobodinskaya, V.G. Gnezdilov, 1940, bronze.
N. Slobodinskaya, V. Gnezdilov’s head, 1930s, plasticine, sketch.
N. Slobodinskaya, V. Gnezdilov’s head, fragment of sculptural portrait, 1930s, bronze.
Photo of V. Gnezdilov, 1930s, unknown author.
4.14 Vladimir Gnezdilov – a beginning of sculptural portraits series
In 1940 Nina Slobodinskaya portrayed her husband Vladimir Gnezdilov – scientist,
Doctor and professor of biology of the Military-Medical Academy in Leningrad.
According to Andrey Gnezdilov’s recalling sculptor Slobodinskaya often joked that
the principle reason she married him was the fact that he was a perfect model for
her sculptures: tall, athletically shaped, with beautiful face traits
sculptural portraits – a favourite genre, widely developed by the sculptor in the latest
creative period. Vladimir Georgievich’s bust is depicted realistically. His face is
carefully shaped with all possible details depicted. A prolonged front with knitted
brows emphasizes a profound state of concentration and indicates a deep state of
thought and reasoning. Viewer may feel a deep understanding of the model which
the sculptor opens to us. Despite of being a kind of representative official portrait, it
suddenly reveals us the psychological richness and an interesting deep personality
of Dr Gnezdilov, being simultaneously intimate and full of spirituality.
The portrayed is a complex personality. The sculptor shares with a spectator her
close knowledge and her special attitude to him. We may guess grace to the
realistic method of depiction, in detail worked on face, - the wholeness of his
character, and his responsible thoughtful attitude to life, his spiritual nobleness, his
honest personality and we see a deep thought in his mind and high spirituality of this
individual, reflected in the sculptural portrait.
In my opinion this portrait was originally meant to be official, but instead, became a
deeply psychological and in time, the fact which neglects the imposed manner of
Soviet iconography, which reclaimed generalized images of personalities who stand
the general line of official demands; though, as to Slobodinskaya’s artistic
achievements, the sculptural portrait of Vladimir Gnezdilov may be considered as
one of her best sculptural images in the whole portrait genre series.
Lately, especially in the post-war period Slobodinskaya worked a lot in a sculptural
portrait genre, depicting interesting and significant personalities; however in any of
previous work her sculptural image is so widely and psychologically deeply analysed
Personal verbal recollings of Andrey Gnezdilov- the sculptor’s son at the interview on 09.08.2014.
and carefully revealed in its spiritual essence as in this case. The portrait has some
official military attributes (the type of shirt for instance), but they are shaped
schematically and viewer understands that it has a secondary significance for the
Trying to sum up, we may suggest that in her early creative period Slobodinskaya
worked in a variety of sculptural genres and forms: monumental sculpture of higher-
then life-size dimension, small-format sculptural images, statuettes, haut-relief and
portraits. The artist manifests her-self as a mature sculptor who perfectly possesses a
sculptor’s craft and a necessary technique. She adapts a realistic style of portrayal’s
depiction. Despite of giving preference to the realistic style Nina Slobodinskaya is
capable to overcome conventionality of its forms and a strictness of the imposed
Soviet artistic norms, fulfilling her models with a multiplicity of senses, profound
meaning and symbolism. The sculptures presented in this early creative period are
wide‐ranging and cannot be subsumed under a single, unidirectional train of
development. Nevertheless, a human figure remains always a main subject and its
to small format sculpture in Slobodinskaya’s case is not a sign of artistic weakness,
but rather a search of an optimal expressive artistic form.
Sculptor Slobodinskaya is not afraid of experimenting with different materials but she
mostly demonstrates her skill and knowledge of a model in a plaster cast and bronze
materials. The author shows confidence working on huge volume and schematic
configuration of figure’s pronunciation, but gradually she gives her preference rather
to refined small-format sharp-cut sculptural images. One of the artist’s individual
traits in her early and late periods is a search and tendency to reveal an inner
movement and rhythm in composition, line and figure, to give a psychological
depth to a sculptural model’s interpretation.
The Second World War brings unexpected changes together with new thematic and
stylistic demands and possibilities. The sculptor apparently enjoyed studying and
discovering individual richness of every depicted image, to search for essence of
individuality; therefore a genre she is able to express her craft and artistic skill mostly
– is obviously a sculptural portrait. Another important trait which characterizes the
work of this genre is a truthfulness of model’s depiction.
5. THE HORRORS OF THE II WORLD WAR
It happened like this when only the dead
Were smiling, glad of their release,
That Leningrad hung around its prisons
Like a worthless emblem, flapping its piece.
Shrill and sharp, the steam-whistles sang
Short songs of farewell
To the ranks of convicted, demented by suffering,
As they, in regiments, walked along -
Stars of death stood over us
As innocent Russia squirmed
Under the blood-spattered boots and tyres
Of the black marias.
Anna Achmatova, Requiem, introduction, 1935-1940.
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