Anna Golubkina – spiritual preceptor in sculpture
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3.14 Anna Golubkina – spiritual preceptor in sculpture
If one watches with a wish to comprehend, than he will always find something
interesting in model, and often something surprising and indicative. Somebody may
say that a capacity to see is congenital and does not depend on us. However, by
my proper experience, I know that a capacity to see may be developed till a
Anna Golubkina, Some words on sculptor’s craft.
Photo of A. Golubkina, 1890s, unknown author. A. Golubkina, Fog, 1899, marble, decorative vase.
Addressing to other artistic personalities, which significantly influenced artistic
method of Nina Slobodinskaya, we will regard Anna Golubkina; the sculptor used to
repeat that the ideal example of a sculptor and a person for her was Anna
Golubkina (a student of Trubetskoy and Rodin (1864 – 1927)) as she was a very kind,
honest person and a talented artist.
Nina Slobodinskaya’s son remembers the fascination and a real admiration which his
mother felt towards Anna Golubkina in creative and personal sense. In her archives
till today remain a lot of illustrations of Golubkina’s works. If we analyse, we may
discover a number of creative traces which Golubkina left on sculptor
Slobodinskaya. First of all - thematically. As Golubkina, Nina Slobodinskaya often
gave preference to the portraits of woman and old man. As to male characters,
only prominent or outstanding figures are honoured in order to be displayed in her
work. Depicting sculptural portraits Slobodinskaya also was interested in revealing
the work of thought, in addition to character’s spiritual essence. The dynamism in
sculpture – it’s another common trait, which unites two female Russian sculptors of
approximately the same epoch. The relief as a sculptural form in sculptural subject
matter also attracted Nina Slobodinskaya. It was Golubkina who contributed in
other way of its treatment and relief’s innovative implementation. Thanks to
Golubkina’s relief’s elaboration modern sculptors dared to treat reliefs widely and
without a restraint. The classical canons of relief sculpture do not weigh anymore the
sculptors of the beginning of XX century. The sculptors are liberated of academic
A. Golubkina, K. Marx, 1905, bronze. A. Golubkina, Lermontov’s portrait, 1900, plaster cast.
Anna Semyonovna Golubkina was a prominent Russian sculptor with a difficult fate.
To understand better hew vision and way in sculpture we should turn to her life story.
Originally, Anna was from Zaraysk, Ryazan gubernia, not far away from Moscow
region. Her parents were deeply religious (belonging to Old Believers) peasants.
Golubkina lost her father in the age of two. Policarp Sidorovich Golubkin deeply
influenced her personal beliefs as was taking care of her during all childhood. Her
grandfather relied to vegetable farmers. Due to the family’s views, Anna did not get
any scholar education till 25 years. Regardless this circumstance, all family was
talented and developed. Anna's older sister Alexandra Golubkina got a nurse
(feldsher’s) education. Some teacher revealed in Anna Golubkina her remarkable
talent in painting and sculpture, advising her family to let her to follow this creative
direction and to continue her studying in Moscow. As a result, in 1889 Anna
Golubkina took exams and entered the Otto Gunst's Classes for Elegant Arts, - an
architecture’s school. At first, Anna Golubkina failed some exams due to the luck in
formal knowledge. Sergey Volnukhin – one of the examiners persuaded the school’s
commission to accept her despite of the exam results, affirming that never saw
anything as appealing and impressive as was her sculptural work Praying old
woman. Finally Anna was admitted and her professor became her tutor
Anna studied just one year in this school and after its bankruptcy entered the
Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture where she remained from
1890 till 1894 under Professor’s Sergey Ivanov’s tutorial. There she knew Sergey
Konenkov – a future legendary sculptor. Further she was accepted as a student at
the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg in the studio of famous sculptor
Vladimir Beklemishev. Some researchers affirmed that Anna Golubkina was secretly
in love with her professor, but he knew nothing about it. In 1895 she left for Paris
where took classes at the Academy Colarossi for two years. In that epoch it was
quite traditional for Russian artists to study for a while in foreign countries; some
brilliant students got even a grant which permitted them to dispose of living
expenses. Though the future sculptor almost did not have financial possibilities she
determinately continued her courses, even sometimes literally starving
Nevertheless it did not stop her of creating original sculptures such as The Iron One
Anna Golubkina was honoured to become in1897 an assistant to Auguste Rodin for
three years period, replacing Camille Claudel. Rodin asked her to shape hands and
legs of his sculptures. Exactly at this period the sculptor created The Old Age, The
Kamensky, A. A. Golubkina. The Person, Her Time, and Sculpture. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1990, p.172.
Kamensky, A. A. Golubkina. The Person, Her Time, and Sculpture. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1990, p.179.
Golubkina, A.S. A Few Words on the Sculptor's Craft. Letters. Recollections by Contemporaries.
Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1983, p.128.
Already in the years of scholarship in France Golubkina with all seriousness took classes and made
everything to develop her sculptural craft and a capacity to see, to which in her proper words she paid
a maximal attention: “Already an old professor Sergey Ivanovich Ivanov advised to feel every place.
The best artists in France know and appreciate this feeling. Great artist Rodin requested to feel a
material. Roman and Greek statues are full of this feeling. You will not find any good statue without a
feeling of a vivid spiritualized material. Less this kind of a feeling has an art piece – worth is its final result.
It is so obvious, whether you build theories, or try to prove a different opinion, - you cannot escape this
truth. One should treat really carefully his work; otherwise he will not save this treasure of models’
feeling. Apprentices use to come to this understanding quite late, and ones ever achieve it. Of course
you may work with everything you wish, only do not mechanize your work. You should thoughtfully and
carefully awake life in plaster cast: if you will discover it in plaster cast than you will achieve it in any
other material”. Golubkina, Anna. Some words on sculptor’s craft. M.: Iskusstvo, 1965. I may suggest that
Golubkina’s appeal to work thoughtfully, to provoke, first of all, a material’s feeling, to start primarily
A. Golubkina, Sleeping, 1910s, marble. A. Golubkina, Maria, 1906, marble.
Regarding The Old Age, she seemed to vague a direct allusion with the work of
Rodin. Curiously she worked on the same model, and even was shaping from the
same position as Rodin
relief The Wave, mounted on the facade of The Moscow Art Theatre was regarded
as an excellent result of the mature artist, which received the best possible
education at home and abroad. In the end, she was named a symbol of Russian
Modernism. Being a honest and sincere person, she had an active civil position -
Golubkina even took part in the Russian Revolution of 1905, was arrested for one
year, accused of distribution of revolutionary propaganda, but was released due to
her illness. Her sculptural achievements included a number of sculptural portraits of
such prominent characters as Andrei Bely, Alexei Remizov, Leo Tolstoy, and Karl
The 1917 October Revolution, Golubkina accepted with joy but eventually rejected
to collaborate with the Soviet Government in the Lenin's plan of Monumental
propaganda after the cruel massacre execution of the former members of the State
working in plaster-cast, - was adapted and applied as an artistic method by Slobodinskaya: the
majority of her works were always made in plaster cast and only once they were completed – sculptor
transmitted them into other material. On the surface of Slobodinskaya’s plaster cast sketches,
preserved in the former studio we may observe an energetic and delicate fingers’ touch, which
demonstrate artist’s active interaction and deep comprehension both of the material and of the
Kamensky, A. A. Golubkina. The Person, Her Time, and Sculpture. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1990, p.184.
Duma. Finally she agreed to teach for a short period in theVKHUTEMAS. The last work
of the artist was a sculpture of Alexander Blok. Anna Golubkina died in 1927
inspiration in sculpture were the impressionists. The texture of materials in her
sculpture is the main visual proof of such a profound interest. The special treatment
of the texture permitted Golubkina to create figures full of dynamism and lyrics.
Besides, the sculptor liked to experiment with different materials such as wood and
stone amidst other ones. The images of women, thinkers and old people always
attracted her. The sculptor created the image of a woman which never feels
prostrated or conquered. Golubkina’s interest in thinkers can be explained by
tradition of impressionism to explore the concept of thought and its movement. Such
sculptures as Old age, Portrait of L. Tolstoy, Walking man, Nina and Thoughtfulness
belong to the best of her art works. The dynamics and light-shadow play in stone are
characteristic for Golubkina’s sculptures
Golubkina lived and worked practically at the juncture of centuries, in historical
terms her creative achievements marked the epoch’s changes: her monumental
reliefs therefore, can be regarded as the last traits of the XIX century. In the new
time’s period appear different complex subject matters. No surprise, that new
means of artistic expression and techniques were discovered. A new relationship
between sculptural and pictorial attributes appeared. Another Golubkina’s
contribution into art of relief was her achievement of a deep interaction between
relief and surrounding it light and air, it also resulted into a stronger emotional
connection between an artwork and viewer
the artwork’s commissioner. The large-scale high relief had to decorate the facade
of the Moscow Arts Theatre. Never before in Russia had a monumental relief
revealed with such a magnitude and expressiveness the mood of the time. The
theatre's innovative concept was perfectly depicted, and the artist's new creative
credo was fully revealed. Aleksander Kamensky, the first writer who describes
Golubkina’s achievements wrote about The Swimmer: "This high relief represents a
sculptural landscape that is unique in the history of sculpture"
Golubkina, A.S. A Few Words on the Sculptor's Craft. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1983, p.128.
Kamensky, A. A. Golubkina. The Person, Her Time, and Sculpture. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1990, p.120.
A. Golubkina, Swimmer, 1903, plaster cast, relief, The National Theatre, Moscow.
A. Golubkina, Swimmer, fragment, 1903, plaster cast, relief, The National Theatre, Moscow.
Originally the sculptor had the three options of the title (The Sea of Human Life, The
Wave, and The Swimmer). The author’s creative ideas in relation of The Swimmer’s
creation consisted of three hypostases of the image. The first one was related to
landscape, the second turned it into the expressive form of the wave, which divides
the relief panel into two parts: one in which sculptural forms dominate, the other with
an elaborated perspective composition, the third one accentuates the swimmer
and his battle. The first innovative step of Golubkina was a choice of high relief
instead of traditional bas-relief image. As a real master Golubkina first studied the
building's function, rhythms and even the crowd’s direction in Kamergersky Pereulok,
not forgetting about psycho-type of theatre-lovers. The swimmer embodied the
expressive sculptural forms at the forefront of the relief, together with gradual
perspectives of the background
chose a pioneering artistic solution. Donatello's non-finite style appealed to
Golubkina much more than the meticulously executed and refined reliefs of the
famous Baptistery doors. During his creative work Donatello developed multi-plane
low reliefs in perspective. Golubkina decided to continue this artistic solution. We
cannot affirm that Golubkina used or preferred only multi-plane or single-plane
perspective; apparently she saw visual effectiveness in both types of relief.
Supposedly, an ability of interaction with surrounding atmosphere together with an
attempt to impact viewer’s senses mainly interested the author, not forgetting a
shape-generating power of plastic forms. Golubkina, in her attempt to create
innovative and touching artistic expression through her reliefs, was not enough
appreciated by her contemporaries
Golubkina left a significant heritage not only artistically but also as an Art
theoretician. A Few Words on the Sculptor's Craft – was her main theoretic work,
among other essays appears the one related to the subject of creating perspective
low reliefs. There Golubkina underlined the importance to protect and support a
sculptural relief in all its kinds and forms. The sculptor’s main artistic thought and
conviction was that a creative idea should be expressed through those artistic
means that reflect its purpose in the most exact and artistic manner. Golubkina
wrote: "A relief is somewhat like a drawing: it is as if you were painting with clay, and
your most important task when creating a relief is to maintain the same scale of
reduction and perspective"
.She certainly did not consider the use of pictorial
means literally but she accentuated the issue which was common to both, painter
and sculptor, a subject regarding perspective and plane gradation.
Kamensky, A. A. Golubkina. The Person, Her Time, and Sculpture. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1990, pp.126-
Golubkina, A.S. A Few Words on Sculptor's Craft. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1983, p.20.
In creative work Golubkina was not afraid of difficulties and always looked for
individual artistic way. Traditional method of artistic solution was not enough for the
sculptor. She never stopped on one type of sculptural form’s creating; it also was the
case of low relief. The multiples types and kinds of her reliefs have not been
categorized till today, but the innovative lines in its artistic depiction are absolutely
clear in all her sculptural images. The landscape motives are often present in her
reliefs. By their means Golubkina could achieve depth, vastness and width of a
background composition in order to give a deeper sound to her work. The best
examples of those ideas we find in Golubkina’s works as The Sea of Human Life and
image. In her reliefs author tends to escape from narrative depiction in order to
achieve more symbolical meaning and simplicity. This tendency is reflected in the
marble high relief Music and Lights in the Distance, as well as in the relief The
Spectacle, and the marble Distance. The landscape there more indicates the
mood, not playing a more important role.
The author gives a total freedom to her imagination, creating imagery of the
envisioned space. The diverse reality accentuates the sculptural volumes. Creating
this imaginative space the sculptor seems to give an initiative to a viewer in a way
that he could continue developing this visual effectiveness in his mind.
A. Golubkina, Music and Lights in the Distance, 1910, marble, 64 × 60 × 30, high relief.
A. Golubkina, Distance, 1912, marble, 24 × 70 × 2,5, relief.
A. Golubkina, Spectacle, 1913, tinted limestone, 32 × 94 × 6, relief.
heaviness. The title of the sculptural image even more prolongs her creative thought.
Regarding Golubkina's limestone low reliefs we find a different tendency: in total
there are eight reliefs, created in 1912-1913. One of Golubkina’s preferences in
material was given to limestone; it expressed with most affinity the chronology of
world of art. The sculptor also adored marble and called it "a king next to plaster"
The pliable clay astonished her with its tremulous texture.
A. Golubkina, M. Sredina, 1903, bronze. A. Golubkina, A girl. Mariika, 1899, marble.
Golubkina highly appreciated Assyrian and Egyptian art, travelling to Paris, London
and Berlin; she thoughtfully and seriously acquainted with the best museums’
antiquities collections. Back in Russia her interest to antiquities was so big, that she
even attended the classes of the Russian Egyptologist Boris Turaev, which in future
became a curator of the Museum of Fine Arts. The structural tenets of ancient reliefs,
bold composition of forms and their architectonics fascinated her. Nevertheless, in
her proper works she found a new approach and artistic vision. It is certain, that
those years of active studying, together with a deep artistic knowledge helped the
sculptor to understand the origin of sacred aura of the ancient material. In her works
she practiced practically all the technical and artistic means achieved and
executed by the Egyptians and Assyrians. Nevertheless, in her sculptural images
Golubkina elaborated a totally new artistic space within her reliefs.
The texture of material was of the biggest importance to her, as in it she saw
different expressive means and a possibility to embody composition with intensity.
The Lady would be a perfect example to illustrate her vision. In this relief we see a
silent discourse of the still, almost naked body, and the inner movement. The
experimenting with an intensity of background was her way to achieve a maximum
expressiveness through mixed, smooth, trembling, recessed texture. Besides,
Golubkina searched for a quality of contour: fluid, irregular, carved, hatched,
rounded, sharp or other. The toning and number of planes played a significant role
in her artistic method. The Spectacle shows the meticulously elaborated image
which is composed against a wavy background, widely carved with a toothed
chisel. The image is emotionally filled and unrestrained. T
he viewer's gaze concentrates on the hilly landscape and the characters' backs,
finally ending with a deep thought that follows their collective gaze. Seldom had the
sculptor thought of toning in marble reliefs, but with some time colour started to play
a significant role in her limestone works. Possibly Golubkina painted at first her
limestone reliefs with contrasting colours and outlines. Some of her works somehow
remind traditional techniques of the ancient graffiti. Especially it can be observed in
A. Golubkina, Motherhood, 1925, marble, 58 x 32 x 3, relief.
A. Golubkina, Sandra Moissi (in role of king Edip of Sofokol tragedy King Edip), 1926, tinted limestone, 43 × 46 × 10,
We don’t dispose of any information left by Golubkina on her proper artworks. The
sculptor was really modest and did not like talking or discussing her own works,
although she was keen on analysing and describing other artists’ achievements.
Golubkina’s sculptural imagery is so rich that cannot be defined only as a
momentous testimony of a century left behind. Besides the sculptor’s works keep
some enigma inside – they are kind of multi-faceted, rich and coded images, and
cannot be just simply translated into a contemporary terminology. Her world view
was complex, synthetic, and rich also grace to her national and folkloric
background. The Last Supper represents a true revelation of the significance, inner
strength, appealing not only to the past generations, but also to the present one.
Golubkina’s life time was anything but simple, while her imagery is full of mystery till
our days. We can see a reflection of the sculptor's own contemplations and
Leonardo's ideas, while ancient Russian tradition also highly influences the
compositional solution of the sculptural image.
Golubkina does not use a narrative way in depiction; instead, she clearly displays
the very essence of the event. The most significant traits of this image are in actual
depiction the subject's timelessness and non-spatiality of the Last Supper. The
sculptor links two distinct events here, the Agony in the Garden and the Last Supper.
The icon-painting accepts such display, but almost never we see such a
combination in sculpture.
A .Golubkina, Last Supper, fragment, 1911, tinted gypsum, relief.
A. Golubkina, Jesus Christ, 1912, relief, marble.
Motherhood – was the last relief work of the author elaborated in1925. This image is
also full of mystery and symbolism. The main figure of a mother more reminds a non-
material image, a holy woman or even a spirit. The snow-white colour of a marble
relief helps to achieve this effect of transparency and high emotional fulfilment. It
can be important in analysing Golubkina’s way in sculpture to know that the last
motherhood. Golubkina’s attitude towards Motherhood was extremely careful and
passionate. Zoya Klobukova described it in such words: “She worked on it with long
pauses, starting with the first light touches; she would leave it, sigh, step back and
admire it. The relief was completely finished, but she kept going back to it. She really
loved it. Even a year later she would go back to it, scrape something away, step
back, and admire it again"
To sum up, we should acknowledge that Golubkina found her proper way in
sculpture, created art in forms and unexpected materials which previously were not
used. Her sensitivity, attentive historical approach, kind of visualization of timeless
sculptural forms and subjects makes her a prominent figure in Russian art of XX
Kamensky, A. A. Golubkina. The Person, Her Time, and Sculpture. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1990, p.126.
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