Golubkina, Anna (1864–1927)

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Golubkina, Anna (1864–1927)

Russian sculptor who was a pioneering force in Russian art of the early 20th century. Born Anna Semyonovna Golubkina in Zaraysk, in the region of Ryazan, Russia, in 1864; died on September 7, 1927; studied with sculptor S.M. Volnukhin, 1889; studied with painter Sergei Ivanov at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, 1891; worked in studio of V.A. Beklemishev at the Higher Art Institute, part of the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Art; studied with Italian sculptor Filippo Colarossi, 1895; studied with painter Nikolai Ulyanov, 1901–03; never married; no children.

One of the many children of a market gardener, Russian sculptor Anna Golubkina educated herself with books she borrowed from one of the town's wealthy merchants. Her formal artistic training began at age 25, when she studied with S.M. Volnukhin, one of Russia's best-known 19th-century sculptors. She later attended the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, and the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts, where she studied with V.A. Beklemishev. Like all young artists, Golubkina struggled under the powerful influence of her teachers to develop her own personal style. "I want to stay independent," she said. "I am sick of all the imitations." In 1897, she traveled to Paris where she studied with Filippo Colarossi and shared lodgings with two other young Russian woman artists, E.S. Kruglikova and E.N. Shevtsova . Lacking money, Golubkina returned to St. Petersburg within a year. On a second visit to Paris in 1897, she managed to set up her own studio. It was at this time that she made the acquaintance of Auguste Rodin, who became a lifelong friend and confidante. The French sculptor, although a powerful force, did not require Golubkina to sacrifice her creative independence or her Russian spirit.

Golubkina worked in stone, metal, wood, and marble, achieving what she referred to as "the universal" through her use of simple forms and stylization. "[H]er talent, temperament and perception corresponded to her time," notes Elena Murina , "which demanded that the artist should transcend the details of daily life and perceive human life on a more general level." In Golubkina's work Old Age, form is subordinated to the greater theme of the sorrow caused by the endless suffering of the Russian people. In Manka (1898), her marble bust of a child with rickets, Golubkina expresses the tragedy of life through the over-large forehead, swollen eyes, and seemingly trembling lips of the afflicted young girl. Vengeance is another recurring theme, most evident in her sculpture Walking Man (1903) as described by M.N. Yablonskaya in Women Artists of Russia's New Age: "Her

Walking Man seems to arise, like a primordial creature, out of the very earth itself and, taking its first stumbling steps, it confronts the future threatening revenge for the human condition into which it has been born."

Golubkina's passionate social conscience led her to take an active role in revolutionary events of 1905. That year, upon completion of a bust of Karl Marx, she donated her fee to a fund for homeless workers and even opened her home for use as a temporary hospital and canteen. In 1907, she was arrested and jailed for distributing a document calling for the overthrow of the tsar. After her release from prison, where she staged a hunger strike to protest her arrest, she set up a studio in Moscow where she continued to work for the rest of her life. In the decade before the revolution, she became quite famous for her portraits of leading intellectual and literary figures of the day, which included wooden busts of Alexei Mikhailovich Remizov (1911) and Alexei Nikolaevich Tolstoy (1911), whom she said, "guzzled oysters." Professor Vladimir Ern, who sat for her in 1914, called the artist "coarse in her speech, direct, from a peasant background." In a further description, he said: "She is often hungry but gives away 500 roubles at a time. She mutters rather than speaks. She looks so seriously and deeply that you feel awkward, and then she smiles with a wonderful child-like smile. … It seems to me that sculpting is for her a way to perceive people."

During 1914 and 1915, Golubkina arranged a first-of-its-kind exhibition of 150 of her sculptures in Moscow to raise money for the war-wounded. The show was acclaimed for its scope and for its revelations of contemporary life. A contemporary wrote of Golubkina's work: "She has devoted her strength and talent to revealing the abnormal life of the city which forces men to heavy physical toil and drives women to vice. The stamp of want and degeneration is impressed on the faces of children."

In the 1920s, when illness curtailed Golubkina's large-scale work, she produced three delicate cameos, small relief sculptures titled Borzoi, Female Face, and Neptune, which somehow managed to convey the same intensity of her larger works. She also taught for several years and, in 1923, published her book Some Words on the Sculptor's Craft, in which she discussed both her professional experience and her social philosophy. As her health deteriorated, her sculpture became more harmonious. In 1927, she produced a powerful and flowing portrait bust of writer Lev Tolstoy. That year, she also created her last and unfinished work, Little Birch-tree, an uncharacteristic piece of charm and grace. "It is significant," writes Yablonskaya, "that as her parting statement to the world Golubkina should bequeath an image not of vengeance, old age or sorrow but that of a young girl fanned by a gentle breeze, an image of youth and clarity. Perhaps Golubkina had finally realized that the future did not belong to either the old or the vengeful but to children such as these."


Yablonskaya, M.N. Women Artists of Russia's New Age. Edited by Anthony Parton. London: Thames and Hudson, 1990.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts