Prince Paul Troubetzkoy.
Bright, charming, and undoubtedly a master in the art of sculpture, Paul Troubetzkoy must be regarded as one of the most prevalent society portraitists of the early 20th century. Of Russian descent but born and raised in Italy, Troubetzkoy was an artist with an international flair, whose
numerous encounters with well-known figures in the European capitals, Russia and America, were the foundation for his famous portrait-statuettes. His birth in 1866 coincided with a sparkling time for the European art world, where the Impressionist movement was developing and expanding. It was also a thriving moment for the Milanese artistic scene, where Troubetzkoy spent his initial years of artistic practice. In these years of transformation, Verism and sculptural fluidity replaced the Neoclassical tradition which had been predominant until then.
Born in 1866 in Intra, on the shores of Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy, he was the second-born child of the Russian Prince Pyotr Petrovich Troubetzkoy and the American singer Ada Winans. During his childhood, Troubetzkoy was exposed to popular artists and poets of the time, who used to meet at the grandiose Villa Ada (the Troubetzkoy family residence)on Lake Maggiore. Among the personalities of the Troubetzkoy family’s circle were the sculptor Giuseppe Grandi, the composer Alfredo Catalani and the painters Tranquillo Cremona and Daniele Ranzoni, well-known in Italy at that time. With the latter, Troubetzkoy had a long-lasting friendship.
From an early age, Paul displayed an extravagant personality and a fascination with the world around him. He favored independent thinking and was intolerant to rigorous study. These personality traits consolidated during his apprenticeship in Milan in 1884, with Donato Barcaglia and Ernesto Bazzaro. After a few months, he decided to leave the apprenticeship to work for himself and joined the Milanese artistic circles. He initially focused his art on small statuettes of animal subjects such as horses, dogs and elephants. For the first time, in 1886, he exhibited one of his works, A Horse, at the Brera Academy. Towards 1890, he participated in numerous competitions for public monuments depicting, among others, Garibaldi, Dante and Amedeo VI of Savoia. In the same period, some of his works were acquired by museums in Italy and overseas, such as the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome and the Golden Gate Museum in San Francisco.
Between Italy, France and Russia: the road to success and the New Moscow School of sculpture
During his years of education in Italy, Troubetzkoy exhibited in important venues including Brera in Milan and the Koenig Galerie in Berlin. Following the death of his parents in 1898 and his brother Pierre moving to England, Troubetzkoy decided to move to Russia, where he will stay until 1906, with some intervals in France and Italy. These years were a turning point for the artist.
In 1899, he met Leo Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana. The encounter had a lifelong impact on Troubetzkoy. The artist, struck by Tolstoy’s humanitarian spirit, dramatically changed his views on life. Not only did he decide to stop eating food of animal origin, as witnessed by his work titled Corpse Eaters (today in the Collection of the Museo del Paesaggio), but also gradually changed his circle of close friends and beliefs.
In 1900 he participated in the Exposition Universelle in Paris with his Leo Tolstoy riding “Delire” (today at the Musée d’Orsay) which won him the Grand Prix. This success gave Troubetzkoy greater visibility and a huge boost to his career, gaining him an even wider recognition among the upper classes.
After his appointment as professor of sculpture at the Academy in Moscow, where he prompted his students to sculpt from nature, he was also recognized by Russians as the leader of the New Moscow School of sculpture. In 1901 he won the project-bid for the monument of Tsar Alexander III in St. Petersburg, which was completed in 1909. He also continued travelling to European capitals for exhibitions, such as Venice, Milan, Rome, Paris and finally Stockholm, the city where he meets his future wife, Elin Sundström.
In the meantime, he made himself known to the Russian Elite, by creating numerous busts of politicians and noblemen. It was during these times, and surrounded by his own social environment, that Troubetzkoy’s production became increasingly oriented towards aristocratic portraits, such as one depicting Prince Leo Galitzin.
Portraying the International Elite
After the outbreak of the Russian-Japanese war in 1905, Troubetzkoy decided to stay in Milan for a while, before moving definitively to Paris with his wife and his newborn son Pierre, who sadly passed away two years later. During these years in Paris, Troubetzkoy worked in his new studio in the city, where he stayed between 1906 and 1914. He became a member of the Société Nouvelle de Peintres et de Sculpteurs, chaired by Auguste Rodin. During this time, he was at the apex of his career, creating his finest portrait-statuettes, portraying prominent personalities, including his great friend, the poet and playwright George Bernard Shaw. In these same years the Vanderbilt family introduced Troubetzkoy to a prosperous American clientele.
Invited by Richard Milton Huntington in 1911, Troubetzkoy exhibited at the Hispanic and Numismatic Society in New York, presenting a wide selection of his works. In this year, he was also reunited with his brother Pierre, who in the meantime established himself in America. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Troubetzkoy decided to remain in America, where he stayed until 1921. Troubetzkoy found himself in a world very far removed from the aristocratic circles of Russia and Paris. This new life, new people and traditions, provided Troubetzkoy with fertile ground for his artistic practice.
In these years, he exhibited in numerous cities including San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Cleveland and Washington. He was exposed to the most influential people in Hollywood, including film directors and producers as well as actors and tenors, such as Mary Pickford and Enrico Caruso. In 1919 he also won a competition to design the public sculpture of General Harrison Gray Otis in Los Angeles.
Paris and the return to Italy: the end of a brilliant career
In 1921, Troubetzkoy decided to go back to Paris and to sojourn in the Ca’ Bianca in Suna, on his native Lake Maggiore, during summers. He also opened a new studio in Neuilly-sur-Seine, where the new and old clientele sat for Troubetzkoy’s new portraits. In 1923 he was in charge of the Monumento ai Caduti of Pallanza (close to his residence): a bronze group dedicated to the fallen from war.
After many years in Paris, one last exhibition in 1931 at Colnaghi’s gallery in London and a failed marriage with Rhoda Muriel Somerville, Troubetzkoy moved definitively back to Italy in 1932. He continued exhibiting his works around Italy and briefly went to Egypt to portray the local upper class in the city of Cairo.
In this final phase of his career, he gradually moved from sculpture to oil painting and kept working in his house in Verbania, where he died in 1938. As stated by Troubetzkoy in his final wishes, his heirs donated all plaster casts left by the artist from his studio in Italy and Neuilly-sur-Seine to the Museo del Paesaggio in Verbania.
Paolo Troubetzkoy la Collezione del Museo del Paesaggio. Museo del Paesaggio, Verbania. Pressgrafica Srl, 2017.
Domogatskaya, Svetlana. Paolo Troubetzkoy and Russia. Tretyakov Gallery Magazine, issue n. 2, 2009.