The Troubetzkoy Archive Project aims to celebrate a great artist and revive his fame. Why Troubetzkoy? What makes his artistic and personal profile so fascinating? What clues did he leave behind and why are we undertaking a vast and rigorous study to create the Catalogue Raisonné of his complete work?
Considered by Bernard Shaw to be “the most astonishing sculptor of modern times”, Prince Paul Troubetzkoy has to be regarded as a pioneer in Sculptural Impressionism. An extraordinary artist of the 20th century, he was described by his brother Luigi as an eccentric personality: courageous and not afraid to speak up. His personal and artistic curiosity led him to travel constantly and settle for several years in the art capitals of his time, where he would meet and portray the elites of the world. Troubetzkoy undoubtedly broke the paradigms of the old academic tradition by affirming his unique style, independent from the politics and artistic currents of the time. He enjoyed moments of great success in his lifetime, alternating between deliberate pauses and several fresh starts in new places and with new challenges until his final years on his native Lake Maggiore, in Northern Italy. The dazzling successes during his lifetime were then contrasted by a later phase, in which his fame silently began to fade. Unlike other artists of his time, in the second half of the 1900s until today, only a few exhibitions, or other art initiatives have been dedicated to Troubetzkoy. A genius, an innovator, a profound artistic (and human) soul, he demands renewed attention and celebration.
Innovator, unique, independent
Troubetzkoy’s contribution to art was that of an innovator, capable of dismantling the principles of the “Académie” and following, coherently, his own path. Troubetzkoy’s style and artistic principles make him a precursor for Impressionist Sculpture. The rejection of classical principles, his conception of space as an integral part of the work, and his meticulous attention to the light and materiality of surfaces are the founding beliefs of Troubetzkoy’s art. Descriptions such as “light” and “unconstrained to proportions” are frequently applied to Troubetzkoy’s oeuvre.
He had natural talent: his fluidity in sculpting impressed anyone who sat for him or watched his quick and “rough” technique. Svetlana Domogatskaya notes how, when Troubetzkoy became professor at the Academy of Sculpture in Moscow, “the phrase ‘to model à la Troubetzkoy’ meaning modeling quickly, exuberantly, lively and cheerfully became a catch-phrase among Moscow sculptors”1 . His sculpting ‘signature’ is unmistakable, not only in statuettes, which are best remembered out of Troubetzkoy’s artistic production, but also in his large works and public monuments.
Certainly, Troubetzkoy was an independent man with a strong personality. A lover of animals and nature, and a firm believer in vegetarianism, he used to keep wolves and bears in his St. Petersburg studio. He was a man who never followed others and stayed true to his values. His vision of life and culture made him exempt from any external influences: he did not attempt to study techniques, read books or listen to the art critics of the time. He was only focused on shaping the material for his works.
Great international fame
Paul Troubetzkoy, son of a Russian Prince and an American lyric singer, born, raised and educated in Italy, was for his entire life a citizen of the world. His aristocratic origins and exposure to great artists, musicians and writers of the time, such as Bernard Shaw, Tolstoy, Toscanini and Caruso, pushed him to travel the world, moving from Italy, to Paris, Russia and Hollywood, portraying the glamorous international elite of the time. After many years of travel, he became, effectively, one of the most highly regarded society portraitists of the 19th and 20th century and a master of “portrait-statuettes”, which became, in a way, his “trademark” and paved the way for a vibrant trend.
In the early years of his education in Italy, he was enthusiastically accepted by the circles of Milanese culture and successfully exhibited his first “statuette” at the Brera Academy, also participating in bids for large public monuments, acclaimed by art critics.
Years later, his entry into the static Moscow art scene sparked a heated debate between traditional academics and the circles of progressive artists that followed him, considering him the initiator of the New Moscow School of Sculpture, a turning point in Russian sculpture. His success was great in portraying the nobility and the Muscovite upper-class, as shown by several portraits of his great friend Leo Tolstoy, or of Prince Galitzin and Princess Gagarina with a Child (today at the Tretyakov Gallery) and others. Likewise, memorable monuments were commissioned from him, such as the Monument to the Tsar Alexander III in St. Petersburg, a choice that outraged the Russian academics, who were excluded.
The apex of his career, however, was reached on the Parisian and American scene of the 20th century. In Paris, where he had already won in 1900 the Grand Prix at the Universal Exposition, he attended the Société des Nouvelles Peintres et Sculpteurs, chaired by Rodin, and obtained visibility and positive feedback from the critics of the Salon of 1906. The real essence of his success though, was the enthusiastic welcome and admiration from the Parisian and American society, of which Troubetzkoy portrayed important personalities, not least his friend George Bernard Shaw, Anatole France, several members of the Vanderbilt family (who opened many doors to him in the USA), Franklin D Roosevelt and the actress Mary Pickford.
The shine fades
Back to his native lake, the last years of his life were less dazzling, characterized by a few exhibitions in Italy and a progressive transition to oil painting. Perhaps his independence and international flair, which ensured him success and admiration, turned out to be limiting factors in preserving his fame after his glorious years. Troubetzkoy had been through the years overshadowed by his peers, such as Auguste Rodin or Medardo Rosso, considered by critics to be the major players of the post-impressionist style. His unconventional attitude in comparison to his fellow artists might have made him appear as a kind of “external visitor” in the artistic scene of the time. His being in any nation and none, certainly did not help in giving him a place that could be considered completely ‘his place’ and recognized as such by every beholder. It is not by chance that, even in the successful exhibition at the Paris Salon of 1906, Troubetzkoy was regarded as an exponent of the Russian school by Rodin and by art critics (thus limiting, in good faith, his artistic stature.
A man and an artist to celebrate
Paul Troubetzkoy is a man and artist who must be celebrated, whose greatness must be fully recognized. He was a genius of sculpture, creative, protective of his independence, curious about the world and people around him, an artist with an overflowing personality but completely dedicated to his sculptures, a natural talent, an innovator and recognized as such, but perhaps not as well remembered as he fully deserves. This is the profile of a man and an artist that the Troubetzkoy Archive Project would like to give new life to. Troubetzkoy’s production is vast and not yet entirely identified. For this reason, a Catalogue Raisonné, which aims to bring it all together with passion and academic rigor, is the most suitable tool to give renewed recognition and a legacy to this forgotten genius.
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.