The whole of Palazzo Viani’s ground floor has been set aside for the work of Paolo Troubetzkoy (1866-1938), born in Intra, on Lake Maggiore, of a Russian father and American mother. At the artist’s request, his heirs donated all his plaster casts to the Landscape Museum from his Verbania home and his studio in Neuilly sur Seine in France.
Paolo Troubetzkoy was born in Intra on Lake Maggiore in 1866, the second son – his brother Piero became a portrait artist – of Russian prince Pietro and American singer Ada Winans. The next year his family moved to nearby Ghiffa, to a villa which frequently hosted eminent guests such as painters Cremona and Ranzoni, sculptor Grandi, musicians Catalani and Junck and poet and composer Arrigo Boito. And it was precisely the specific Impressionism of the Lombard Scapigliata painting school, that of Ranzoni and Cremona, which inspired the young Paolo’s first artwork.
In 1884 he moved to Milan but his apprenticeship – first with Donato Barcaglia, then Ernesto Bazzaro – lasted only a few months as he struggled with systematic study, preferring studying from life including animals. His first exhibition was in Brera in 1886 with A Horse, but he also began sending in portraits to the exhibition in the years which followed.
In the early 1890s he took part in a great many contests for national celebration monuments – including Garibaldi, Fanti, Dante, Amedeo IV of Savoy – to be erected in a range of Italian towns and some of his work was bought by the Rome Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna and the Golden Gate Museum in San Francisco.
In December 1898 Troubetzkoy left Milan for Russia where he taught a sculpture course at the Moscow Academy of Fine Art at which he invited his pupils to study from life rather than copy the Ancients. He then frequented the Associazione per le esposizioni ambulanti, the Russian painting progressive body which affirmed the principles of realism in art and was open to the influence of French Impressionism. He exhibited in Stockholm where he met Elin Sundström, his future wife.
In 1899 he met Lev Tolstoj in Jasnaja Poljana and made two busts of him, a portrait on horseback, an oil painting and a number of sketches. He was struck by the Russian writer’s humanitarianism and vegetarianism and decided to stop eating animal products. In the meantime he made many portraits of Russian politicians and aristocrats including Prince Lev Galitzin, Princess Gagarina and the Wladimirovich Grand Dukes.
In 1901 he won a competition to make a monument to Tsar Alexander III for St Petersburg, a work which was unveiled in 1909 after a great deal of controversy and reworkings.
In the meantime he began exhibiting frequently at the most important Italian exhibitions (Venice, Milan, Rome, Florence) and in Paris.
His Parisian and American period
In 1905, in the wake of the Russo-Japanese war and the first revolutionary outbreaks, Troubetzkoy left Russia to take refuge in Finland and then Milan, finally settling in Paris where he was invited to make a monument to Tolstoj. The following year he became a member of Société Nouvelle des Peintres et Sculpteurs, presided over by Auguste Rodin, and painted many eminent figures in the French capital. In 1908, at painter Sargent’s London studio he completed his first George Bernard Shaw bust.
From 1911 Paolo Troubetzkoy’s work was exhibited in certain solo exhibitions in various American cities including Buffalo, Chicago, St. Louis and Boston. Having gone to New York in 1914 for a new exhibition he decided not to return to Europe as a result of World War One. In 1919 he won a competition to build a monument to General Harrison Gray Otis in Los Angeles which was unveiled the following year.
In his large Hollywood studio he met and sculpted many film actors such as Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks senior, alternating portraiture with vegetarian subjects or American folklore such as cowboys, rodeo and Red Indians.
In 1921 Paolo Troubetzkoy returned to Paris where he rented a villa with studio in the Neuilly sur Seine suburb while in summer he stayed at Ca’ Bianca in Suna on Lake Maggiore.
In 1923 Pallanza town commissioned him a monument to the fallen. In 1934 he travelled to Egypt to exhibit in Alexandria and Cairo.
He continued working into old age despite a severe form of anaemia which lead to his death in 1938, without him having given up his vegetarian principles in any way.
At the artist’s request, his heirs donated all his plaster casts to the Landscape Museum from his Suna home and his studio in Neuilly sur Seine.
Paolo Troubetzkoy was frequently described as an Impressionist sculptor by contemporary critics as he broke down the forms of his work to obtain effects similar to those of the Scapigliati painters on canvas, namely an interweaving between subject and the atmosphere around it, giving an impression of indeterminacy belonging to the real of the incessant changeability of real life. In Russia his work was more vigorous and realistic whilst in Paris he moved closer to the sophisticated and elegant portraits of Boldini and Sargent as a result of the influence of the aesthetes.