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Sergei Konenkov – Russian Rodin
Yuri Shilov

The Konenkov Sculpture Museum opened in Smolensk in 1973. Famous Russian sculptor Sergei Konenkov donated 41 his works to the Museum. The collection sums up a whole epoch in the history of Russian and foreign arts. The rest of the works on display came from the State Tretyakov Gallery, the Volgograd Museum of Fine Arts and the Tyumen Regional Picture Gallery among other arts institutions that sent to Smolensk works by the sculptor. Today the museum’s collection consists of more than 80 works by Konenkov who was often called the “Russian Rodin” in the West. The Konenkov Museum is situated in central Smolensk is a small but richly fretted mansion of the 19th century. The collection is on display in light and spacious halls on the both floors of the building. On the ground floor the works are united by one theme. They are mainly sculptural portraits of outstanding persons and lyrical female images. In the center of the display there is the Son of Man sculpture, the image of Jesus Christ as an expression of the spiritual absolute. The second floor hosts works by the sculptor grouped according to landmarks of his artistic activity, including his American and Post-war periods. There is a representative collection of portraits of the then Soviet and foreign celebrities. Shortly before his death, Konenkov wrote in a letter to Smolensk, “I present my art to my dear fellow citizens.” The letter became his testament to the Smolensk residents. Since its opening, the museum has been visited by millions of connoisseurs of art from different Russian regions and foreign countries.

ARTIST OF MULTI-SIDED TALENT

Narrating is the director of the Konenkov Sculpture Museum, Merited Worker of Culture of the Russian Federation, Alexandra Polkanova: “Konenkov was our countryman. The great sculptor was born into a peasant family, in the village of Karakovichi, Yelninsky district, in 1874. The village was burned down by the Nazi invaders during WW2. Konenkov visited Karakovichi in 1947 and was deeply depressed with what has been done to his native place. As a boy he received his first lessons of drawing from local icon painters. At that time, many peasant huts had icons drawn by Konenkov. It was a happy occurrence that he managed to receive good education. A neighbor landlord was sending his son to a grammar school in the town of Roslavl. He wanted a companion to look after his son, agreeing to pay for his education. The diligent and willing Konenkov was suited well for that task. In Roslavl the gifted adolescent revealed his bright artistic talent and was sent to study to the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. Later on, he also graduated from the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. His diploma work at the Academy, the statue Samson Breaking His Bonds was rejected by his teachers as too revolutionary and was destroyed upon rector’s order."

From 1897, Konenkov worked mainly abroad: in France, Italy, Germany, Greece, Egypt… He ardently supported the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Two his works of that period were the monument to Stepan Razin on the Red Square and the low relief To those who fell in the struggle for peace and brotherhood of nations on the Kremlin wall. From 1922 to 1944, Konenkov lived and worked in the United States. Works of his American period were mainly depicted Biblical scenes. “His very features were most irregular, exalted and elevated, calling up the image of a majestic old man,” Polkanova noted.

During WW2, Konenkov was an active member of the Committee for Assistance to Soviet Russia. After the war ended in 1945, Joseph Stalin sent a ship to New York to bring Konenkov and his works back to the USSR. The state granted the sculptor a large prestigious studio on the Pushkin Square in central Moscow.

Konenkov died in 1971 and was buried at the Novodevichye cemetery in Moscow. He held titles of People’s Artist of the USSR and the RSFSR, full member of the Academy of Fine Arts of the USSR, Lenin Prize winner, Hero of Socialist Labor and was awarded the Order of Lenin.

«Sergei Konenkov was an artist of multi-sided talent. He was a symbolist, a realist, a primitivist, an impressionist and an expressionist… His works are part of the cultural heritage of Russia and the whole world. We are proud that sculptor Konenkov belongs to us, that he is from Smolensk,” Polkanova said

 
 
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