Lives of the Artists XIX

There’s a couple of stories about the avant-garde sculptor Nadezhda Krandiyevskaya (1891-1963). When she was learning draughtsmanship and painting at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, her favourite teacher was the sculptor Sergei Volnukhin. He instilled in her discipline and single-minded focus as the hallmarks of the true artist. Art, he said, was a matter for all of life, requiring complete immersion and all of one’s strength. One of Krandiyevskaya’s classmates was the (future) poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. He was quite infatuated with her, and always sat in front of her in drawing class, often turning around to gaze soulfully into her eyes, embarrassing her considerably. But she managed not to be distracted – Volnukhin’s training of concentration obviously stood her in good stead. Mayakovsky was hardly discouraged by this. He would take her after school on long walks. One day she injured her leg. Gallantly, he carried her in his arms all the way back home.

In 1912, Krandiyevskaya went to Paris to train under the French sculptor Antoine Bourdelle at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere. The students here were expected to work independently and present their pieces to the maestro, who would attend to them every week and offer his suggestions and comments, and educating them in his own artistic principles. One day, sculpting from nature, Krandiyevskaya produced a piece that elicited general admiration. She knew that it has been good fortune rather than intention. Bourdelle himself was sceptical. ‘This is already art’, he declared, as though in praise. Then he added, ‘But now let us begin.’ And he started to re-do the piece in his own style. For Krandiyevskaya, it was agony: she thought the life was draining away from her piece under her teacher’s ministrations. She fainted and was taken to hospital, where she was told she had suffered from deep psychological shock. Too timid to express her opinion in front of Bourdelle, whom she idolised, equally she realised that her own hard-won path was considerably divergent from his.

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