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The Artist

Michail Anikushin in his studio   Aleksej Lazykin, Anikushin the Sculptor, 1993, Indian ink on paper 8x10 cm

Michail Kostantinovich Anikushin was born in Moscow, into a large family, in 1917. From his childhood he cultivated a love of art, becoming a frequent visitor to museums and galleries and taking part in various exhibitions for début artists.

From his early teens he began studying sculpture under the guidance of Grigory Kozlov, who taught him the traditions of the nineteenth-century Russian school of Realism. His first works, inspired by familiar figures, such as his companions, his relatives or his maestro, date from this period. In 1937 he moved to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), where he enrolled at the Sculpture Faculty of the Academy of Fine Arts and became a pupil of two important maestros, Boris V. Ioganson and Alexander Matveyev. It was from Matveyev that he derived the vitality, observation, rhythm and plastic interpretation of the human figure. Anikushin recalls: “Matveyev taught us that art was more important than everything else. We never thought of honours or prizes”.

In 1941, when still a student, he was called to fight in the Leningrad Front. In the period immediately after the war, he devoted himself largely to drawing. Doctors, scientists, actors and musicians were his main models for inspiration. However one man in particular, the poet Alexander Pushkin, spurred his creative imagination and had a major influence on his artistic itinerary.

The fairy-tales and verses of the great Russian poet provided the artist with the material for many of his subsequent creations. His first design for the monument to Pushkin was in 1937. The statue was inaugurated on 18 June 1957 in Ploshchad Iskusstv (Arts Square), Leningrad. The artistic, poetic, plastic and emotional quality it achieved make it one of the most beautiful and important works of European sculpture. It was also this work that earned him the most important prize in Russia, the Lenin Prize, in 1958. The other winner of the prize that year was the composer Dimitri Shostakovitch.

AnikushinAnikushin did not abandon Pushkin, and in Gurzuf (where the poet had stayed and where he had written The Prisoner of the Caucasus), he decided to make a statue that would depict him as a very young man. This is just one of countless works he dedicated to the famous writer: sketches, drawings, busts and monuments can be admired in the garden of the Pushkin Museum in Kishinev (Chisinau), and in the cities of Tashkent and Archangelsk. Wherever Pushkin had worked and lived, the artist found testimonies, traces and descendants of the poet. From these he drew inspiration for his works of art, which he dedicated to his favourite writer.

In 1954, the artist travelled to Italy for the first time. Venice, Florence, Rome and Milan carved indelible images in his mind, as the sketches, drawings and annotations of his travel diary show.

His funeral art deserves a chapter by itself. Thanks to the artistic busts and monuments he dedicated to famous scientists, artists and composers, the memory of these people will not be lost to the oblivion of time. From 1955 to 1957, Anikushin worked on the monument of the geographer Alexander Voyekov. He made the gravestone of the musician Reyingold M. Glier, at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow, in 1960; while that of the actor Yuriev, in the Necropolis of art masters in St. Petersburg, was made in 1961. Particularly expressive and symbolic are the monument to the surgeon Peter Kupriyanov (1947) and the bust of Valentin Chumak (1966), portrayed as a young boy. Numerous other sepulchral works by Anikushin are exhibited in the museums and galleries of all Russia.

In 1961, he began the project for his famous monument to Chekhov, erected in Moscow in 1966 in Strastnoi Boulevard. The sketches, models, drawings and portraits that Anikushin hatched before and after the final work – in marble, in plaster, in bronze – are creations in their own right, unique pieces of a “perennial work”, which fully deserve to be considered part of the sculptor’s artistic output. He was interested in the form, expression, tone and authority of his figure. He was fascinated by the face, but also by the figure as a whole, in a theatre that he alone could create: of stone statues that vibrate with spirit, art and culture. His technique began with a portrait, with lightly drawn, bare sketches, which then became sculpture and remained intact through time.

His pretexts were the events of his time, the civil war, the revolution, the fortunes of soldiers and of his people, ordinary people, such as great figures in art and science, buried in their thoughts, intent in their occupations. From this starting-point, he invented the setting for his work.

In the Fifties, Anikushin visited the factories, took an interest in the workers’ movement, spoke to intellectuals and followed all the demonstrations and meetings organized by young Russians. His portraits and statues of workers, like his own father, date from this period. Of Krazev, a worker from the Elektrosila factory, he said: “I would like to sculpt Krazev as he is in real life, with his character, his mood, his interests…”

In 1966 he returned to Italy, this time to admire the works of Michelangelo and the art of the ancient Greeks. In 1967, he produced one of his most important works: the Victory (Pobeda) frieze, a bas-relief in bronze placed on the façade of the Oktiabrsky Concert Hall in St. Petersburg. Twenty-eight metres long, it depicts fifty years of Russian history.

In April 1970, the famous monument to Lenin was erected in Moskovskaya Square in Leningrad. In 1974, work began on building the monument To the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad (Geroicheskim zashchitnikam Leningrada), as a memorial to those who died in the Nazi siege of the city in World War II. The work was inaugurated in May 1975 in Ploshchad Pobedy (Victory Square), in Leningrad. It has thirty-five sculptures arranged in ten compositions, in a U-shaped structure.

To confirm the fame he had acquired, in 1978 the Russian astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh named an asteroid after him, the 3358 Anikushin.

In the artist’s immense studio on the Neva in St. Petersburg, are a great many of his works, of various sizes. Also kept here are the numerous projects and studies he did for monuments in the city in which he spent most of his life: images of his people - women, men and children – being the most simple and beautiful ones. His travel diaries, trial pieces, sketches, drawings and portraits can also be seen here.

In 1992 Anikushin completed the monument to Tchaikovsky and, five years later, died in St. Petersburg. Ten years after his death, the Russian Academy of Arts Museum dedicated a major retrospective exhibition to him, and a commemorative plaque was placed outside his studio as a tribute to one of the greatest Russian sculptors of the twentieth century.