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Vera Mukhina


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Russian sculptor and designer. She was born in Riga, Latvia, into an old merchant family, grew up in Kiev and Kursk, where she took lessons in drawing and painting, and in 1910 moved to Moscow, where she studied at various private art academies. From 1912 to 1914 she lived in Paris, where she studied under Bourdelle at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, met other leading sculptors including Lipchitz and Zadkine, and was a close friend of Popova (they travelled together in Italy in 1914). She returned to Moscow after the outbreak of the First World War, and for the next few years she worked mainly on theatrical designs, sometimes in collaboration with Exter (they worked together on the science fiction film Aelita, 1923). In the 1920s Mukhina emerged as one of the leading sculptors in Lenin's Plan for Monumental Propaganda, in which Communist ideals were to be expressed in public art. She became recognized as one of the outstanding sculptural exponents of Socialist Realism, and her career was crowned with the gigantic Worker and Collective Farm Girl, made to surmount the Soviet pavilion at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1937. The stainless steel group (now at the entrance to the Park of the People's Economic Achievements, Moscow) stands almost 25 metres high and weighs about 35 tonnes. Showing a pair of heroic figures striding forward, with a hammer and sickle held proudly aloft, it became one of the greatest symbols of Stalin's USSR (it was, for example, adopted as a logo by one of the state film studios, appearing at the beginning and end of its films). Matthew Cullerne Bown (Art under Stalin, 1991) sums up the work's appeal as ‘its combination of great formal brio—huge size, dynamic design, stainless steel skin—on the one hand, and unashamed corniness on the other’. In 1941, in recognition of her masterpiece, Mukhina was awarded one of the newly instituted Stalin Prizes for art. She subsequently won four other Stalin Prizes and many other honours. Her husband, the physician Alexei Zamkov, was less favoured: he was imprisoned and exiled by the regime. Her later work included the design of glass figurines and vases, some of which were mass-produced.

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