Diver-shaped lighthouse and faceted glass legend. Five stories about Vera Mukhina's works installed in Moscow museums and parks

Diver-shaped lighthouse and faceted glass legend. Five stories about Vera Mukhina's works installed in Moscow museums and parks
Mosgortur Agency
On 1 July, we will celebrate the 130th anniversary of famous artist and sculptor’s birth. Let's recall five sculptures created and inspired by Vera Mukhina, perhaps not the most renowned ones, but important for her creative biography.

Her Worker and Collective Farmer monument is one of the main symbols of Moscow, but Mukhina's creative heritage is not limited to this work only. Museums and parks host many works of the sculptor and items related to her biography. Read about them in mos.ru and Mosgortur Agency's collaborative article.

Sculptural model of the Icarus monument  

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Vera Mukhina was inspired by people who conquer heights and depths. The sculptor knew personally many heroes and travellers, including one of the major pilots in the history of the USSR — Valery Chkalov. On 15 December 1938, the aviator died during the testing of the I-180 fighter aircraft. This tragedy greatly influenced the sculptor, so after the disaster, Mukhina began to develop the Pantheon of Pilots’ concept.

Heavy structure was intended to be used as a columbarium. Mukhina wanted to build a pool in the centre of the high round hall, with a sculpture depicting the first man who dared to take off the ground, that is Icarus. This idea was under discussion for a long time, but its implementation was prevented by the war.

Shortly before the outbreak of hostilities, the American Ambassador's wife Marjorie Merriweather Post visited the Mukhina's workshop. She wanted her bust made. During a short tour around her workshop, Mukhina showed the American a model of Icarus that astonished the visitor a lot. After learning about Mukhina's intention to create a large version of the monument, Mrs. Post offered Mukhina to take any money to take it to her collection, but the architect politely refused. The American tried to buy the statue at the end of the war, but again she got a refuse.

For the first time, Icarus was displayed at the 'Exhibition of Six' in 1944, where one of the visitors tore the statue away from its granite pedestal and took it out. Later, Mukhina cast in bronze its two copies: one for the Tretyakov Gallery (from where it was stolen once again), and another statue she kept for herself.

Plaster model of Icarus is stored near the most famous work of Mukhina, in The Worker and Collective Farmer Pavilion. But, unlike the legendary sculpture, you cannot view it freely, as Icarus is kept in the holdings of the Manege Museum and Exhibition Association, located at VDNKh.

'We Demand Peace!' sculptural composition

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In 1950, the Korean war begun, which had a strong impact on the future of the whole world. It found a response in the works of Vera Mukhina, too: together with some young Soviet masters, she created a sculptural Manifesto of Peace and Freedom, a composition 'We Demand Peace!'

Mukhina was the most experienced and famous master in the creative group. Young artists were a little anxious to work with her, as her undoubted authority suppressed them. However, later they recalled: Mukhina was a very easy-going person, she helped her young colleagues and guided them.

Each sculpture had its own master in charge: the war veteran was made by Nina Zelenskaya, the figures of Russian and Chinese people were made by Zinaida Ivanova, the African man was produced by Sergei Kozakov, and  Alexander Sergeyev was in charge of the central figure of a mother with a pigeon. Vera Mukhina made a sculpture of a Korean woman carrying a dead child on her outstretched arms. They made two copies of the composition. One remained at home, and the second one moved to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Mukhina defined the genre of collective work as a sculptural poster and wanted the composition to be moved to different museums and parks, conveying a humanistic and pacifist message to the whole planet. However, her idea was not to be implemented. The 'We Demand Peace!' composition was put in the permanent exhibition of the Russian Museum, which upset the sculptor.

VDNKh became the second location to house the composition, where it stood until 1994. Later, the sculpture was moved to the Museon Arts Park where it has been kept to the present day.

Bread and Fertility paired sculptural composition

After the Paris exhibition in 1937, where the world saw the Worker and Collective Farmer, Vera Mukhina had the most productive period in her life. In addition to the implementation of her own ideas, she collaborated with other Soviet sculptors, with Alexei Shchusev among them, who invited Mukhina to decorate Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge.

That offer seemed very tempting, as Vera found the opportunity to work with the relief of the historical centre of Moscow very attractive. Initially, Shchusev wanted to place the statues on both ends of the bridge, but Mukhina opposed, since she believed that large sculptures would conflict with the Kremlin architecture, and persuaded the architect to place them on one side.

Mukhina suggested three options of sculptures, with Bread and Fertility paired figures. All designs were soon sent for consideration, however, when it was time to coordinate the final version, it turned out that the money allocated for the construction of statues had already been spent on the bridge lining. They say that after that Mukhina had a fight with Shchusev and sworn never to collaborate with him again. They really didn't have any more joint projects.

Some of the Mukhina works made for Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge were added later to the Moscow architectural ensemble. In 1963, Bread and Fertility sculptures made according to Vera's sketches, were installed in the Druzhby Park to stay there until present day.


Glass bust of Nikolai Kachalov

Kuskovo Museum Estate

Mukhina was very fond of working with glass. The artist was fascinated by it during her first trips to Paris where she admired stained-glass windows of churches and studied the items made by local masters. Many of glass figurines and tableware that decorated homes of Soviet citizens had been created according to her sketches. There is a legend that it was Mukhina who designed the famous faceted glass.

"Beauty should become a part of our everyday life. A lunch served on beautiful plates and tea in a beautiful cup tastes better, and therefore it does more good. Art, surrounding a person every day, softens morals, develops good taste in people," the artist used to say.

Mukhina used the glass in the genre not typical for this material, namely to make portraits. She started experimenting before the war under the guidance of Nikolai Kachalov, chemist and glass specialist. Due to difficult casting, she at first managed to produce only small forms. However, after some time Mukhina and Kachalov developed a special form to cast large works. The professor's bust was one of the first results of the new technology applied. In 1947, this work was presented at the all-Union art exhibition.

In 1949, Kachalov's bust was transferred to the State Museum of Ceramics. Today, it is stored in Kuskovo Museum Estate.

Diver-shaped lighthouse sculpture

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Mukhina took a great interest in the activities of the Expedition for Special Underwater Operations, the personnel of which she called 'sea knights'. In one of her designs, the sculptor wanted to use this image: "When I was ordered to create the sculpture to decorate four niches of the building of the Moscow City Council's hotel, I offered to sculpt the conquerors of the elements. I wanted to produce a stratosphere pilot, conqueror of stratosphere, a mountaineer, conqueror of mountains, a miner, conqueror of earth interior and a diver, conqueror of sea depths.''

A plate from a sunken ship: a story about an expedition of 1933

But this idea was only recorded on paper. Later, Mukhina produced a small figure, but her 'sea knight' grew to become a 40-meter lighthouse. The diver's helmet would be a light room, the body would hold a radio station. Mukhina wanted to set up her giant in Balaklava, the city that housed Expedition for Special Underwater Operations headquarters. Unfortunately, this project failed to receive financing.

Manege Museum and Exhibition Association

Vera Mukhina greatly influenced more than one generation of sculptors around the world. In particular, she inspired the Russian master Alexei Tishkov, so he tried to implement that idea once again. Today you may observe 3-meter high 'little brother' of the Mukhina's diver on the Gorky Park embankment. Every evening, a light in his helmet turns on together with the street lightning.