Yevgeny Lancere. Character, Feeling and Independence

Lyubov Golovina

Magazine issue: 
#1 2005 (06)

Sculpture is known to hove gone out of fashion in Russia in the late 19th century о reaction towards realistic trends with their worldy principles ond everyday subjects, against the academic oris of previous periods, encour- oged painting rather than sculpture.

As a result, the sculpture of the time come to be locking in its sense of material, in on ottroctiveness of the plostic means, as well os in о wholeness ond completion of form. The specific longuoge of sculpture needed other subjects. different from the simple narrations of realistic on.

The works of both genre painters and sculptors of the late 19th century were influenced by the philosophy of positivism; its ideology required that art and any other creative activity be able to present an objective view of the world. The leaders of the new. democratic realistic art movement proclaimed the principle of "truth of the fact" as a key one. Thus, any true art was supposed to arise from a concrete fact and develop into a broad generalization: the major method was thought to be painting, drawing or making sculpture from nature, with the aim of exactness in reproduction of the place and time of the event depicted, with due attention to the details of the scene, costume and accessories.

There have been historical examples of individuals with no proper artistic education showing themselves to be significant figures in the art of their time. In Russia, such illustrious "laymen" included Pavel Fedotov, who proved a brilliant artist after attending some evening art classes at the Academy of Arts while he was an army officer: or Vasily Vereshchagin, a veteran of the Russian Navy who went through only two years of academic schooling. The epoch of such unique "laymen" in Russian sculpture was started by Baron Pyotr Klodt, who later passed the baton to the genre sculptor Leonid Pozen, then the animal sculptor Artemy Ober, who, in turn, was followed by Prince Paolo Trubetskoy who is known for introducing into Russian sculptural traditions some traits of impressionism. At the end of the 19th century this list of talented dilettantes was joined by Yevgeny Lancere, a remarkable genre sculptor.

Lancere was bom into the family of a railway engineer. Ludwig (Alexander) Lancere, in the town of Morshansk in the Tambov gubemio on 12 August 1848. A year later, in August 1849, the boy was baptized with the Catholic (his father was a descendent of a French family) name of Eugene ("Yevgeny" in Russian) Boleslav Woldemar.

After the early death of his mother, Eleonor Lancere (пéе Yakhimovsky), great care in the education and upbringing of the eight-year-old Eugene was undertaken by his mother's uncle and guardian. Baron Wilhelm Friedri_h Vomezius (or Vernezi, according to other sources) and his wife Varvara Poltavtsev. The Lancere family (the widowed Ludwig Lancere and his four children) continued to live in Morshansk. The baron, a retired army officer, former district judge and locally respected figure, as well as his wife, who behaved like a mother to the orphans, did their best to entertain the boy and his sisters with frequent outings, picnics and excursions to local villages, peasants' festivals and fairs. It was there that the boy could see and admire the motley crowds of people, cattle, carts and wagons. performances by wandering actors and gypsy singing. The old baron noticed that the boy developed a liking and talent for drawing and clay modeling, being particularly good at figures of horses of which he was extremely fond: his early sketches of animals showed a very good eye for details. His family did not mind his studying art at that age: some researchers believe that Lancere had his first drawing lessons long before 1861, the year in which the family moved to St. Petersburg. His teacher was allegedly a local painter, a graduate of the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts.

Curiously, shortly before their move to the capital. Baron Wilhelm Vomezius, who had lost his wife and was childless, suggested passing his title to his grandnephew. Had it not been notorious Russian bureaucracy. Yevgeny Lancere might have been a baron - but the erroneous spelling of his grand-uncle's name in some documents referring to the baron as either “Vamezie", or "VemezT, or “VomezT, or "Varnezi”, was considered ambiguous enough to refuse the title to Lancere (who had had two baronesses in his ancestry, and a baron as guardian of his assets).

The capital made a striking impression on the teenage Lancere, who had lived previously only in the country: St. Petersburg was beautiful, but cold and imperious. He did not enjoy, to say the least, his studies at the second classical gymnasium, where his father had enrolled him. The atmosphere at the school lacked geniality and sincerity, he complained. Moreover, Lancere suddenly showed signs of a fatal disease, tuberculosis. As a result, his father addressed his relatives and friends, the Behrs, who were living in Saratov on the Volga river, and asked them as a favour to take his son to stay with their family for some time. The young man stayed with the Behrs and their children. Nikolai. Viktor and Anatoly, until he finished school, returning to St Petersburg only to choose his future career.

Lancere wanted to take up art, but his family objected categorically to such a choice: his father, the son of a major from the Napoleonic wars, preferred to see his son a military man, while the young man would rather die than put on uniform - so adverse were his memories of his early years at the St. Petersburg gymnasium.

A compromise was found: in 1866-70 Yevgeny Lancere studied law at Petersburg University, graduating with a bachelor degree. But a glance at the interior of his flat at 18. Bolshaya Morskaya would have been sufficed to say that it did not look like the apartment of a lawyer, but rather a sculptor's studio. His usual company were students of the Academy of Arts, where he often attended both lectures and practical lessons, from time to time taking pleasure in copying urban sculptures in pencil. Lancere would spend plenty of time in museums taking a special interest in bronze casting, excursions which encouraged him to try his hand at sculpture.

Still a fourth-year student at law school, Lancere made the acquaintance of the industrialist A. Sokolov, and signed a contract to do some casting in bronze for him. Those debut sculptures successfully introduced him to artistic circles at the 1869 annual Academic show. The display of his cast "Troika with Two Passengers, a Dog and a Driver" at the show was meant to get Lancere a title of a class artist, and it is known to have been sold directly at the show.

So successful a debut proved that the lawyer Yevgeny Lancere had received a good art training. It is still unclear, who were his teachers, although there is some evidence of Lancere meeting Pyotr Klodt during his first stay in St Petersburg in 1861. Also, according to the art critic Vladimir Stasov. Lancere used to take lessons with the gifted animal sculptor Nikolai Liberikh while he was a student. However it happened, the results of the 1869 Academy show licensed Yevgeny Lancere as a "class artist of the 2nd rank", and his talent and efforts were officially acknowledged.

The following years witnessed the formation of the definitive characteristics of his style. His sculptures were generally small statuettes or figurines rendering everyday subjects: the folklore and fairytale themes in which he had been interested in his student years (one example was his waxwork of Ruslan and Ludmila, after the poem by Alexander Pushkin), would not reappear in his new work. Typically, the sculptor would tackle the same scene or motive more that once. He could work on a certain subject for months modeling and re-modeling the original idea, looking for more graphic details and attitude. He worked in such a way on the subject of the Russian "troika": the Tretyakov Gallery alone has two versions. That factor has brought some critics to a conclusion that Lancere's statuettes are too similar. A closer look at his works, however, reveals a much wider range of subjects that Lancere managed to cover, especially when compared to many other contemporary sculptors.

His sculptures are quite varied, covering ethnographic, social and historical subjects, and animals. Their compositions look logical and compact, their set-ups are clear-cut and convincing. The numerous characters of his compositions could have produced a chaotic impression, making their scenes look disorderly and "flabby", but in reality this was not the case. His "Ukrainian Ploughman" (1877) is clear proof: the master managed to cope with the difficult task of delicately arranging the many figures of the group in space.

Lancere's heritage chiefly comprises bronze castings, while sculptures in cast-iron moulded at the iron foundry in Kasly, in the Chelyabinsk region, are fewer. Cast-iron does not allow the artist detailed sculpturing because, being too high-melting, the metal would not easily fill all the twists and turns of form and. consequently, is less acceptable for making detailed sculpture.

Bronze casting, on the contrary, enabled the sculptor to be particular and exact in details, small figures and objects. Lancere used to be very critical about the quality of casting, studying the technique scrupulously himself and watching the process when casting many of his sculptures.

Thus, he is believed to have contributed greatly to the quality of casting in Russia, given his serious attitude to the technical, craftsman's aspect of artistic casting. His works are known to have been cast at the Sokolov foundry, as well as by the private firms of Shopen, Stange, Moran and Berio.

There is no doubt that this collaboration with such industrialists helped Lancere solve his financial problems. Thus, in 1878, he sold the rights for commercial casting of 17 of his sculptures to Florian Shopen, the owner of a bronze casting works. Lancere's standards of quality casting were known to be high, but by selling his models for commercial casting to the companies of Shopen, Moran or Ovchinnikov, the master became partially dependent on the tastes of their customers. They evidently preferred his ethnographic, more exotic sculptures, which sold well, rather than his scenes of everyday peasant life which were less known.

The success of the first 1869 show demanded a follow-up. It would be sustained by even more ambitious pieces: in 1870 the Academy received for judgment one of his waxworks - a peasant woman of the Ryazan area coming home from the fields - and a few bronze ones: "A Tatar Milking a Mare", "A Chumak with a Cart", “A Georgian and Five Cherkesses”, and others. With these works the sculptor applied for the next, higher rank in the artistic hierarchy. The Academy hesitated with the new rank, but awarded Lancere a small financial prize.

This money, as well as 250 rubles he received selling the above sculptures, were enough to enable the artist to travel. His itinerary was the South of Russia and the North Caucasus. He spent two years staying in Cossack villages and Caucasian settlements, studying their everyday life and traditions. On returning in 1872 Lancere succeeded in gaining the "class artist of the 1st rank" status for his "Combatant Cossack and Cossack Woman” that was bought by a private collector for 178 rubles.

At that time Lancere was only 22, full of plans and ideas. But just when the sculptor was thinking of travelling in Central Asia, he met Yekaterina Benois, fell in love and got married - although only upon returning from the trip, in 1874. His fiancée had agreed to wait because she, an artist herself, understood that art was more important. That marriage did not change the sculptor's lifestyle greatly despite his change of status, children and the receipt of the much-anticipated certificate of "freelance artist" of the Emperor's Academy of Fine Arts, signed by the President of the Academy himself. As previously, the artist would make long and fruitful voyages round Russia, Ukraine, the Caucasus, Bashkiria, Kyrghizia and the Crimea. His wife did not object: she was known as a loyal ally and assistant to her husband during the 12 years of their marriage.

Like another "travelling" artist, Vasily Vereshchagin, Lancere thought himself to be a man of the world. The geography of his voyages was immense: from the central Russian regions to Algeria and the Middle East. The walls of his studio were decorated with the trophies he brought from such trips: knives, swords and guns, saddles and traditional clothes of the mountain-people and nomads, pottery and other items - all of which he used as ideas for his sculptures. Like Vereshchagin. Lancere was faithfully attached to real subjects, those that he saw with his own eyes. There was another distinctive feature that, as Vladimir Stasov noted, both artists shared: they were keen on depicting non-urban subjects, the inhabitants of fields and deserts, those living in the mountains or by the rivers, in wagons and yurts, in small wooden or stone houses and dug-outs.

The year 1876 started the artists road to the peak of his artistic career his subjects became even more varied, their plastic forms more subtle and expressive. Thus, the multi-figured composition "Kyrghizian Drove of Horses at Rest” (1880) could be considered a highpoint of the master's excellence. The sculpture features a typical episode in the life of a people who see the horse as on essential element of their existence, a member the family, a brother or friend. There is ‘character, comprehension, good sense, feeling and independence” to be seen in that horse, wrote Stasov.

The pithiness of his favourite kind of genre seemed to curb and limit the vast knowledge that the sculptor was eager to share with his audience. It was the desire to extend the story that encouraged him to decorate the base of his figurines with sophisticated ornaments, either of narrative character or composed of the armaments and harness of a horseman, Lancere was keen on horses: in fact, his figurines could be used to study the manner and breed of horses. Many of them make up the collection of the Museum attached to the Chair of Horse-Breeding at the Timiryazev Agricultural Academy in Moscow.

In 1883 Lancere undertook a long voyage to the Middle East and Algeria which brought the breath of the Arab world into his sculpture. But after the trip his health deteriorated, and his doctors advised him to change the atmosphere of St. Petersburg for the fresh air of the countryside. Lancere first moved to the country house of his friends, the family of Count Kuleshev-Bezborodko, in the St. Petersburg region, near Okhta. Then, as his disease developed. Lancere bought a house in the village of Neskuchnoye near Kharkov. Ukraine, where he lived during most of the three final years before his death.

Despite his illness Lancere continued to work extensively. His family remembered him sitting in a deep armchair in front of a window making a new statuette. Gaunt and humped, with glasses on his nose, the sculptor - still a young man of around 37 - looked like a very old man indeed.

His last work was to be the figurine "Svyatoslav” (1886), the maquette and the model for which are among the few of their kind that survive today. A small, some 18 cm high, waxwork maquette shows all the resemblance to the final composition. The soft wax bears the marks of even the minute touches of the author's hand and the finishing of the surface. This figurine is one of the most romantic works by Lancere, one throbbing with life and an inner glow.

Lancere died on 23 March 1886. His funeral service was held in St Nicholas' Cathedral on Bolshaya Morskaya in St. Petersburg, popularly known as "Nikola Morskoi". The painter and sculptor Artemy Ober, a friend of the Lancere family, applied to the Academy of Fine Arts to raise funds to help the widow of the sculptor and his six children, who found themselves impecunious after the death of their bread-winner. The Academy Council moved to buy the waxwork group “Svyatoslav on the Way to Constantinople" for a mere 1.500 rubles.

To understand how pitifully small that sum was, it is enough to mention another fact: some time after the sculptors death Gonorine Florian Shopen proposed that the House of the Stanges' in France should buy the reproduction rights of Lancere’s statuettes in Russia. Finland and Poland for 16.000 rubles apiece. The owners of the bronze-casting firms who continued casting from Lancere's models were known to have been making good profits for many years after his death. After the sculptor's death museums also started to acquire his works - but most of them are today scattered in private collections around the world.

A Whip with Hounds. Hunting. 1882
A Whip with Hounds. Hunting. 1882
Composition. Bronze. H. 50 cm
Coming Back from the Roce. 1882
Coming Back from the Roce. 1882
Composition Bronze. H. 39 cm
Arab Horseman. 1881
Arab Horseman. 1881
Bronze. Н. 36 cm
Kyrghizion Drove of Horses at Rest. 1880
Kyrghizion Drove of Horses at Rest. 1884
Composition. Bronze. H. 40 cm
Jumping over Barriers. 1882
Jumping over Barriers. 1882
Composition. Bronze. H. 30 cm
Zaporozhets (Ukrainian Warrior) after Battle. 1873
Zaporozhets (Ukrainian Warrior) after Battle. 1873
Composition. Bronze. H. 43 cm
Troika with Two Passengers, a Dog and a Driver. 1868
Troika with Two Passengers, a Dog and a Driver. 1868
Composition. Bronze. H. 20 cm
Svyatoslav. 1886
Svyatoslav. 1886
Bronze. H. 5O cm





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