One of the artists who helped define the Belle Epoque artistic period is someone who didn’t necessarily realize it or really care about their role in it: he just wanted to make art.
Prince Paul Troubetzkoy spent a significant part of his life creating wonderful sculptures and later paintings. He was comfortable with all groups of people at all levels of society, and many of his pieces were commissioned portrait statues for the upper classes, including leaders, royalty and other elite members of high society.
The only place he wasn’t necessarily comfortable was the classroom: he consciously avoided much of the academic trappings, including mentorships, apprenticeships and even classes studying new techniques or different styles.
But he was able to produce some incredible artwork over his lifetime, from statuettes to a monument to Tsar Alexander III.
Troubetzkoy and his artwork were also celebrated around the world, and his creations were displayed at galleries in Russia, Italy, England and the U.S. He had plenty of supporters and creative colleagues, one of the most prominent being author Leo Tolstoy.
He also was singled out as “the leader of the new Moscow School of Sculpture” because his work diverged so much from the fairly formulaic sculptures that were the style until then. He was even given his own studio at this institution there to create new work.
So although he consciously tried not to be part of the formal Belle Epoque movement, he was at least aware of it and today he’s celebrated for it.
A quick overview of this period has him fitting in, by at least the dates. Belle Epoque generally ranges from the early 1870s to the mid-teens of the 20th century. It was more practiced in Europe vs. the United States. The feeling of the times was generally optimistic, with interest in technology, economic prosperity, and innovations in art, music and science.
The center of this movement was Paris and the World’s Fairs in 1889 which let the world see fine and innovative art from artists from multiple countries and bringing together previous styles such as French Impressionism under one roof. This included Troubetzkoy, who created pieces for Russia’s area.
His presence also coincided with rejuvenations of sorts in the Russian art scene, which called the period a Silver Age.
Troubetzkoy’s versatility and his ability to feel comfortable in many countries and cultures helped for his art to be accepted and welcomed just about everywhere.
This multi-cultural approach was shaped from his childhood. He was born in Italy in 1866, the son of a Russian prince and an American singer. The family home was often frequented by artists, musicians and other cultural influencers, so he had close ties early on with painters, sculptors and composers.
Early on he expressed interest in creating art, but wasn’t especially interested in attending art school or working for other artists. He set out to create his own art in Milan in the mid 1880s, starting by creating statuettes of animals.
This turned into creating human forms in his own style, which became increasingly popular in galleries and museums in Europe and the U.S.
As he advanced in his art, he frequently told people that he enjoyed observing people, which he felt inspired his art more than academia. He also shared similar recommendations with his students when was teaching in nature – he suggested they look to nature for ideas and forms rather than books.
One of pieces of art considered most noteworthy was his friend Tolstoy atop his horse Delire. This sculpture received the Grand Prix award for the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900.