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Gintsburg, Il’ia Iakovlevich

(1859–1939), sculptor. A child prodigy, Gintsburg was born in Grodno; he became a student of Mark Antokol’skii, who took him to Saint Petersburg in 1870. Gintsburg entered the Russian Academy in 1878 and received the official title of “academician” or professor in 1911. In the formative years of his career, he enjoyed a high degree of commercial success, concentrating in portraiture and small, highly detailed narrative sculptures. He was known primarily for his rendering of contemporary cultural figures “at work.” These included his portraits of the painter Vasilii Vereshchagin, the chemist Dmitrii Mendeleev, the writer Leo Tolstoy, and the composer and conductor Anton Rubinstein, most of whom he knew personally and described in his memoirs.

Among his colleagues in the world of Russian art, Gintsburg was largely dismissed as too conservative; for the same reason, he would be embraced by Soviet cultural authorities in the aftermath of the official return to realism. Following the Russian Revolution, Ginstburg was appointed professor of sculpture at the Free Art Studios (SvoMas) in Petrograd. In 1923, he joined the Asosiatsia Khudoznikov Revoliutsionnoi Rossii (Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia; AKhRR), a group that promoted the rejection of avant-garde formalism in favor of a return to realism, a move that explicitly invoked the style and politics of the Wanderers, with whom Gintsburg had exhibited in 1895. His professional life was dedicated almost exclusively to teaching; he also produced a number of portraits of Russian revolutionaries including Lenin (1924, 1927) and Georgii Plekhanov (1925) as well as heroic hortatory sculptures such as In the Days of October (1926) and Listening to an Orator in 1917 (1937).

Although none of his work is devoted to Jewish themes, Gintsburg participated personally in the cultural revival associated with the quest for a modern Jewish art in the era of the revolution, as a lecturer, teacher, and administrator. In 1916, he joined the newly established Jewish Society for the Encouragement of the Arts and in the course of its brief existence served as its president. Gintsburg called for the establishment of a Jewish art museum, lectured on the achievements of his teacher, Antokol’skii, and attempted to mount a one-man show of his work in Moscow under the auspices of the JSEA, a project that never materialized. His only solo exhibition was sponsored by the Petrograd Academy of Art in 1918. Most of his work is currently housed in the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow.

Suggested Reading

John E. Bowlt, “From the Pale of Settlement to the Reconstruction of the World,” in Tradition and Revolution: The Jewish Renaissance in Russian Avant-Garde Art, 1912–1928, ed. Ruth Apter-Gabriel, pp. 43–60 (Jerusalem, 1987); Katalog vystavki skul’ptury akademika I. Ia. Gintsburga (Petrograd, 1918); E. N. Maslova, ed., Skul’ptor Il’ia Gintsburg: Vospominaniia, stat’i, pis’ma (Leningrad, 1964).