Mental Floss

Rodin's Hands: Anna Golubkina

Andréa Fernandes

With the introduction of the "Feel Art Again" Facebook page, we held a contest to find our farthest fan. Reader Kelly Deaton in Russia easily beat the competition, winning a week of "Feel Art Again" posts on Russian artists.

The last of our series of Russian artists is Anna Golubkina (1864-1927), who is considered the first female Russian sculptor of note.

1. Anna Golubkina never attended primary school, but she was literate and she taught herself to draw and model clay. When she was 25, she sat for the entrance exams to Otto Gunst's Classes for Elegant Arts (an architecture school). She failed some of the exams due to her lack of prior schooling, but she was so artistically skilled that one examiner convinced the others to admit her anyway and even go so far as to waive her tuition. He apparently challenged them to name any other sculptor who could produce works like Golubkina's "Praying Old Woman."

2. From 1897 through 1900, Golubkina served as Auguste Rodin's assistant. She was often called upon to help the sculptor with the hands and legs of his creations. Under his tutelage, Golubkina created "The Old Age," which used the same model in the same position as Rodin's "The Thinker," but 14 years later. Another source reports Rodin's statuette "Helmet-Maker's Wife" was the basis for Golubkina's life-sized "Old Age."

3. Golubkina was sensitive to the needs of the less fortunate, having herself lived in Paris for two years with so little money she was "literally starving." She frequently gave back to others, donating her fee for a bust of Karl Marx to a fund for homeless workers, opening her house as a temporary hospital, and raising money for World War I victims through a personal exhibition of 150 sculptures.

4. During the Russian Revolution of 1905, Golubkina distributed leaflets and encouraged serfs to rise against the tsar. She was arrested and sent to prison for a year, where she went on a hunger strike and was released because of her poor health.

5. Likened to Michelangelo, Golubkina was considered to have helped Russian sculpture achieve independence from painting. She was the first Russian sculptor to receive the Paris Salon prize, quite an accomplishment for a female artist. Five years after her death, her studio in Zaraysk was turned into a museum, making it the "first Russian museum of that type" and the only museum in Europe dedicated to a female sculptor.

Larger versions of Golubkina's "Mist" (above left) and "Sleepers" (above right) are available. Fans should check out the Wikimedia Commons gallery of Golubkina's work; her studio; and NASA's images of the Venus crater named for Golubkina (image 1 and image 2). For more Russian art, check out our past posts on Karl Briullov, Alexei Harlamoff, Wassily Kandinsky, Pavel Korin (#9 on the page), Konstantin Korovin (a pupil of Polenov), Arkhip Kuindzhi (second on the page), Aristarkh Lentulov, Vasily Polenov, Illarion Pryanishnikov, Nicholas Roerich, Mark Rothko, Nadya Rusheva, Alexei Savrasov, Vasily Surikov, Vladimir Tretchikoff, Mikhail Vrubel, Konstantin Yuon, the joint post on Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova, and the joint post on Marie Bashkirtseff, Boris Kustodiev, and Andrei Ryabushkin. "Feel Art Again" appears three times a week. Looking for a particular artist? Visit our archive for a complete listing of all 250+ artists that have been featured. You can e-mail us at with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists. Or you can head to our Facebook page, where you can do everything in one place.