|Mikhail Nesterov "Portrait of Vera Mukhina" 1940 private collection|
Vera Mukhina was one of the most famous Soviet artists of her generation, male or female. She is sometimes called the Queen of Soviet Sculpture. Mukhina (1889-1953) was born in Riga, Latvia. Her mother died of Tuberculosis when she was only eleven months old and her Father moved the bereft family to the Crimea, to live by the sea, considered a healthier environment. However, he himself died when Mukhina and her older sisters were just finishing up high school. Relatives stepped in and took the girls to live with them in Moscow. Although the move was necessitated by a tragedy, the change of circumstances allowed Mukhina to begin studying art at a much more serious level than previously envisioned.
A talented student, she studied for a time in Paris, as well, but when WWI broke out she returned to Russia and trained as a nurse. While working as a nurse she met her future husband, surgeon Alexey Zemkov. After the war they married and Mukhina found herself able to focus seriously once more on her art. By the early 1930's she was teaching at the state sanctioned art academy, Vkhutemas, and working on major pieces in her atelier. In 1937 her famous work Worker and Kolkhov Woman was exhibited at the World's Fair Exhibition in Paris. It was a monumental 78 feet high and believed to be the world's first welded metal sculpture.
Mukhina's pre-eminence within the Soviet art world would be hard to over-emphasize. She won the Stalin Prize five times and was appointed People's Artist of the USSR in 1943. There is a museum of her life and work in the Crimea, and a street in Moscow is named after her. As an artist who straddled both cubism and social realism her career contains elements which fascinate art historians to this day.
The painting of Mukhina by Russian artist Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942), has also been used as the basis for a Russian Union stamp issued in her honor in 1989.