The sculptor Mark Antokolskii (1843-1902) was born in Vilnius and studied in Imperial Academy of Arts, St. Petersburg between 1862 and 1868, under Nikolai Pimenov until the latter's death in 1864. In 1864 Antokolskii produced The Jewish Taylor (wood relief) followed by further bronze, marble and wood sculptures of Jewish subjects. As one of the most outstanding Russian sculptors of the second half of the 19th century. His best known works include the figures of Ivan the Terrible (1871), Peter the Great (1872), Christ (1874) and Mephistopheles (1883).
His naturalistic approach to historic subjects brought him success not only in Russia but also in Europe. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he addressed complicated historical and philosophical problems in his sculptural work. In this sense Antokolskii was closely connected with the Russian painters of the time who formed the group known as the Wanderers (Peredvizhniki).
Tsar Ivan IV (1530-1584), Grand Duke of Moscow (1533-1584) was the first Russian ruler to formally assume the title of Tsar in 1547.
The historical bronze figure of Ivan IV, [Ivan the Terrible], was exhibited in 1871, for which the artist was awarded a gold medal and the title of Academician, purchased by Alexander II for the Hermitage Collection (now in the State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, no. Sk-455.). The sculpture was pivotal in Antokolskii's career enjoying wide success throughout Europe and was subsequently produced in different media, for example marble (1875) for the Tret'iakov Museum, Moscow, The Irkutsk Museum (marble), Victoria and Albert Museum, London (plaster, commissioned in 1872 following the London exhibition of the same year, in which the bronze statue was included to great acclaim); and a smaller cast in silver is in the State Russian Museum. The work was so succesful that Antokoslkii made the reduced version of the statue and also the marble bust of 1874.
Antokolskii researched the life and psyche of the Tsar in great detail and also dedicated four months to the study of designs for the Tsar's throne and costume in the Kremlin Armoury. The inspiration for the work built gradually and in 1869 the sculptor assisted in the staging of the symphony "Ivan the Terrible" by A.G. Rubinstein. From 1862 when the novel "the Silver Prince" by A.K. Tolstoy was serialized, there was a surge of intellectual interest in Ivan the Terrible. This was followed by Lev Mey's "The Tsar's Bride" and "The Maid of Pskov". In the latter Ivan IV was portrayed as the fighter for the unity Moscow State and a man of great energy and will power. This play was the inspiration for Rimsky-Korsakov's opera : The Maid from Pskov, which although only premiered in 1873, Antokolskii heard extracts from in 1870.
The strain of this intense work on the artist's failing health is cited as the cause for his immediate departure for Italy in August 1871, only months after completing the full length sculpture. The new surroundings suited not only his health, but also his background and Antokolskii moved to Paris six years later, only returning occasionally to Russia, although the subjects of his work continued to be truly Russian.
A rare example of the use of majolica by the artist, in spite of the great interest in this technique in Russia and in Western Europe in the second half of the 19th century, only one other bust executed by Antokolskii in majolica is recorded; the bust of Yaroslav the Wise [Yaroslav Mudryi], 1889, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, no. Sk-1055.
(E.V. Kuznetsov M.M. Antokolskii Life and Work, Moscow 1989, also for further information and other versions of this bust in bronze and marble see pp. 67 and 69, plates 26 and 27.)
The great tileworks of Ivry, founded in 1854, near Paris, the largest of its kind in the world, produced Emille Muller stoneware works by masters of statuary.