After working as a sailor on the Volga, Seraphin Soudbinine became an accomplished and popular actor at the Moscow Arts Theatre, playing an important role in Maxim Gorky’s (1868-1936) best-known play The Lower Depths.
After moving to Paris in 1904, Soudbinine met Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and went on to become his pupil and later his collaborator. It was a bust of Gorky, executed in marble, that secured Soudbinine’s international reputation following its exhibition at the Salon d’Automne in 1905. The present work, a ceramic, is the first collaboration between Soudbinine and Emile Decoeur (1876-1953). After his success at the Salon d’Automne, Soudbinine executed a version in ceramic which was enamelled by Decoeur between 1906-1909, as per his signature and his mark, both from his period in Auteuil. Decoeur became Soudbinine’s advisor after 1923. When, aged nearly sixty, Soudbinine viewed the impressive collection of oriental ceramics held in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the works proved a revelation to the artist and prompted him to bravely abandon his successful career as a sculptor and begin again as a self-taught ceramist, advised by Emile Decoeur among others. He built his own oven and learned how to make both the earthenware materials and enamels he required. Soudbinine makes a nod to his own oeuvre returning to his model of Gorky which had prompted such admiration and is the first example of his collaboration with Decoeur, 15 years prior to Soudbinine’s new direction as a ceramist.
We are grateful to Dr Ekaterina Khmelnitskaya, Curator of Russian Porcelain at the State Hermitage, St Petersburg and Mr Michel Giraud, author of the catalogue raisonné on Emile Decoeur for their assistance with researching this work.