Erzia, Stepan


Stepan Erzia – Russian and Soviet painter and sculptor. He was born on October 27, 1876 in the village Bayevo, Alatyr province, Simbirsk region in the peasant family. His birth name was Nefedov, Erzia – was his artistic pseudonym. It identified the artist as a representative of one of the numerous ethnic groups ("Erzia") among Mordovian nationality.

The name of the sculptor Erzia is widely known in our country and abroad. Stepan Nefedov’s The unique artistic manner of Stepan Erzia was grown due to his absorbing the inheritance of the ancient Mordovian people arts and crafts. Young sculptor developed his brilliant inborn talents and abilities in the Moscow school of painting, sculpture and architecture in the Studio of Sergei Volnukhin and Paul Trubetskoy (1902-1906). Later he studied and worked in various European art studios and sculpture workshops during 1907-1914.

The most outstanding works that were created in this period: "Melancholy" (1908), "Prison Chaplain", "The Last Night" (1909), "The Stone Age" (1911), “Martha” (1912).

For the first time he was participating in the Venice exhibition in 1909. He exhibited the works "The Last Night of the Convict” and "Self-portrait". His participation in the international exhibitions in Milan (1909) and exhibition "Autumn Salon" in Paris (1912) was successful.

The years spent in Italy and France were a magnificent experience for the sculptor. Erzia was one of the first Russian sculptors of the 20th century who depicted the dignity and beauty of a woman, representing the small indigenous groups. The sculptor created images that were full of lyricism, depicted deep and sincere feelings ("Woman", "The Head of a Mordovian Woman").

During this period of work, the artisan was trying to update the art of sculpturing. The range of materials that Erzia used during this period was very wide. It was marble, cement, concrete, crude iron, gypsum.

In the beginning of the 1920s, the search for the most expressive materials helped Stepan Erzia to find an innovative material – wood. The sculptor started to use hard wood for his compositions – Caucasian oak and Caucasian walnut. Compositions "Leda and the Swan", "Flying", "Motherhood", performed in the Caucasus, clearly demonstrated the techniques of modernism, earlier tested by the sculptor and depicted the formation of a new individual sculptural style as well. This style developed for two following decades (1927-1950), which the sculptor spent in Argentina.

There he found the materials, which he continually used until the end of his life – subtropical wood species, such as quebracho, algarrobo, urunday. Their exotic beauty, textural richness, density and hardness took over the sculptor. New material determined the choice of various themes and subjects. Subsequently a series of portraits of historical, mythological, female and national personalities, as well as the so-called psychological series, were created. The quebracho wood became one of the favourite materials of the sculpture. An expressive wood grain, a wide range of shades and picturesque originality of burrs, from the very beginning defined the unique manner of the sculptor’s works.

Stepan Erzia returned to the Soviet Union in 1950. He managed to save and to bring his creative works to his Motherland.

Stepan Erzia died on November 24, 1959. He was buried in Saransk. His art has no boundaries. It belongs to all humankind. All his creations are infused with the deep sense of patriotism. Living abroad for a long time, the sculptor always remembered his fellow-country people and dearly loved them.

The Mordovian Republican museum, named after the sculptor, possesses the largest (over 200 works) and unique collection of his sculptures. It can be called the worthy tribute to Stepan Erzia.

Exhibits in the Museum Collection