Alisa Brusketti-Mitrokhina (1872-1942) Such is the fate of Alisa Brusketti that she is only remembered when her husband, the talented graphic artist Dmitry Mitrokhin, is mentioned. As a rule, the work of Alisa Brusketti-Mitrokhina herself, who was formerly his trusted friend and assistant, goes unnoticed. The artist received her sonorous surname from her Italian father, who worked in Russia as a railway engineer. She also probably inherited her good looks from him. In any case, according to the recollections of those who studied at the Moscow Institute of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, which Alisa Brusketti entered in 1892, almost without exception, the young men were in love with this interesting and always well-dressed young woman. Alisa Brusketti studied both painting and sculpture at the same time. For painting, her instructors were the famous landscapist Isaac Levitan and, after Levitan’s sudden death, Valentin Serov. It seems that it is thanks to her contact with these artists that she acquired the exceptional color sense that distinguishes her polychromatic works. The second, but, as it would turn out, main vocation of the future artist was sculpture. Her instructor for the latter was Sergei Volnukhin. As a teacher, he was entirely committed to the principle of teaching according to personal artistic experience and artistic method. There was little copying under Volnukhin. It was only done at the first lessons to acquire the necessary artistic skills. Later, students would work only with live models, creating studies from life. Volnukhin did not go down in the history of Russian art not because he had an exceptional artistic talent, but because he was praised by his students, who were the beginning, according to one of his pupils, Vladimir Domogatsky, of a “new course of Russian sculpture.”
Beginning in autumn 1898, Paolo Troubetzkoy, who had arrived from Italy, became her second instruction in sculpture class. Troubetzkoy “quickly, like a comet, streaked across the horizon of Russian art and Moscow artistic life.” He was not a teacher in the typical mold. No one remains who could call themselves a pupil of Troubetzkoy, but an entire generation of Russian sculptors fell under the magic spell of the artist’s work and was able to convey the changing character of nature in their fluid and amorphous painterly compositions. Alisa Brusketti and Alexander Matveev were the maestro’s favorite students. Only they could rightly consider themselves to be Troubetzkoy’s students. From him, they inherited techniques for developing the surface of a form and they remembered the motto “keep the touch of the hand in the clay intact.” The young sculptors’ abilities were assessed immediately. Savva Mamontov, the owner of the once famous Abramtsevo, invited Matveev and later Brusketti to work in his ceramic workshop. It was located in Moscow beyond the Butyrskaya Gate and bore the name “Abramtsevo.” After a scandalous court case, Mamontov lived in seclusion at the workshop, at which many famous artists worked, including Brusketti, who sculpted small, utilitarian things, always distinguished by their subtlety and elegance.
In 1904, Brusketti left for Tver. In this provincial city, she taught drawing at the women’s Commercial Institute. The artist worked with interest. On her initiative, in 1909, the First Tver Artistic and Industrial Exhibition was organized. But that same year, Brusketti moved to St. Petersburg, deciding to improve as a sculptor. She started visiting the ceramic workshop of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts. This workshop gravitated mainly toward small forms. Here, ceramics was viewed as another, little-used material for sculpture. Brusketti stayed at the workshop of the Society until 1914, receiving all the possible first prizes for her work in porcelain, majolica, and ceramic. In 1915, Eugene Lanceray, who was in charge of the Imperial Porcelain Factory, invited Alisa Brusketti to make sculptural reliefs for vases from his own sketches. For a time, the artist did this work, which seemed to her, an independent artist, to be work worthy of a mere apprentice. But then she left the factory, completely disillusioned. Complicated financial circumstances led Alisa, who by then was already Dmitry Mitrokhin’s wife, to leave her husband and move to Pskov. Here, at the Pskov School of Art and Industry, founded at the expense of Nikolai Van der Fliet, she resumed her teaching career.
At the school, opened in 1913, to which many interesting specialists and teachers had been invited, such as Nikolai Root, the great ceramics expert, Brusketti-Mitrokhina taught courses on composition and molding. According to her pupils’ recollections, her main demands were independence, the undesirability of copying, and a creative approach to understanding and solving problems. 1918 found Alisa Brusketti in German-occupied Pskov. Dmitry Mitrokhin at the time was in his native Yeysk. They managed to meet again only in Petrograd, where their new apartment became the home of the “Community of Artists.” The first post-revolutionary years were cold and hungry, but the artistic life of Petrograd was active like never before. Mitrokhin frequently and successfully worked in book illustration, and Brusketti once again worked at the porcelain factory, the artistic section of which was led by Lanceray as before. The artist created a series of figures of characters of the time, the most famous of which became Bourgeois Woman Selling Things. True, this is the only one the factory accepted for production. Brusketti did not have a good relationship with the factory. She was criticized because the revolution did not give her anything new in terms of content or form; they pointed to the agitational porcelain of Chekonin and Shekatikhina and Natalia Danko’s figurines as examples. After quitting the factory, Brusketti worked exclusively at home, sculpting for herself without the possibility of firing her figurines due to the lack of a kiln. She frequently helped her husband and worked at an orphanage for a time, doing decorative work, and at home, as before, she painted porcelain, selecting the empty corners of the Petrograd side, where she lived, as her motifs. Her paints were muted. Her favorite colors were brown, red, and green. In the late 1930s, Brusketti again began working on small-scale works. She created two series: Ballerinas and Sportswomen.
Many years had passed since she had created her first series, Peoples of Russia. Like her peers, at the beginning of the century, she was interested in lubok and drawn to ethnography and Russian folklore in sculpture. The Ballerina series was the embodiment of her love for the theater—a passion that affected everyone who was ever involved with the Abramstevo circle, with the World of Art, to whose second generation Dmitry Miktrokhin belonged. Brusketti’s ballet suite, delighting in the beauty of the human body and its artistic expressiveness, was called an “iconography of Russian ballet.” The artists’ subjects were ballerinas of the imperial stage and soloists from Diaghilev’s famous ballet company, which had conquered Europe in the teens. In each figurine, one can sense the characteristics of the model: gesture, line, and movement help to reveal completely the uniqueness of the “Egyptian dancer” Tamara Karsavina, and the artistry of Vera Fokina and Susanna Poiret. Brusketti tried to find new possibilities in the art of ceramics; she tried to create a portrait painting in the genre of painted majolica. The artist was interested in antiquity; she sculpted maenads and dancers, searched for inspiration in ancient sculpture of Tanagra from which to make copies, in Italian majolica, Eastern ceramics, Russian lubok, and folk toys. But she had many artistic plans that she was unable to realize. Remaining in the besieged city with her husband, who served as a volunteer in the national militia, she did not survive the difficult first winter of the Blockade.