Hakob Gurdjian was the first Armenian sculptor of international renown, particularly in France.
He was born in Shushi (Karabagh) on December 17, 1881. He studied at the Regal School of Shushi, where he developed his interest in art, which he had already expressed in his childhood. After finishing his studies in Moscow, he departed to Paris, where he studied at the Julien Academy of Art from 1907-1910. Although his life during those years has not been documented, several of his works have been conserved, showing his hard work, talent, and extraordinary progress. In those years, he also attended the atelier of world-known sculptor Auguste Rodin, whose influence is perceived in his early years.
Gurdjian participated in his first exhibitions in 1908, showcasing his works in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Paris. The first creative period included busts of Arshag Tchobanian, Maxim Gorky, and Leon Tolstoy, the high relief “Armenian Female Villagers,” the composition “Migration,” and other works. He worked in Moscow and Tiflis in 1914-1921, producing new busts of General Antranig (not conserved), writers Alexander Shirvanzade and Vahan Terian, the famous singer Feodor Chaliapin, and musicians Sergei Rachmaninoff and Ludwig van Beethoven. He moved to Paris in 1921, where he would live for the rest of his life. He produced a total of more than 300 works, including busts of Armenian and foreign personalities, works of mythological, historical, and others subjects, like “Leda” (1922), “Victory” (1923), “Salome” (1925-1926), “Adolescence” (1934), “Youth” (1939), etc.
He was the first sculptor to delve into different genres, and his works were characterized by the variety of subjects and the artistic generalizations. His art combined the ancient traditions of the Orient and the new traditions of the West. He had individual exhibitions in New York (1924) and Paris (1926; posthumously, in 1952). His works have been shown in Tokyo, Oslo, Antwerp, Brussels, and other cities.
Gurdjian passed away in Paris on December 28, 1948. According to his will, in 1958 his widow Tatyana Gurdjian and in 1963 her second husband, A. Arakelian, presented more than 440 sculptures to Armenia, where a permanent exhibition was opened at the National Gallery of Art.