The Russian sculptor Sergei Dmitrievich Merkurov (1881-1952) was one of the most celebrated creators of death masks in the twentieth century, known for his busts of Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Vladimir Mayakovski, Maxim Gorky, and many others.
Merkurov studied in Germany and then, with Auguste Rodin (1840-1914) in Paris before returning to Russia in 1907. When Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) died on November 20, 1910, Merkurov was called to immortalize the author’s final image.
There are several variations of Leo Tolstoy’s death mask. Princeton’s copy is taken from a cast that includes a sculpted beard and pillow, added to the face by Merkurov. The first impression is probably the one in the Tolstoy Museum in Leningrad and Princeton’s made some time later.