Miestchaninoff was a Russian sculptor active in France during the first half of the twentieth century. A member of Parisian avant-garde circles since the 1910s, he amassed an art collection that included works by his artist friends and took active part in the Parisian market for modern art as a private dealer.
The son of a Jewish shopkeeper in Vitebsk, Miestchaninoff trained at the School of Fine Arts in Odessa. In 1906 he settled in Paris, joining a large community of Eastern European artists, many of them Jewish, in the artist colony in Montparnasse known as La Ruche. Immediately upon arrival in Paris, he enrolled at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs and Ecole des Beaux-Arts, studying there briefly before embarking on a career as a sculptor. He exhibited regularly from 1912 at the public art salons and at international group exhibitions. Until the early 1920s, he kept a studio in the Cité Falguière, which for a few years he shared with the painter Chaïm Soutine. His circle of friends included young expatriate artists working in Paris. In addition to Soutine, he befriended Amedeo Modigliani, Diego Rivera, and Jacques Lipchitz. Like many of his contemporaries, Miestchaninoff became keenly interested in non-Western art, particularly Asian art, which he saw at the Musée Cernuschi and Musée Guimet. In 1919 he traveled to Cambodia where he participated in French-led archeological excavations of the Khmer Empire sites. Upon his return to France, he co-authored a book on the subject of Khmer sculptures. Mietschaninoff continued to pursue his passion for Asian art, traveling to India in 1927.
His entry to the 1922 Salon d’Automne, Man in a Top Hat (1922; Centre Pompidou, Paris), a male torso nude except for formal accessories of a hat and glove, established his position within the modern art world. In the 1920s, while pursuing his successful art career producing sculpted busts, Miestchaninoff participated in the Parisian market for modern art. He bought at various auctions, including the Kahnweiler sequestration sales that took place from 1921 to 1923. He bought Cubist works by Picasso and Georges Braque, among them Still Life with Metronome (Still Life with Mandola and Metronome) (1909; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection) as well as paintings by André Derain and Maurice Vlaminck. Some of these purchases were made on behalf of the collector Raoul La Roche. In 1925 Miestchaninoff moved into a studio-residence designed by Le Corbusier in Boulogne-sur-Seine (9, avenue des Pins). It was a two-family house, which Miestchaninoff commissioned from Le Corbusier together with Lipchitz, and included a gallery to display Miestchaninoff’s private art collection. Over the years, the sculptor had amassed works by all of the aforementioned artists as well as examples by Pinchus Krémègne, Camille Pissarro, and Henri Rousseau (le Douanier) Rousseau. In 1937 Miestchaninoff received a Gold Medal at the World’s Fair held in Paris, and in 1939 he had a solo exhibition at the Musée du Petit Palais. In 1941 he left Paris for New York, where he joined a community of Parisian artists displaced by World War II, and later moved to Los Angeles. He had two major exhibitions while living in the United States, in 1944 at the Wildenstein Gallery in New York, and in 1955 at the Los Angeles County Museum. After the sculptor’s death in 1956, his widow Beatrice Miestchaninoff, a sister of the Russian operatic conductor and director Emil Cooper, gifted many of the artist’s works, as well as some from his collection, to museums in the United States and France.