5 June 2019 Important Russian Art Auctions, at Asia House

5 June 2019

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

A Porcelain Dessert Plate from the Dowry Service of Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna


A Porcelain Dessert Plate from the Dowry Service of Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna

10,000–15,000 GBP

Diameter 23.5 cm.

Circular, with scalloped rim, the cavetto painted with officers of Her Majesty’s Chevalier Guard Regiment within gilt band, the border decorated with gilt foliate scrollwork on a lilac ground, the reverse titled “Rt de Chevalier-garde de S.M. L’Imperatrice”, signed “N Kornilov”, with a blue Imperial cypher for Nicholas I and dated 1844.

Provenance: The offered plates were part of an extensive dowry of Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna (1825–1844) for her wedding in 1844 to Frederick William, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel (1820–1884).
Collection of Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel after Alexandra’s death.
Collection of Princess Augusta of Hesse-Kassel (1823– 1899), sister of Prince Frederick William.
Collection of Vilhelm Carl, Baron von Blixen-Finecke (1863–1942), son of Princess Augusta.
Thence by descent.
International Autumn Sale, Bukowski, Stockholm, 29 November 2007, lots 1151–1180.
Important private collection, Europe.

Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna was the fourth child of Nicholas I and Alexandra Feodorovna and the first wife of Prince Frederick William of Hesse-Kassel. She was born in Tsarskoye Selo in 1825 and was affectionally known as “Adini”. Prince Frederick and Adini fell in love during his visit to St Petersburg in winter of 1843 and their engagement was announced on 28 June 1843. Unfortunately, Adini became ill with tuberculosis before her wedding and passed away shortly afterwards never having left Russia for her new home. At the insistence of the Emperor Nicholas I and the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, the Dowry, which had already been shipped to Grand Duchy of Hesse, remained there at the disposal of the Prince.

Related literature: For plates from the same service, see exhibition catalogue, St. Petersburg um 1800. Ein goldenes Zeitalter des russischen Zarenreichs. Meisterwerke und authentische Zeugnisse der Zeit aus der Staatlichen Ermitage, Leningrad, Recklingshausen, Aurel Bongers Verlag, 1990, p. 160.
Sankt-Peterburg. Portret goroda i gorozhan, St Petersburg, Palace Editions, 2003, p. 86, Nos. 138 and 140.

The collection of dessert plates presented for auction is part of a dinner service from the dowry of Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna (1825–1844), the youngest daughter of Emperor Nicholas I. The service was made at the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory in 1843–1844, during its heyday. At that time, Russian porcelain designers were creating unique service sets, distinguished by the originality of their shapes and decoration, and among these, the sets ordered by Nicholas I for his daughters occupy a very special place.

The present collection of dessert plates is of indisputable value, owing both to the number of items of which it is composed and their outstanding provenance. The Imperial Porcelain Manufactory’s grandiose service sets, which once consisted of up to 4,000 items (for 200 or more place settings), have not survived in their entirety in either museum or private collections because of the dramatic events of the 20th century. As a rule, items representing any particular service do not exceed 100–150 items in a single collection, so that the set of dessert plates now offered, comprising 61 pieces of imperial porcelain, is all the more valuable.

Especially noteworthy is the provenance of dessert plates, which enables their history to be traced from the Winter Palace, where the service in which they were included was kept – part of the dowry of Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna for her marriage to Frederick William, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel (1820–1884). Following Alexandra Nikolaevna’s tragic death shortly after the wedding, the set was sent to Germany and passed into the possession of Prince Frederick William. Some of the plates from among those offered for auction were gifted by him to his sister, Princess Augusta of Hesse-Kassel (1823–1899), and she then passed them on to her younger son, William Carl Otto of Blixen- Finecke (1863–1942).

In accordance with Neo-Rococo (Rococo Revival) aesthetics, all the items in the basic set are embellished with gilt rocaille decoration, while the scalloped borders of the dessert plates were, by decision of the porcelain factory’s management, painted in yellow, pink, lilac, light blue and other colours. Since the sets were identical numerically and content-wise, we can form an idea, based on the dowry service of Olga Nikolaevna (1822–1892), Alexandra Nikolaevna’s elder sister, of the number of plates that were in Alexandra’s service. The Imperial Porcelain Manufactory’s register lists: “72 dessert plates with a green border; 72 with a light-blue border; 72 with a pink border; 72 with a cobalt border; 72 with a turquoise border”, i.e. “30 dozen, featuring 5 decorative options with 72 plates in each”. The gilt decoration on the dessert portion of Alexandra Nikolaevna’s service is built up from the repetition of differently handled elements, among which are palmettes and stylised foliate plant shoots. Their main features are the fact that the patterns do not repeat one another, and the lightness and surprising integrity of the overall artistic treatment. The dessert plate set presents a vivid and varied appearance, thanks to the multitude of picturesque scenes on the cavetto of each item. The brightly coloured pictures reproduce fashionable landscapes, military scenes, and figures in theatrical costumes.

A document found in the factory archives indicates that pictures by the most popular and sought-after painters in the mid-19th century, as well as details from canvasses in the main collection of the imperial family’s paintings in the Winter Palace, were reproduced on the dessert plates in the service sets for daughters of Nicholas I.

The paintings were sent from imperial residences to the porcelain factory for copying. In particular, details of canvasses by one of the artists in Nicholas I’s entourage, the court painter Adolphe Ladurner, who depicted all the pomp and splendour of the Russian court, were reproduced on the dessert plates of Alexandra Nikolaevna’s set: “Ladurner’s paintings, which are at the factory, have been taken for consideration while the illustrated plates are being made for the dowry of Her Imperial Highness.” A detail of one of the emperor’s favourite paintings by Ladurner, Part of the White (Armorial) Hall in the Winter Palace, from the Hermitage collection was used to decorate two plates which had a pink scalloped border and depicted the officers of a company of the Palace Grenadiers and the Minister of the Imperial Court and Properties, Prince Pyotr Volkonsky (lots 312 and 315).

The painters of the dessert plates also had recourse to sheets from the album entitled The Imperial Russian Guards 1832–1844, compiled from drawings by Alexander Sauerweid, Samuil Shiflyar and Lev Kiel (lithographs notably by Lev Belousov and Pavel Alexandrov). The album was used when the famous collector’s-item “military” plates of Nicholas’s reign were being painted. The plates that, as the Russian porcelain researcher Tamara Nosovich aptly comments, can be called “a tribute to the groom”, since they depict the officers of regiments that had Frederick William, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel as their commander-in-chief, constitute a special category (lot 313).

Prints, oleographs and drawings from albums containing well-known views of St Petersburg, out-of-town residences and palatial estates (e.g. Peterhof, Tsarskoye Selo, Gatchina and Pavlovsk) were taken as primary sources for the depiction of architectural monuments. The most popular publications were Pavel Svinyin’s Sights of Saint Petersburg and its Environs and Andrei Martynov’s A Collection of Views of Saint Petersburg and its Suburbs, as well as the “collections” of prints by Andrei Ukhtomsky, Johann Mayr, Ivan Telegin, Ivan Chesky and Stepan Galaktionov, published by Adolphe Pluchart. These prints were created from painted originals by Fyodor Alekseev and Semyon Shchedrin among others. It should be noted that the plates showing architectural views are not only dated and signed by those who did the painting – the best porcelain artists and hereditary masters of the factory’s painting department – but also feature the names of the places that are reproduced on them.

A sizeable proportion of the painting on the dessert plates in Alexandra Nikolaevna’s service portrays so-called “masquerade figures” and “characters in theatrical costumes”. Among them, of particular interest is the portrait of the outstanding Austrian ballerina Fanny Elssler performing the Spanish La Cachucha folk dance with castanets (lot 360). Elssler came to St Petersburg at the personal invitation of Nicholas I, and for three seasons she appeared at the Imperial theatres of Moscow and St Petersburg, dancing her famous La Cachucha, as staged by Jean Coralli in the ballet Le Diable boiteux, during intermissions between Russian and French performances. It should be noted that, as with the images on other dessert plates, this portrait is found on a whole series of wares from the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory, including the dessert plates of the Mikhailovsky Service.

It can thus be said that the unique set of dessert plates in Alexandra Nikolaevna’s service forms a whole encyclopaedia of Russian court life during the reign of Nicholas I, fully conveying the artistic preferences of the Imperial family and reflecting all the most prevalent and fashionable trends of its time.

We are grateful to the art historian Dr Ekaterina Khmelnitskaya for providing additional catalogue information.

Notes on symbols:
* Indicates 5% Import Duty Charge applies.
Ω Indicates 20% Import Duty Charge applies.
§ Indicates Artist's Resale Right applies.
† Indicates Standard VAT scheme applies, and the rate of 20% VAT will be charged on both hammer price and premium.