8 June 2011
Portraits of Nikolai II and Alexandra Fedorovna, two works, each signed and dated 1903.
Oil on canvas, laid on board, measuring 84 by 71 cm (oval) and 83.5 by 70 cm (oval) respectively.
Provenance: Private collection, Europe.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert N. Ignatova
Alexander Makovsky painted these matching portraits of Emperor Nicholas II and his wife Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in 1903, as official, full-dress portraits of the ruling family. Portraits of this kind were commissioned as gifts for officials or organisations and were obliged to conform to an "imperially approved" image. Alexander Makovsky often painted full-dress portraits of imperial persons, depicting Nicholas II in the uniforms of various regiments under his or the Empress's patronage, and even exhibited one of these at the 38th Exhibition of the Society of Itinerant Art Exhibitions in 1909-1910. Today the collections of the Russian Museum, the Hermitage, the Historical Museum and the Tsarskoe Selo Museum and Estate still include both small-scale and large-format portraits, by this artist, of Nicholas Alexandrovich on horseback and Alexandra Feodorovna in a formal white evening gown and jewelled diadem.
In the oval portrait now offered at auction, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna is portrayed in court dress, with a kokoshnik head-dress and veil, and the sash and diamond insignia of the Order of Saint Catherine, the highest order of the Russian Empire for women. It was Nicholas I, great-grandfather of the last Emperor, who had introduced court dress in the Russian style as obligatory practice. At the end of the 19th century, thanks to a new wave of enthusiasm for the "Russian style", many high-society ladies, headed by the Empress, returned once more to this kind of court dress, embroidered with pearls, when posing for portraits. Nicholas II is, likewise, depicted as a holder of the highest order, with the medal-ribbon of Saint Andrew the First-Called and in the full-dress uniform of a Colonel in His Majesty's Preobrazhensky Life Guards Regiment. We can therefore consider Makovsky's matching portraits not only as top-quality works of art in the sphere of formal imperial family portraiture, but also as significant historical testimony of the epoch.
According to the present owner, the portraits originate from the collection of the Russian Imperial family, and could at some point have decorated the interior of the Winter Palace. After the Revolution of 1917, the portraits, along with a number of other artworks of imperial subjects, were taken to Denmark by the sister of Nicolas II, the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna. She was accompanied by her lady in waiting Baroness Eugenie Bagge af Boo, the great-grandmother of the present owner, in whose possession the portraits remained after the fraught journey from Russia to Malmö in Sweden.
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.