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Legacy of Catherine the Great, Russian Masterpieces at NGV 3

Catherine the Great

Alexander ROSLIN, Swedish 1718–93, Portrait of Catherine II 1776–77, oil on canvas, The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Acquired from the artist, 1777

Masterpieces from The Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great, will showcase some 500 + works from their great collection of fine and decorative arts.

On show at the National Gallery of Victoria 31st July to 8th November 2015, the display includes a portrait of the lady herself by Swedish portrait painter Alexander Roslin, who detailed the shimmering qualities of the textiles as he insightfully recorded the sitter at the pinnacle of her reign.

Founded on the outstanding and vast personal collection of one of its most dynamic rulers, Empress and Autocrat of All the Russia’s Catherine II (1729 – 1796), the Russian collection of treasures has been added to over the centuries and in St Petersburg today The State Hermitage Museum contains many great paintings of history.

Russia is a country that emerged from its long hibernation and influence on its arts of the Asian steppes and Byzantium after 1703. This was when Czar Peter 1 made sweeping reforms, founding the city of St. Petersburg as the new Russian capital. It’s siting offered direct access to the Baltic Sea and gave impetus to Russia’s rise as a world power politically, culturally and geographically.

Catherine the Great’s efforts both diplomatic and through conquest, were part of the strategy to modernise Russia and at the forefront of the age of ‘Enlightenment’ in Russia, she contributed to it becoming recognized as one of the great powers.

Madame du Pompadour as Sultana - van Loo

Charles VANLOO French 1705–65, Sultan’s wife drinking coffee (1750s), oil on canvas 120.0 ? 127.0 cm The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (Inv. no. ??-7489), Acquired from the collection of Madame Marie-Thérèse Geoffrin, Paris, 1772

She had to catch up with everyone else so went through Europe purchasing whole collections of paintings, taking them home to St Petersburg where she established the Hermitage Museum.

A formidable woman, the 1st Prime Minister of England Sir Robert Walpole gave up his renowned Houghton Hall collection at her bidding, as did Mme Marie-Therese Geoffrin of Paris.

In 1772 she gave up Charles Van Loo’s painting of a Sultan’s wife drinking coffee.

Catherine’s age had developed a taste for the exotic and oriental, and this work by Charles Van Loo (1705-1765) features the enigmatic Madame du Pompadour, King Louis XV of France’s royal mistress as ‘Sultana.

Madame du Pompadour was in charge of the King’s entertainments, and he enjoyed as did all the court, the private theatricals she arranged and often starred in herself. The painting by Van Loo was left to her brother Marquis de Marigny on her death and he said it was one of the few real likenesses of his beloved sister.

Scholar by Rembrandt

REMBRANDT Harmensz. van Rijn, Dutch 1606–69, Portrait of a scholar 1631, oil on canvas, 104.5 ? 92.0 cm (Inv. no. ??-744), The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Acquired from the collection of Count Heinrich von Bru?hl, Dresden, 1769

The work was painted by Van Loo as one of a pair of overdoors for the Grande Chambre, known as ‘Chambre á la turque’ in her delightful Rococo style Chateau of Bellevue (later demolished).

It had been built overlooking the village of Sevres, renowned for its porcelain making, which she also oversaw on behalf of the King, and which Catherine the Great also collected. Pieces from her 300+ dinner setting from Sevres, will also be on display.

The period of great learning that began with the advent of printing in the mid 15th century was by Catherine’s age, expanding its reach. It gained considerable impetus during the 17th century, revealed in the Portrait of a Scholar by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669) who was involved in the ‘printmaking’ trade himself.

I love this image … captured at a moment in time, the Scholar makes notes from a large handwritten folio. His costume tells us he is a wealthy man, the sheer quality of the textiles the very best money could buy and the rustic quality of the bench, a marvelous contrast. Rembrandt gives us a portrait where both light and shade merge imperceptibly and the contours are softened to unify the figure with its surrounding atmosphere, a characteristic of paintings at this time.

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Catherine The Great – Russian Treasures in South Australia

Catherine the Great

Attributed to Johann Baptist Lampi the Elder (1751-1830) Portrait of Catherine the Great (1729-1796), Russia, late 18th century, oil on canvas, Height: 81cm; Width: 62cm, bespoke gilt-wood frame incorporating The Empress’ Imperial Coat of Arms, courtesy David Roche Foundation House Museum, Adelaide, South Australia

Collector David Roche AM (1930 – 2013) of Adelaide, who left his treasures to the people of South Australia in 2013, gathered wonderful Russian objects as part of his great collection, including a portrait of Catherine the Great exhibited by the David Roche Foundation House Museum.

The curator of the collection said “David Roche ‘s trips to Russia were always with artist Vladimir Tsurkan, antiques and art specialist Martyn Cook and usually another employee. Vlad was the consummate Russian speaking guide. He allowed us to discover Moscow and St Petersburg from top to bottom, front to back. From the ballet to the opera to house museums and state museums, every trip was packed full of surprises. Six trips later nothing has changed in regard to the surprise element that Mother Russia is. She constantly amazed and David Roche loved it and so accordingly his collection houses some 59 Russian objects from pottery to Faberge.”

Attributed to Johann Baptist Lampi the Elder (1751-1830), the late eighteenth century portrait of Catherine the Great (1729 – 1796) is an oil on canvas and is in a bespoke gilt-wood frame incorporating The Empress’ Imperial Coat of Arms. Its Provenance is impressive – 7th Count of Villagonzalo, Mariano Miguel Maldonado y Davalos (1851-1901), Spanish Ambassador in St Petersburg 1893-1897 and by descent to an important aristocratic collection in Spain.

Russian Portrait Roche Collection

Robert Jacques Francois Lefèvre (Bayeux 1755- 1830 Paris) Anatole Nikolaievich Demidoff (1813-1870), France, 1820, oil on canvas, Height: 156cm; Width: 100cm, Signed and dated “Robert Lefèvre/fr 1820″, courtesy David Roche Foundation House Museum, Adelaide, South Australia

Count Villagonzalo established a close friendship with Tsar Nicholas II during his period in office in St Petersburg. In 1899 he was awarded the Imperial Order of St Alexander Nevsky.

He is mentioned in the Tsar’s diaries. “Saturday 20th April, 1896. The day was marvellous and bright. The two of us went on a short walk and found masses of anemones. After breakfast I received Count Vollagonzalo, previously the Spanish representative, now the ambassador here.”

Another portrait in the collection is by Robert Jacques Francois Lefévre (1755-1830) who recorded Anatole Nikolaievich Demidoff (1813-1870) when he was 7 years of age in a red military uniform.

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