Watercolor portraits and decorative porcelain.
21 April 2010 an exhibition of new arrivals featuring 92 watercolors and over 140 porcelain items that are remarkable as valuable artifacts of domestic culture opened at the State Hermitage. These exhibits were purchased by the Hermitage in the end of 2009 from Maurice Baruch, the current owner of a famous gallery Popoff & Co.
The gallery’s foundation was laid by its founder Alexander Popov. As a regular officer and a participant of the World War I, he relocated to France in 1919 and opened an antique shop in Paris that started to concentrate artifacts of exceptional artistic value. In 1935 the gallery was awarded with the first honorary Grand Prix of Paris for the supreme quality of the exhibited items. The collection was mainly replenished by items brought by Russian emigrants. Popov’s gallery received artifacts from splendid collections of princes the Saltykovs, Dolgorukis, Beloselskis-Belozerskis, Orlovs, duke Leuchtenberg, etc.
Originally, the central place in Popov’s collection was taken by watercolor portraits of the first half of the 19th century, the golden period for this genre in Europe and Russia. The Hermitage purchased works of over 30 artists of that period, both famous and half-remembered.
Among the most significant craftsmen is Pyotr Sokolov. Works by this most popular portrait painter of the Nicholas age Russia are included in the collection. Portraits of the Imperial family members hold a special place in this collection. After the artist was invited to the grand prince’s Anichkov Palace he received a series of orders from the Grand Court which contributed to his fame. In 1829 P. Sokolov created a pair portrait, unusual to his style, on a landscape featuring the empress Alexandra Fyodorovna and her daughter the grand princess Maria Nikolaevna at a sea shore. This is one of the rarest large-format works of the craftsman.
In Petersburg the only competitor of P. Sokolov by popularity was a remarkable master of watercolor portrait of the 19th century Vladimir Hau. Among his 28 works purchased by the Hermitage, the first watercolor, Portrait of Countess Uvarova, was painted around 1830, and the last, Portrait of Counts Pavel and Pyotr Sheremetevs in childhood, in 1881. Since 1840 V. Hau served as a court artist. His portraits of family members of the emperor Nicholas I is a remarkable iconographic material. Hau’s true peak of creativity and the pearl of Popov’s collection is a portrait of Natalia Pushkina (1844) that enchants with its tender beauty and fineness. Hau’s self-portrait made in 1855 should not be overlooked. The painter’s own image is devoid of any idealism inherent to his order works. The portrait can be brought into line with psychological self-portraits of Hau’s famous contemporaries such as Orest Kiprensky and Karl Bryullov whose graphic works are also put on display.
Six portraits by one of the leading architects of that time, Alexander Bryullov, the brother of the famous painter K. Bryullov, reflect his activity as a watercolorist. Especially touching are his portraits of women and children: Portrait of Princess E. Chernyshevskaya with children (approx. 1830), Portrait of the Shishmarevs sisters (approx. 1835). Portrait genre was also applied by other Russian architects of the Nicholas period. Famous A. Stackenshneider during his stay in France in 1837 depicted an unknown young man and thus confirmed his reputation as a wonderful drawer.
Romantic Self-portrait in a beret by A. Orlovsky (1807) is remarkable for the accentuated vigor of the artistic solution and the explicit orientation on Rembrandt’s works.
Among the collection’s best portraits are works by famous foreign artists closely associated with Russia: lyrical women’s images by Christine Robertson and Alexander Molinari, highly professional works by Franz Krueger, Joseph Krihuber and Friedrich Randel.
The exhibition also features works by other Russian and Western artists of the 19th century whose talent and skills greatly contribute to the high level of the famous collection. These are wonderful portraits made by E. Hau, N. Tikhobrazov, N. Orekhov, A. Vorobiev, Alexeev, Voronov, I. Grund, F. Lagrene, etc.
Galerie Popoff & Co has always boasted its unique porcelain, so it’s no coincidence that A. Popov was known as an expert in this field. The most significant and interesting part of the displayed exhibits is represented by Russian porcelain items of the second half of the 18th century. First of all, these are products of the Imperial Porcelain Factory in Petersburg made for the Romanovs family members and their immediate environment. Early porcelain articles of the Elizaveta Petrovna’s period are the rarest. Tea and coffee services, plates, bottle and wineglass carriers (pots for cooling and carrying bottles and wineglasses) with the marks in shape of two-headed eagles were made by D. Vinogradov, an inventor of Russian porcelain. A plate with a signature of G. Nikiforov, a painter of the court enterprise, represents the first known signature sample of Petersburg manufactory (late 1750s - early 1760s). Special value is attached to porcelain snuff-boxes that were produced due to the vogue of snuff tobacco. Great variety of forms for such items is demonstrated by “pouch” snuff-boxes as sealed envelopes with generic coats of arms and addresses for the names of A. Volkova (approx. 1760) and V. Krenitsyna (1764).
Typical samples of Vinogradov’s period include an Easter egg with a flower painting (1750s) and a chess figure of knight molded and painted manually (1750s - early 1760s). Each item has a unique painting and is remarkable for its elaborate drawing. A number of exhibits are related to a conventional series “with polychromatic Chinese people” (late 1750s – 1760s).
Creation of the first parade service, so called Own table and dessert service of Elizaveta Petrovna (not earlier than 1756s – early 1760s), was a major event in the history of Russian porcelain. Plates with a trellis design demonstrating artistic style of this famous ensemble are presented at the exhibition.
The golden age of Russian porcelain under the empress Catherine II is illustrated by items from famous Vsednevny (late 1770s – 1780s) and Yakhtinsky (1785-1787) services as well as works by J. Rachette, Head of the Sculpture department of Imperial Porcelain Factory, made in a special “porcelain and plaster” mass. They are represented by bas-reliefs with portraits of I. Chernyshev (1780-1790s), an outstanding statesman and diplomat, current private advisors of S. Plescheev (late 1780s) and A. Olsufiev (1790).
Historical changes in the history of Russian heraldry are reflected in a biscuit portrait of the emperor Pavel I with a Maltese order and a cross by J. Rochette’s model (1798-1801). Sculptures from Rachette’s series Nationalities of Russia and Merchants and craftsmen (1780s-1790s) are remarkably meaningful in terms of history and culture.
Gift cups with owners’ monograms are represented separately. Cups with a tsar’s monogram were presented to the Romanovs’ family members and inner circle on holidays as well as in special acknowledgement to foreign guests. As researchers believe, the history of producing at the Petersburg manufactory a cup with a PP monogram is related to the baptism of the grand prince Pavel Petrovich on September 25, 1754. Memorial meaning is also attached to cups with portraits of the empress Catherine II and the count A. Orlov (1770s; Meisen), a profile of the emperor Nicholas II and the monogram of the empress Alexandra Fedorovna (1907, 1908; Imperial Porcelain Factory).
Order products with coats of arms and owners’ monograms were also made by F. Gardner’s factory in the Moscow region, the first private porcelain factory in Russia. There, in the 18th century bottle and wineglass carriers, teapots and jars for fruit water, plates and baskets with openwork edges, salt shakers, dessert plates, etc were produced with landscape, battle, pastoral and floral painting. Among plastic products of Gardner’s factory in the Moscow region a miniature bust of the empress Catherine II (1780s-1790s) is remarkably prominent. A sample painting on a conic support with a gilded monogram Е II is known in a single copy.
Porcelain of the 18th century emphasizes a discontinued connection between Russian and European culture. For example, the Berlin service presented by the Prussian king Friedrich II to the grand prince Pavel Petrovich in 1778 is decorated with a two-headed eagle under the crown with a coat of arms of Holstein-Gottorp dynasty, Pavel’s inherited property by his father’s side.
Unique watercolors and magnificent porcelain represented at the exhibition demonstrate an elevated style of the museum’s collections. These outstanding items that are of such great interest to specialists and art lovers fully correspond to the collecting policy of the State Hermitage.
The exhibition’s supervisor is I. Bagdasarova, a research associate of the Department of Russian culture of the State Hermitage. An illustrated brochure was prepared for the exhibition; the text’s authors are I. Bagdasarova and A. Soloviev