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    Sale 7806

    Lord St. Helens and Sir William FitzHerbert The Collections of a Diplomat and a Courtier

    22 January 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 589

    Russian School, circa 1787

    Portrait of Empress Catherine the Great (1729-1762), half-length, with the stars of the Orders of Saint Andrew the First-Called, Saint George the Victory-Bringer and Saint Vladimir, in a grey silk caftan, seated in a chair, holding a quill

    Price Realised  

    Russian School, circa 1787
    Portrait of Empress Catherine the Great (1729-1762), half-length, with the stars of the Orders of Saint Andrew the First-Called, Saint George the Victory-Bringer and Saint Vladimir, in a grey silk caftan, seated in a chair, holding a quill
    oil on panel
    20 x 17¾ in. (50.8 x 45.1 cm.)


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    It has been suggested that this portrait may date to the same period as the celebrated Portrait of Catherine the Great in travelling costume (Saint Petersburg, State Russian Museum) painted by Mikhail Shibanov (?-after 1789) in 1787. This was also the year that Alleyne FitzHerbert ended his first posting in Russian, departing Saint Petersburg in August, and it may be that the picture was presented to him as a parting gift; nineteenth-century archives at Tissington Hall consistently record this work as a one 'Presented to Lord St. Helens by [the Empress] herself'. However, it may also have been given to him during his second posting to Saint Petersburg in 1801-2, under Catherine's grandson, Emperor Alexander I. It was for Alleyne FitzHerbert's diplomatic efforts during this second posting that he was elevated to the peerage as Baron St. Helens of St. Helens.

    The Empress is depicted writing the 15th article of a text, possibly a reference to her Nakaz komissii o sostavlenii proekta novogo ulozheniya -- commonly known in English as The Instruction of Catherine the Great). Article XV of the Nakaz sets out Catherine's expectations of the nobility, and the knowing glance with which she gazes out of the picture can be read as being directed at the noble owner of the picture, reminding him to set a good example, stay out of trouble and do his duty.

    The domesticity of the setting casts her as a lady of letters, an Enlightenment philosophe, as well as an example to the noblewomen at court. The Order of Saint Andrew the First-Called was the highest decoration of the Russian Empire, established by Peter the Great. The other two orders, on the other hand, were established by Catherine herself, and serve as a reminder of her roles as Sovereign; the Order of Saint George is the highest Russian military order, and alludes to Catherine's leadership of the armies; while the Order of Saint Vladimir represents her role as Defender of the Orthodox Faith.

    The only other known version of this type is a canvas of rather poor quality measuring 54 x 42.5 cm, clearly a copy after the present lot or a common prototype, preserved in portrait collection of the Sheremetev Counts at Kuskovo (see N.G. Presnova, Portretnoe sobraniye Grafov Sheremetevykh v usad'be Kuskovo. Al'bom-Katalog, Moscow, 2002, no. 273, p. 611; and N.G. Persnova, Portrety neizvestnykh khudozhnikov iz sobraniya muzeya-usad'by 'Kuskovo': atributsiya i ikonografiya, Moscow, 1999, p. 351).

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    Provenance

    (Possibly) presented to Alleyne FitzHerbert, Baron St. Helens (1753-1839) by the Empress upon his departure from St. Petersburg in 1787, and by descent to his nephew,
    Sir Henry FitzHerbert, 3rd Baronet (1783-1858), and by descent at Tissington Hall.


    Literature

    A Catalogue of some of the Pictures at Tissington Hall the seat of Sir William FitzHerbert Baronet, 1859, - 'Landing on Back Stairs - 4 The Empress Katherine of Russia, Presented to Lord St. Helens by herself.'
    Catalogue of Pictures and Curios at Tissington Hall, 1887, by Ida, daughter of Sir William FitzHerbert, 4th Bt., as 'Portrait of Empress Catherine of Russia on wood. Presented by herself to Lord St. Helens.' Nora FitzHerbert, Tissington Hall - Pictures, 1938, 'No. 55, Over Study Door'
    G. Jackson-Stops, 'Tissington Hall, Derbyshire - I', Country Life, 15 July 1976, p. 160, fig. 6
    G. Jackson-Stops, 'Tissington Hall, Derbyshire - III', Country Life, 29 July 1976, p. 287