The connection between a Russian serf and a Duchess of Orléans via a monumental bronze vase, a solid-gold tea service and an Ingres portrait of a national icon
Andrei Voronikhin (1759-1814) was born into a family of serfs who were formally bound to Count Alexander Stroganov, a member of the richest family in Russia. Under the Count’s patronage, the young Voronikhin studied in Moscow under Vasily Bazhenov, one of the leading architects of the Russian Enlightenment. In 1785 Voronikhin was liberated from his bondage to Stroganoff, and travelled through Europe to Paris.
On his return to St. Petersburg in 1790, the young architect was commissioned to refurbish the interiors of the Stroganov Palace on the Nevsky Prospect in Saint Petersburg, where he would also go on to design the Notre-Dame de Kazan cathedral. Count Stroganov had completed the decoration of the Palace on his father’s death in 1756, but with the rise of Neoclassicism under Catherine II, he chose to replace the original baroque forms of Bartolemeo Rastrelli with Voronikhin’s strict classical order.
The Speransky-Cantacuzène Vase. A monumental Russian ormolu and patinated bronze vase, attributed to Friedrich Bergenfeldt, St. Petersburg, after a design by Andrei Voronikhin, Circa 1802-1805. Estimate: $100,000-150,000. This lot is offered in the Exceptional Sale on 13 April at Christie’s New York
Voronikhin went on to work extensively with the architect Vincenzo Brenna at the Palace of Pavlovsk, where he created designs for furniture, bronzes d’ameublement and mounted hard stones, offering a Russian interpretation of the prevailing Neoclassical style.
In spite of the Russian embargo on French gilt-bronzes and clocks, Voronikhin was strongly influenced by the work of the Parisian bronzier Claude Galle. The 1802 design of the Speransky-Cantacuzène vase, above, closely resembles a vase made by Galle in 1800. The vase may have been commissioned by Count Mikhail Mikhailovich Speransky, who was one of the most important ministers for…
…Tsar Alexander I, who became Emperor of Russia following the 1801 assassination of his father, Tsar Paul I. Alexander was one of 10 children, six boys and four girls. His sister, Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, was 15 when on 5 May 1799 she was betrothed to the heir to the Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Prince Friedrich Ludwig.
Orders requisitioning items to be melted down to provide the gold for silversmith Ivor Wenfeldt Buch to manufacture the above tea service are recorded in the Imperial accounts, dated 7 September 1798, and held in the Russian State Historical Archives. The service was part of Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna’s dowry on her marriage to Prince Friedrich Ludwig in 1799. Elena died eleven years later in 1810, whereupon Friedrich Ludwig married Princess Caroline Louise of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. The couple had three children, the second being…
… Duchess Hélène-Luise-Elisabeth of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1814-1858), who went on to marry Prince Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans and the eldest son of King Louis-Philippe I of France, in 1837. A lengthy search had been made for an appropriate — and politically advantageous — match for the prince, and despite his initial lack of enthusiasm for the less-than-glamorous bride, the marriage proved happy and produced two children.
The Duke was lover of literature, music and art, and commissioned Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, one of his favourite artists, to paint his portrait in 1840. Following the Duke's death in a carriage accident in July 1842, aged just 32, his widow commissioned this picture in 1843, which was to be the modello for the full-length portrait commissioned later that year by the French state.
On her death in 1859 the Duchess of Orléans possessed not one but two works considered by her to be by Ingres. One — the version now in the Louvre — she left to her eldest son; the other went to her youngest son, the Duke of Chartres. It is this version which has since remained in the family, miraculously escaping destruction at the hands of the Nazis in 1944, and which is now being offered for sale at Christie’s during Classic Week.