The delicate tendril marquetry of this elegant games table relates to the work of St. Petersburg cabinet-makers of the 1770s such as Nikifor Vasilyev. A table with similar scrolling marquetry to the legs by Vasilyev is illustrated in U.V. Fomin, The Art of Marquetry in Eighteenth Century Russia, 1989, p. 74. The table's sophisticated inlay would have been particularly appreciated by the Russian Empress Maria Feodorovna, who was an avid collector of fine and decorative arts. The present table was acquired by the Administration of Her Majesty's Own Anichkov Palace for Empress Maria Feodorovna on November 1st, 1899 from an antiques dealer Madame Anastasia Ivanovna Staroverova, who lived and practiced her trade at 30 Porohovskoi Street in St. Petersburg. The purchase was recorded: "Bills paid in 1899, November 1st, to Mme. Staroverovaya 250 roubles." (RGEA, f. 474, op. 1, d. 165, l. 146, 147)
On February 5th 1900, Osip Pech, the Superintendent of Anichkov Palace Furnishings listed numerous pieces of furniture, carpets and other decorative objects purchased for the Empress in 1899 for a total sum of 2,009 roubles and 83 kopeks. He included the present table in this inventory, where it is listed as: Games Table with marquetry, antique, with bronze ornaments on the base of legs, 250 roubles, bought from Mme. Staroverova. (RGEA, f. 474, op. 1, d. 175, l. 31)
The label on the table, written by Osip Pech, indicates that the table was placed in the bedroom of the Empress, assigning it a significant place in the hierarchy of palace furniture. As unfortunately documents relating to the inventories of the rooms of Anichkov Palace do not survive, it has not been possible to confirm its placement through documentary evidence.
From 1917 to 1928 the table stood in the exposition room of Anichkov Palace, which at this time had been renamed Museum of the City by the Soviet Government. On July 17th, 1928 it was transfered to the Committee for Realization of Government Funds as an object of museum export and was described at this time as: 23 Games Table, with marquetry work of flowers to the corners, on slightly cabriole legs. Size 72 x 83 x 83 cm. Inv. N. 1946. (Archive GE, f. IV, op. 1, d. 263, l. 24-24 ob.). In the 1930s it was sold along with other important objects from Imperial collections in one of the series of sales held on behalf of the Soviet Government by Lepke in Berlin, where the present table was possibly acquired by French & Co.
ALEXANDER III AND MARIA FEODOROVNA
Alexander III (ruled 1866-1894) and his wife Maria Feodorovna (1847-1928) were passionate collectors of fine and decorative arts of the 18th and 19th centuries. At Anichkov Palace they had created a museum filling two halls with works of art and paintings. They also selected important pieces from the Tavricheskyi Palace to decorate Gatchina Palace that included works by David Roentgen. She also acquired several examples of 18th century furniture from dealers including furniture in the style of Jacob and by Riesener as well as fine quality revival pieces by Henri Dasson. After the death of Alexander III, Maria Feodorovna continued her collecting activity making numerous purchases that included the present table.
Anichkov Palace was first built in Saint Petersburg in 1743-1751 to the plans of the Russian architect Mihael Zemtsov (1688-1743) but was completed by the Italian Bartholomeo Francesco Rastrelli (1700-1771) for Empress Elizabeth who then gave it as a gift to Count Aleksei Rasumovsky (1709-1771). In 1776, to the instructions of Catherine the Great, the palace was passed on to her lover Prince Gregory Potemkin-Tavricheskyi (1739-1791). In the 19th century Anichkov belonged to various members of the Imperial family housing every Russian Czar from Alexander I to Alexander III. The interiors of the palace underwent great structural alterations first executed by Luigi Russka (1762-1822) around 1809. They were further refurbished in 1817-1818 by Carlo Rossi (1777-1849). The palace was finally given to Alexander III and Maria Feodorovna in 1866. The couple used the architect Ippolit Monigetti (1819-1878) to redecorate the interiors. Anichkov Palace became Maria Feodorovna's favorite residence where she spent most of her time and was occupied by her until 1917 when the Revolutionary government confiscated all Imperial properties. In the 1920s it became part of the National property and was converted to a museum with exposition of historical rooms from the Palace.