Aleksandr Nikolaevich Benois was an extremely gifted artist with broad and versatile cultural interests. He was a painter, graphic artist, theatre designer and director, choreographer, critic and art historian, traveler and an accomplished writer and memoirist. As one of the founding members of the World of Art society, a multi-disciplinary artistic movement set up to revive interest in the neoclassical art of Europe and Russia and to revitalize the artistic life of Russia at the turn of the 20th century, Benois was determined to awaken an appreciation for the former splendors of St. Petersburg and made vital contributions to the re-evaluation of Russian classical and Baroque architecture of the 18th and early 19th Centuries. Artists early works were retrospective in character, romantic in taste, and imbued with great admiration for the period of Empress Elizabeth and Rastrelli's Tsarskoe Selo and the ceremony of court life. An earlier version of this work was executed in 1903 and is found in the State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Benois painted the current watercolor in 1906 while he was staying in Paris. It exhibits the artist's mature style with virtuoso graphic technique and splendid decorativism. In it, he uses one of his favorite artistic devices, giving an impression that human figures are merely 'governed' by majestic architecture, landscape, atmosphere and the spirit of the time.
Benois cleverly positions the viewer among the spectators on the sidewalks who watch with amusement the approaching Imperial procession. A colorful and opulent caravan of six-horses draw an open carriage with Empress Elizabeth and her ladies-in-waiting accompanied by the numerous guards in uniforms, Moorish servants in exotic costumes, junior pages in plumed helmets, and courtiers in fancy costumes stretching along the entire length of the painting creating a kaleidoscopic and theatrical scene reminiscent of a stage set, a similarity further strengthened by the majestic backdrop of the brightly-colored Baroque architecture on the background and the brightly-lit center stage where the majestic play is being played out while observed by the bemused audience on the shady sidewalks. Such Revivalist projects depicting light-hearted and amusing episodes from the past, similar to the series on 18th Century court life of Versailles that Benois was working at the same time, were spiced with irony and humor and were rendered in a spirit of self-parody. The pompous figure of Empress Elizabeth inside the carriage, peasants prostrate with humility in front of the Imperial procession, a wet-nurse instructing an infant, servile soldiers and cavaliers saluting the monarch are portrayed as slightly grotesque and humorous figures, and even the viewers, are gently mocked as backward-looking observers overcome by historic nostalgia.