The Queen’s Gallery presents a new exhibition entitled Russia: Royalty & the Romanovs which explores the relationship between the two countries and their royal families through works of art in the Royal Collection.
In 1698 Tsar Peter I, known as Peter the Great became the first Russian ruler to visit England and had meetings with the British King, William III. When he departed, Peter presented the King with his portrait, painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller.
This portrait in the exhibition and coronation portrait of Empress Catherine II (Catherine the Great) by Vigilius Eriksen, c.1765–9, thought to have been given to George III are indications of the rise of Russian power and how the rulers of Russian empire were looking to the west for inspiration to modernize the country.
The ties between Russia and the United Kingdom grew in the early 19th century when the allied forces, including those of Great Britain and Russia finally saw victory in the Napoleonic wars. George IV commissioned Sir Thomas Lawrence to paint portraits of the central figures in the defeat of Napoleon for the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle. The paintings in the exhibition of Matvei Ivanovitch, Count Platov and of General Fedor Petrovitch Uvarov, recognised Russia’s important contribution to the defeat of Napoleon.
After the Napoleonic wars, the ties between the Royal Families of the UK and Russia increased and the exhibition includes evidence of the closer ties.
Empress Maria of Russia sent the Prince Regent’s daughter, Princess Charlotte, the insignia of the Order of St Catherine which was the most prestigious award for women in Imperial Russia. The Princess is shown wearing the badge on a Russian-style dress in a portrait of c.1817.
Gradually family ties were consolidated by marriages, in 1874, Queen Victoria’s second son Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, married Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, daughter of Emperor Alexander II, this event is recorded in Nicholas Chevalier’s painting of the ceremony.
Other marriages followed and the English, Russian and Danish royal families regularly visited one another and marked these occasions in paintings and photographs, and through the exchange of gifts which are featured in the exhibition.
The Danish artist Laurits Regner Tuxen was commissioned to record significant family events, including The Marriage of Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia in 1894 and The Family of Queen Victoria in 1887, celebrating the Queen’s Golden Jubilee that year.
Many of the gifts could be lavish, it was around this time that a great number of works by Carl Fabergé entered the Royal Collection. Among them are a framed portrait miniature of the Empress and a gold cigarette case, given to King Edward VII as a 40th wedding anniversary present in 1903.
Although connections between the two countries were never the same after 1918, in 1923 the Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother) commissioned a portrait of herself from the Russian artist Savely Sorine. Twenty-five years later she commissioned Sorine to paint a portrait of her daughter Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh, the future Queen Elizabeth II in 1956.
First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev and Premier Nikolai Bulganin presented Her Majesty The Queen with a number of gifts, including the oil painting A Winter’s Day by the prominent painter, Igor Grabar.
This fascinating and decorative exhibition illustrates the ever-changing relationships between the UK and Russia. From the early contacts with Peter the Great and Catherine the Great through to the close family ties in the 19th century and finally the tragic end of the Imperial family in 1918.
The remarkable collection of paintings and other gifts provide considerable insights into the ties that bound many of the royal families of Europe. These ties would be undone by many of the events of the 20th century especially the fall of the Romanovs which changed the political landscape of Europe forever.
Shadows of War: Roger Fenton’s Photographs of the Crimea, 1855 is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 9 November 2018 – 28 April 2019, with Russia: Royalty & the Romanovs.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information or book tickets, visit the Royal Collection website here
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