Tag Archives: russian

The Splendiferous Konstantin Somov

Konstantin Somov’s style was conceived during his study at the Academy of Arts.  His was a departure from the fashionable movements of the period, for he was an enthusiast of an earlier age.  As the child of the senior curator at The Hermitage and a musician mother, Somov was exposed to artistic living early on, and thus experienced a wealth of impressions without much external seeking on his part.  Hung on the walls of his St. Petersburg childhood home was a substantial private collection, attracting artists and admirers from all across Russia.  A nurturing environment, certainly, as Konstantin must have first seen the world through the eyes of imagination instead of stark realism. He was, after all, surrounded by it.

Unlike many of his fellow artists, Somov was an admirer of Rococo when it seemed fusty and irrelevant.  1896 marks the years when he started painting his 18th century works but he continued attending to them long into his career.  Over the span of his life, he would go on to complete portraits, still lifes, and landscapes from the 18th century and beyond, favoring watercolor mixed with whitewash, gouache, and bronze.  He also illustrated books, including the cheeky Book of Marquise, and had a flair for capturing women.  Whimsy and merrymaking pervade his earliest work, and his admiration of Watteau and Fragonard is manifest.   I would consider him their lovechild, displaced in the 20th century, and with a bit of childlike delight thrown in.

Tell me what you think.  Like, love, or maybe just ambivalence?

Somov’s Inspiration

Left: Blind Man’s Bluff by Jean-Honore Fragonard (1769-1770)
Right: Two Cousins by Antoine Watteau (1716)

      Somov’s Works – 1896 to 1930

Lady by the pool (1896)
Rest After a Walk (1896)
Evening Rides (1897)
Evening Rendezvous
Evening (1902)
Lady and Cavalier (1903)
Fireworks (1906)
Fireworks in the Park (1907)
The Laughed Kiss (1909)
In Love with a Harlequin (1912)
Young Woman Asleep on the Grass (1913)
Book of Marquise Illustrations
Lady and Harlequin (1921)
Design of Costume for Awnings T. Karsavina (to Dance to Music by Mozart) (1924)
Holiday near Venice (1930)

18th Century Costume Archives: Catherine the Great’s Coronation Gown

The gown is made of luxuriant silver silk, with lace sleeves and a lace bertha around the neckline.  Embroidered golden eagles serve as the repeated pattern throughout with ermine trim at the hem.  The blue sash, worn from the right shoulder to the waist, represents the Order of St. Andrew the First Called and is principally bestowed upon the royal family.

Her specially commisioned crown is a byzantine throwback, with two half-spheres joined by two rows of pearls and a garland of oak leaves and acorns.  It contains a whopping 4,936 diamonds and a giant 415 carat ruby perched on top.  Good thing the queen had a strong neck!

Today, Catherine’s coronation gown is kept at the Kremlin Armoury. 

The Little Rose Princess: Alexandra Pavlovna

Pavlovna dressed in kokoshnik and sarafan, 1790s.

Bethrothed to the King Gustav IV of Sweden, the sweet, young  Alexandra Pavlovna fell madly in love with her intended upon their first meeting.  The union was a political one, meant to shore up fraught ties with Sweden, but for everyone involved, it seemed a match made in heaven.  By universal account, Alexandra was utterly charming, “the prettiest, sweetest and most innocent of the available princesses in Europe.” 

A passage from Royal Favorite, Volume 2 offers this description:

Painted shortly before her betrothal.  Portrait by Vladimir Borovikovsky, 1796. Gatchina Palace Museum, St Petersburg, Russia

Her intended, Gustav, couldn’t agree more.   After a debate over the potential princesses he might take as wife, he ended his deliberation at once.  Finally he had met his equal:

Arrangements for the upcoming nuptials were promptly formalized, but Alexandra’s great happiness foundered when King Gustav observed that by Swedish Law he was obligated to marry a Lutheran wife.  Alexandra was Russian Orthodox.  Empress Catherine II, who orchestrated the engagement, maintained religion posed no impediment to the marriage but when the contract was placed before Gustav for final consideration, he refused to extend his hand in good faith.  His declaration echoed down the halls: he would have a Lutheran queen for his people or no queen. 

 The Story of  a Throne gives us a glimpse of Alexandra’s disappointment:

After her death, Joseph remained a widower for fourteen years.  Purportedly he loved her, but he couldn’t protect her.  Surrounded by an envious Viennese court and loathed by her mother-in-law,  Empress Maria Theresa, Alexandra’s life in Austria was difficult.  One story tells of how the empress forbade her to wear her legendary tiara, an item from her substantial dowry.  Alexandra improvised, crowning her golden hair with flowers, and gained admiration for her fresh style.  Needless to say, the empress was livid.  Alexandra’s beauty, luxurious jewelry collection, and stark resemblance to Elizabeth of Wurttenberg–her maternal aunt and the Emperor of Austria’s first wife–were eternal marks against her. 

In addition, religious bigotry continued to threaten her future.  The Austrian royals, catholic to their core, refused her the basic rights of her faith.  After dying of puerperal fever in 1801, she was denied burial in the mausoleum her husband, Archduke Joseph, had dedicated to her.  Stories claim her coffin was instead placed above ground in the palace basement until the Russian sovereigns intervened and buried her in Hungary, as Joseph was Palatine of Hungary.  Her grave was robbed during World War I, the heirlooms buried with her, stolen.  Today, at last, she is interred in the Palatinal crypt in the Royal Palace of Budapest.