The new exhibition at Queen’s Gallery investigates the relationships between Britain and Russia and their royal families from Peter the Great’s visit to London in 1698 through to Nicholas II. On the display are portraits, sculpture, photographs, archival documents and miniature masterpieces by Fabergé, many of which are unique. Join us on this exclusive event to explore the connection between the rulers of the two nations.
Tuesday, 11 December at 6.30 pm.
Tickets: £60 per person.
- a 30-minute talk by the Gallery’s guide,
- private view of the exhibition,
- wine reception.
Contact us to book your ticket.
About the exhibition:
For more than 300 years Britain has been linked to Russia through exploration and discovery, diplomatic alliances and, latterly, by familial and dynastic ties. Russia: Royalty & the Romanovs, opening on 9 November 2018, explores the relationship between the two countries and their royal families through works of art in the Royal Collection, many of which were acquired through the personal exchange of gifts.
In 1698 Tsar Peter I, known as Peter the Great, arrived in London. The first Russian ruler to set foot on English soil, he stayed for three months as part of a ‘Grand Embassy’, a diplomatic and fact-finding tour of Western Europe that included meetings with the British King, William III. On his departure Peter presented the King with his portrait, painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller. Kneller depicts the Tsar as a young and vibrant ruler, looking to the West and hoping to establish a new, ‘open’ Russia.
During the reign of the Empress Catherine II (Catherine the Great) Russia’s borders expanded to the south and west, and the country was established as one of the great powers in Europe. The Empress’s coronation portrait by Vigilius Eriksen, c.1765–9, is thought to have been given to George III and is recorded as hanging in the Privy Chamber at Kensington Palace in 1813. George III never visited Russia, yet his interest in the country is evident from the books in his library. These included the accounts of European merchants and the first description of Russia in the French language by the mercenary soldier Jacques Margeret.
The year 1815 saw final victory in the Napoleonic wars by the allied forces, including those of Great Britain and Russia. 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, a room created to celebrate the achievement. Paintings of Matvei Ivanovitch, Count Platov, commander of the Cossack cavalry, and of General Fedor Petrovitch Uvarov, Emperor Alexander I’s Aide-de-Camp at the Congress of Vienna, recognised Russia’s important contribution to the defeat of Napoleon.
A steady stream of Russian emperors, empresses, grand dukes and grand duchesses were entertained in Britain in the following years. The future Emperor Nicholas I visited in 1816–17, when he attended a banquet of more than 100 courses, hosted by the Prince Regent at his seaside residence, Brighton Pavilion, in the company of Frederick, Duke of York and the Duke of Clarence, later William IV. In gratitude for the hospitality shown to the future Emperor, his mother, Empress Maria sent the Prince Regent’s daughter, Princess Charlotte, the insignia of the Order of St Catherine. The Order had been instituted in 1714 by Peter I on the occasion of his marriage to Catherine I and 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.
Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), married Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863. Three years later, Alexandra’s sister, Princess Dagmar, married Tsesarevich Alexander, later becoming Empress Maria Feodorovna and linking the English, Russian and Danish royal houses. In 1874, Queen Victoria’s second son Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, married Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, daughter of Emperor Alexander II, as recorded in Nicholas Chevalier’s painting of the ceremony. This first direct dynastic marriage between the two families was followed by the marriage of two of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters, the Princesses Elizabeth and Alix of Hesse, to Grand Duke Sergei, son of Alexander II, and the future Nicholas II respectively.
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. The Danish artist Laurits Regner Tuxen was commissioned to record significant family events, including The Marriage of Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia, 26th November 1894 and The Family of Queen Victoria in 1887, celebrating the Queen’s Golden Jubilee that year. A great number of works by Carl Fabergé entered the Royal Collection as a result of the close relationship and shared tastes of the sisters Queen Alexandra and Empress Maria Feodorovna. 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.
Nicholas II and his family made their last visit to England in August 1909. They attended the annual regatta at Cowes on the Isle of Wight, and the royal families dined together on each other’s yachts. A local photographer was commissioned to record the occasion and produced a double portrait of the Prince of Wales (later King George V) and his cousin Emperor Nicholas, which shows the strong family resemblance. During the visit the Princess of Wales (later Queen Mary) was given a diamond-set Fabergé brooch made from a Siberian amethyst, a stone famous for its intense purple hue. Following the deaths of the Imperial Family in 1918, King George V and Queen Mary assembled a collection of works of art that had belonged to their Russian relations as poignant reminders of happier times.
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. During an official visit 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, publisher and art historian Igor Grabar.