Christina Robertson (née Sanders, 1796-1854) was a Scottish portrait painter of the mid-19th Century, who spent many years at the Russian Imperial Court in St. Petersburg, where she gained extensive renown. She was considered by contemporaries to be one of the most talented artists of her day, a remarkable achievement for a woman and mother of a large family in the male-dominated world of 18th Century portrait painting. It is also remarkable -- and unfortunate -- that, despite her great success and popularity, very little is known about the artist's life.
Christina Sanders was born in Fife, Scotland, in 1796. It is unknown when she first started painting, and where received her education. In 1822, she married the artist James Robertson, and together, they settled in London. The marriage would produce eight children, four of whom would die in childhood.
Starting from 1823, Christina Robertson began participating in the annual exhibitions of the Royal Academy in London and Edinburgh. She also exhibited her works with the Society of British Artists (starting from 1824) and the British Institution (from 1833), and was frequently lauded by critics. In 1829, she was elected an honorary member of the Scottish Academy -- the first woman to ever receive this distinction. During the 1830s, she traveled to Paris several times.
Her portraits were frequently used as the basis for engravings for journals and magazines of the 1830s and 40s, including The Court Magazine, La Belle Assemblée, Heath's Book of Beauty and John Burke's Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Females. It was through these publications that her fame spread to the Russian nobility in St. Petersburg.
In 1837, Robertson traveled to Paris, and it was here that she painted the portraits of several Russian clients, any one of whom could've recommended the artist to the Imperial Court. This was a period of "anglomania" in Russian high society, and anything British was very fashionable.
In 1839, Robertson participated in an exhibition at the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, to great critical and public acclaim. As a result, in 1840, she was commissioned to paint for two full-length portraits, one of the Emperor Nicholas I and one of the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. Robertson received numerous other commissions from the Russian nobility.
In 1841, already after her return to Britain, the artist was elected an honorary free associate of the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg.
Robertson's second visit to Russia, from 1847 to 1854, was considerably longer. This period was marked by growing tensions between Britain and Russia that would culminate in the Crimean War and, although Robertson was greeted with the same enthusiasm as before, the changing tastes of Russian high society would cause her several setbacks.
In 1849, she painted two portraits of the Emperor's daughters-in-law. One of these works was rejected outright, while the other was deemed by the Emperor to be "unsatisfactory." Despite this, Robertson continued to receive commissions from the Imperial family and the St. Petersburg court. In 1850, she painted several portraits of Grand Duchess Maria Aleksandrovna, the Emperor's daughter-in-law whose earlier portrait he had rejected, and her children. In 1852, she worked on a portrait of the Empress.
By this time, Robertson's health had begun to decline, and might have been running into financial difficulties, as there is evidence that several of her clients had refused to pay her.
Christina Robertson died in St. Petersburg, in 1854 and was interred in the Volkovo Cemetery.
c.1822. Watercolor on ivory. 23 x 18.3 cm with frame. Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK.
1840. Oil on canvas. 36.5 x 29.5 cm. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia. Read Note.
1840. Oil on canvas. 249 x 151 cm. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia. Read Note.