Olga's Gallery

Olga's Gallery

May 01, 2002

Dear Friends of Art,

Today we'd like to introduce to you foreign artists, who worked in Russia in the XVIII-XIX centuries.

Rossika: Foreign Artists in Russia

The term 'Rossika' unites the works of the foreign painters who worked in Russia starting from the time of Peter I, the Great and through the first quarter of the 19th century and influenced the development of the Russian national school of painting. They were artists of different nationalities, of different art schools, of different amounts of talent and professional level, and, of course, of different tastes. Some of them came only to fulfill one large commission, others stayed for their whole lives and their art became a part of Russian culture.

Foreign artists appeared in the Russian court, at the beginning of the XVIII century, when Peter the Great, anxious about making Russia a European state, invited all kinds of foreign specialists, artists among them. Foreign artists promoted secular art in Russia, they taught many local painters and had a great impact on the development of Russian art. The first to come were Frenchman Louis Caravaque (1684-1754), German Johann Gottfried Tannauer (1680-1737), Swiss Georg Gzel and others. These were not first class painters - Russia was a faraway and unknown land and famous masters did not want to risk it. But the role of these first Western painters was much more significant than that of those who came later. They brought secular art to Russia, with its many genres - portraiture, landscapes, battle scenes and others, and introduced new techniques of oil painting. They were obliged to have Russian apprentices and assistants and teach them everything they could do themselves. Thus Georg Gzel painted portraits and was a painter of the Academy of Science, for which he fulfilled drawings for scientists - biologists, botanists, etc. Louis Caravaque (1684-1754), according to his contract, was to draw portraits, historical and battle scenes, and design decorations for festivities.
In the 1740s a gifted portraitist from Stuttgart Georg Christoph Grooth (1716-1749) worked in St. Petersburg.  He was a court painter to the Empress Elizabeth and painted the nobility of the Russian court. You can find 4 of his works in his section. The most interesting is the equestrian portrait of the Empress Elizabeth.

German portraitist G. Caspar Prenner (c.1720-1766) came to Russia in 1750 on the invitation of Count Mikhail I. Vorontsov (1714-1767). His contract was for 5 years, during which he became so wealthy that he would lend his patron, Count Vorontsov, big sums of money. At the end of the contract it was not renewed, as M. I. Vorontsov thought the artist to be "hot tempered, and unable to live peacefully with others." However a more probable reason is Vorontsov's envy of his protégé's success. We found two portraits by Prenner, which he executed in Russia.

The second half of the 18th century is rich with foreign names. The magnificent court of Catherine II, the Great attracted many famous artists: Salvatore Torelli, Carl-Ludwig Johann Christineck, Francesco Fontebasso, Alexander Roslin, Johann Baptist Lampi the Elder, Jean-Louis Voille, Vigee-Lebrun and others.

Francesco Fontebasso (1709-1769) from Venice was a student of Sebastiano Ricci. He worked in Russia in 1760-1762. He was the most important representative of Italian monumental painting in the second half of the 18th century. His frescos and large canvases decorated palaces and villas in Italy and Russia.

An Italian Stefano Torelli (1712-1780) is one of the most outstanding and gifted artists who ever came to Russia in the 18th century. "His imagination is inexhaustible, his brush is light, and his compositions are unstrained and free." (Paintings of the 18th-early 20th centuries from the Reserves of the Russian Museum. Leningrad. 1982). It is difficult to judge his talent by only the 3 works we found. You may or may not take the opinion of a Russian historian of art for granted.

German painter Carl-Ludwig Johann Christineck (1732/3-1792/4) spent his whole life in Russia; his portraits are very attractive - clear colors, finely drawn details of dress and jewelry that don't leave the viewers indifferent.

A prominent figure in Russian art was Johann Baptist Lampi the Elder, Austrian artist of Italian origin, who came to St. Petersburg in 1792. He frankly idealized his models - his women are beautiful and seductive, young men are elegant and noble; elders are youthful and condescending; they all conceal their thoughts under a mask of propriety. Lampi was enormously popular in Russia and had many pupils.

In the last quarter of the 18th century the French school in Russia was represented by Parisian Jean-Louis Voille, a man of democratic views, one of his Russian contemporaries put down the artist's words in his diary, "I love my country and freedom". When in 1793, Catherine II offered all Frenchmen in Russia to renounce the French Revolution, Voille refused to sign the oath of allegiance and left for Paris. He returned to Russia in 1801. Voille died in St. Petersburg in 1804. We found three women portraits by him, among them is the portrait of Olga Zherebtsova, an adventuress, who claimed to have a son by the Prince Regent of England. We are planning to prepare a separate newsletter about this woman, any help is welcome.

The Revolution in France made many French aristocrats seek refuge in the Russian court, where Catherine II supported them. Among the emigrant royalists were several painters. In 1795, Jean Laurent Mosnier (c. 1743-1808), a court painter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette was welcomed to St. Petersburg. In Russia he executed many portraits. In our collection we have the portrait of Anna Dmitrievna Muraviev-Apostol with her son Matvey (1793-1886) and daughter Catherine (1794-1849). Anna was the wife of a diplomat and scientist I. M. Muraviev-Apostol. She brought up her children in France and was afraid to bring them home in fear of the corruptive influence of serfdom. Only on their way to Russia she told them that they would find slaves at home. All three of her sons became revolutionaries, two of them died for the revolution - one was executed by the tzar, Nicholas I, another committed suicide after the revolt failed. The boy in the picture, Matvey, was stripped of all titles and property and exiled to Siberia, where he spent 30 years.

Paul Barbier from France worked in Russia at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century. For a long time historians of art took him for another French artist Nicola Alexander Barbier. The life and the work of Paul Barbier are still waiting for a researcher. In our collection we introduce one work by Paul Barbier Portrait of a Young Woman in a Sarafan (sarafan - national dress of Russian women).

The most famous artist among French refugees was, perhaps Louise-Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun (1755-1842), the court painter of Marie-Antoinette. She came to Russia in 1795 and spent there 6 very successful years painting portraits of Russian aristocrats.

Another interesting artist in Russia was an Italian Salvatore Tonci (1756-1844). He was born in Rome and served in the Naples Guards; in 1797 he came to St. Petersburg, then moved to Moscow, where he lived for many years. A well educated and gifted person, a poet, musician, singer and painter, Tonci had great success in high society. He married princess N. I. Gagarina, the marriage secured him a high position. Tonci, called Nikolai Ivanovich in Russia, took part in founding the Architectural school in Moscow and for more than 25 years was a curator of its drawing class.

At the beginning of the 19th century an Italian Alexander Mollinari (1772-1831) was popular in St. Petersburg. He was born and educated in Berlin and worked in Russia in 1806-1816. First Mollinari was a teacher of painting in the family of Count Buturlin. Though he executed many works, it is known that later he had a candy shop in St. Petersburg, maybe his work as a painter did not bring him enough income.

In this essay we mentioned only some of the foreign artists, who worked in Russia and contributed to the development of the Russian national school of painting.

Starting with the middle of the 19th century the coming foreign painters did not have any noticeable impact on the already formed Russian school. Salon portraiture was going on to be very popular among the Russian nobility, but the representatives of this trend were not very influential both in Europe and in Russia.

We would be glad to receive your opinions and comments on our newsletters. Please write to webmaster@abcgallery.com

To subscribe to our mailing list enter your e-mail address below

Enter your e-mail address to subscribe.

Newsletter Archive

Home      Artist Index     Country Index