Olga's Gallery

Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

Portrait of Countess Varvara Golovina.

c.1800. Oil on canvas. 84 x 67 cm. Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham, UK. Read Note.

Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun. Portrait of Countess Varvara Golovina.

Golovina, Varvara Nikolaevna (1766-1821), née Princess Golitzina, daughter of Lieutenant General, Prince Nikolay Feodorovich Golitzin (1728-1780) and his wife Praskovia Ivanovna, née Countess Shuvalova (1734-1802). She spent her childhood in a country estate of her father and was brought up and educated by her mother, who was a genuine art lover. In 1777, the princess was brought to St. Petersburg, where, after her father’s death in 1780, her widowed mother moved with the daughter to the house of her brother Count Ivan Ivanovich Shuvalov (1727-1797), one of Catherine II’s favorites, an outstanding statesman and a patron of arts. (see his portrait by Levitzky, about him make a new big note!!!). Staying in her uncle’s house played the most important role in building up the young girls character and interests. In 1783, Varvara Nikolaevna was raised to the rank of maid of honor of the Grand Duchess Elisabeth Alexeevna  (1779-1826), wife of the Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich, future emperor Alexander I.
In 1786 she married Count  Nikolai Nikolaevich Golovin (?-1820 ) by love, who had managed to make the young girl fall in love with him. Varvara’s clever mother was against the marriage; and really, Count Golovin, a squanderer and a fop, failed to make his wife happy; her anticipations of quiet and durable family unity were not realized and she gave her lovable heart to the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Alexeevna, who became her life-long idol.
During the Paul’s I reign Golovina’s envious foes set the court against her. Even Elisabeth Alexeevna believed the slander and for some time stopped her friendship with the countess. Insulted Golovina retired from the court; immigrants, mostly from France, became her new circle of friends.  Under their influence she adopted Catholicism and became a devoted and passionate believer.
During Alexander’s I reign the Empress Elisabeth Alexeevna restored their friendship. On her request Countess Golovina wrote memoirs, which are an interesting historical document of the time. She spent most of her time abroad, mostly with French aristocrats, visiting Russia only from time to time. Being an intelligent and gifted woman, herself a painter and engraver, she had also friends among artists. Thus she was a close friend of Mme Vigée-Lebrun and Hubert Robert, with whom she often worked together on landscapes. In 1816, she was awarded the order of St. Catherine and her daughters, Elisabeth and Praskovia, raised in Catholicism, became maids of honor. Countess Golovina died and was buried in Paris in 1821.

Famous Russians in the 18th and 19th centuries. Lenizdat. St. Peterburg. 1996. (in Russian)