Dawe became a favourite of the Emperor, who gave him a large studio in the Imperial Winter Palace, paying generously for his work. In spring 1823, Dawe wrote with evident pride to a friend in London, ‘The Emperor has given me a sitting about a week ago. He will give me as many as I require and I fancy I shall make a very successful picture. His kindness and politeness are boundless…’. The Emperor sat for this first portrait in Tsarskoe Selo, and in 1824 Dawe completed this now famous depiction of Alexander in the uniform of the Preobrazhensky Guards wearing Russian and foreign orders, tricorne in hand. Contemporaries remarked on the ‘extraordinary likeness’ and called it 'the most successful depiction of the monarch’. The official image was reproduced on porcelain, miniatures and in engravings.
Dawe himself subsequently completed a number of large and smaller-scale versions of this work. These author’s versions were given as presents by both Alexander I and Nicholas I to relations, official delegates and foreign ambassadors – as is the case with the present work, for which the impeccable line of provenance traces it directly to Pierre-Louis-Auguste, comte de la Ferronnays, French Ambassador to Russia from 1820 to 1827, whose period in Russia overlapped almost exactly with Dawe’s own. He would later become Minister of Foreign Affairs in Paris.
The present work is painted in the small format often preferred by Dawe. Similar portraits of Alexander I dated between 1825 and 1826 with near identical dimensions are now in the Wellington Museum at Apsley House, London; the Royal Collection in the Netherlands; the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg and elsewhere.
We are grateful to Dr Galina Andreeva, author of Geniuses of War, Weal and Beauty. George Dawe. RA Pinx, Moscow: Pinakoteka, 2012, for her help cataloguing this lot.
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