LONDON - I first saw this incredible portrait by Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky hanging in John Stuart's house in Colville Mews. That was nearly twenty years ago and it made as strong an impression on me then as it does today. The elegance of the handsome young man, his self-confidence, and the directness of his gaze all draw me in. Although such portraits were official commissions under Borovikovsky's masterful brush, they are remarkably lively and engaging.

John Stuart – or Johnny as he was called by everyone who knew him – had wonderful taste. He was an expert and for many years worked as head of Sotheby's Russian Department, but he was also a great collector. At home in London or St Petersburg he lived surrounded by Russian icons, paintings and objets d'art, all beautifully displayed.


Before perestroika there were collectors of 18th and 19th century Russian art like Johnny or émigrés who lived in the West who kept alive an image of Russia that had existed before the Revolution. I recall Slava Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya's reception room in their Paris apartment with its curtains from the Winter Palace and the walls covered with Imperial Russian portraits. Their dining room was hung mainly with portraits by Ilya Repin, Karl Briullov and Valentin Serov.

Until a small group of Borovikovsky works came to light recently and sold for record prices on the London auction market, this portrait of Ardalion Novosiltsev was the only important painting by the artist that the public had access to outside Russia. It is wonderful to see it appear again on the market – it represents such a rare opportunity for a collector today to acquire a masterpiece by one of Russia's greatest and best loved portrait painters.


02 June 2015 | London