Lot 10
  • 10

Dmitry Grigorievich Levitsky

250,000 - 350,000 GBP
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  • Dmitry Grigorievich Levitsky
  • Portrait of Princess Varvara Golitsyna
  • signed in Cyrillic and dated 1779 l.r.
  • oil on canvas
  • 68 by 54.5cm, 26 3/4 by 21 1/2 in.


F.L. van Nederlen-Boersma, Moscow
Acquired by the grandparents of the present owner


'Spisok proizvedenii D.G. Levitskogo s primechaniyami, sostavlennyi I.E. Grabarem' [List of works by Dmitry Levitsky compiled by Igor Grabar], in: N.Gershenson-Chegodaeva, Dmitrii Grigor'evich Levitskii, Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1964, p.423, no.35 listed under works from circa 1780


Structural Condition The canvas has been lined and is securely attached to a keyed wooden stretcher. This is providing a stable structural support. There is an old label on the reverse of the lower horizontal stretcher-bar. Paint Surface The paint surface has a relatively even varnish layer. There is an overall pattern of slightly raised lines of craquelure, most notably a horizontal line running through the upper part of the painting. This is entirely stable. Inspection under ultra-violet light shows a heavily discoloured varnish layer which prevents the u-v light from fully penetrating. Inspection under ultra-violet light also shows small scattered retouchings, including: 1) an area of retouching in the lower right corner of the composition, 2) small spots and horizontal lines of retouching within the sitter's clothing in the lower right quadrant, 3) small horizontal lines of retouching within the sitter's hair in the upper right quadrant, 4) spots and lines of retouching within the background including a line of retouching corresponding to the raised horizontal line of craquelure mentioned above, and 5) small carefully applied lines of retouching covering craquelure within the sitter's face and flesh tones. These retouchings are of a light yellow fluorescence and appear to have been applied at a later date. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in good and stable condition and would benefit from cleaning, restoration and revarnishing.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Varvara Vasilievna Golitsyna, née von Engelhardt (1757/1761–1815) was one of Prince Georgy Potemkin’s four nieces. She and her sisters were presented at the Imperial court in 1775 and two years later Varvara became a lady-in-waiting to Catherine the Great. Varvara was always a favourite of Potemkin, who in his private correspondence called her ‘treasure’ and ‘divine Varyushka’ (Russkaya starina, 1875, no.3).

On 27 January 1779 Varvara married General Sergei Fedorovich Golitsyn (1748-1810). She ran an efficient household, overseeing the vast family estate of Zubrilovka, and bore her husband ten sons. Varvara was famed for her beauty, which was praised more than once by the poet Gavrila Derzhavin, a close friend. In the early 1800s the memoirist Filipp Fligel, who grew up with Varvara’s children, described her thus: ‘Her features are unequalled in their beauty, and at forty she still has the freshness of a twenty-year-old maiden’.

Dmitry Levitsky painted Varvara Golitsyna in 1779, at the height of his career. His portrait of this society lady and lady-in-waiting embodies all the defining characteristics of 18th century aristocratic portraiture. The refinement of her dress and coiffure, her pretty face with the half-smile playing on her lips and the slightly mocking eyes, all this is typical for Levitsky’s portraiture (fig.2-3). It is possible that the present portrait was painted before Varvara’s wedding, and that this was the very painting which inspired Derzhavin to write the four-line verse ‘On the portrait of V.Engelhardt’.

It is likely that the painting was still hanging at Zubrilovka when the estate passed to Varvara’s second son Fedor after her death. In the early 20th century Zubrilovka shared the same fate as many other country seats in Russia; on 19 October 1905 the house was looted and set alight and much of the famous collection was lost forever. Another painting by Levitsky formerly in the portrait gallery at Zubrilovka, Portrait of Prince Alexander Prozorovsky, was sold in these rooms on 1 December 2009 (fig.5).

We would like to thank Dr Ludmila Markina for providing additional catalogue information.