Lot 7
  • 7

Louis Caravaque

150,000 - 200,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Louis Caravaque
  • Portrait of Tsesarevna Elizabeth Petrovna, later Empress Elizabeth of Russia
  • oil on canvas
  • 60 by 48cm, 23 1/2 by 19in.
  • Executed in the 1730s


Julius Aufseesser, Berlin
Henrici Berlin, Versteigerung CVIII. Eine Goethesammlung. Bildnisse und Bildnisstudien, Handzeichnungen und Gemälde zumeist aus der Sammlung Aufseesser, Berlin. Städteansichten. Kupferstiche, 1-2 November 1926, lot 260, sold as a portrait of Catherine II by Pietro Antonio Rotari (illustrated in the catalogue)

Catalogue Note

Dating to the 1730s, the present work is one of the earliest Russian Imperial portraits to appear at auction in recent memory. It is also one of the most intriguing and unusual. It depicts Tsesarevna Elizabeth Petrovna (1709-1761), the daughter of Peter the Great and his second wife Catherine, who would later rule Russia as Empress Elizabeth I. She is dressed as a man, wearing an elegant and richly embroidered green velvet coat, her hair covered by a male wig.

Until recently, the composition was known only through two anonymous copies in Russian museum collections. The first (fig.1) entered the State Russian Museum in 1918 from a private collection as a work by Caravaque, an attribution which has since been questioned (see GRM. Zhivopis’ XVIII-nachalo XX veka. Katalog, Leningrad: Aurora, 1980, p.129, no.2075). The second version (fig.2), inferior in quality to the painting in the Russian Museum, was transferred to the State Tretyakov Gallery in 1931. An old inscription on the reverse identifies the sitter as Elizabeth Petrovna. In fact, it is the present work, by far the best in terms of quality, which is the missing original by Caravaque. Both artist and sitter have long been misidentified, and this work was in fact sold at auction in Berlin in 1926 as a portrait of Catherine the Great by Pietro Rotari.

Elizabeth Petrovna loved dressing as a man and she was proud of the fact that she could do so successfully. Like her father, who was particularly fond of her and whom she resembled physically, she was very active, loved riding, and hunting was one of her favourite occupations. Later, as Empress, when her court was one of the most magnificent in Europe, she was famed for her Metamorphoses balls, where it was mandatory for guests to dress as the opposite sex. As Catherine II would recall, Elizabeth suited male dress even in later life; the present work is proof that it is a habit she had adopted already as a young woman.

Born in Marseille, Louis Caravaque’s career in Russia began in 1716 and he would quickly become the country’s leading portrait painter. He painted numerous portraits of Peter the Great and Catherine I, as well as of their children and grandchildren. Under Anna Ivanovna he was appointed official court painter, a position he maintained under Elizabeth I.

The present work has been authenticated by Dr Liudmila Markina and we are grateful to her for providing additional catalogue information.