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Russian Works of Art, Fabergé & Icons

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Augustin Ritt
ST PETERSBURG 1765 - 1799
PORTRAIT OF PRINCE ALEXEI BORISOVICH KURAKIN (1759-1829)
Watercolour and bodycolour on ivory, ormolu frame;
signed lower left: Ritt., inscribed verso: peint par Ritt. d'après nature / à St. Peterbourg 1798 
15.4 by 12 cm.; 6 1/8 by 4 3/4 in.
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Provenance

Prince B.A. Kurakin, Kurakino, Province of Orel, by 1906;
Princess Gagarin;
David David-Weill (1871-1952) inv. no. 2241;
with Wildenstein, Paris;
Sir Charles Clore (1905-1979), London, 1965,
his executor's sale, London, Sotheby's, 10 November 1986, lot 64

Exhibited

St Petersburg, Tauride Palace, 1904;
London, Garrard, An Exhibition of Important 18th & Early 19th Century Miniatures and Enamels, 1961, no. 161;
Vienna, Albertina, Meisterwerke der Europäischen Miniaturmalerei von 1750 bis 1850, 1965, no. 314

Literature

Grand Duke Nicolas Mikhailovich, Portraits Russes des XVIIIe et XIXe siècles, St Petersburg, 1906, vol. I, no. 63, pl. XV;
A. Prakhov, Albom Istoricheskoï Bystavki Predmetov Iskusstva, Ustroennoï v 1904 godu v. St Petersburg ..., St Petersburg, 1907, pp. 263, 264-265, no. 130, illust. p. 257;
N.N. Wrangel, Miniatiura w Rossii, St Petersburg, 1909, p. 54, note 186;
L. Gillet, C. Jeannerat, H. Clouzot, Minatures and Enamels from the D. David-Weill Collection, Paris, 1957, p. 262, no. 161, illust. p. 263;
G.N. Komelova, Augustin Ritt - Russian Miniaturist, St Petersburg, 2004, pp. 67, 88, 161 & 200, no. 106, pl. 34

Catalogue Note

This masterwork by Augustin Ritt was described in the retrospective catalogue of the Tauride Palace exhibition of 1904 as a ‘pièce magistrale, presque une grand peinture, tant il y a de calme, de majesté, de beauté, dans cette figure et dans le décor’. The artist recorded it in his sitter's book for the years 1792 to 1799 under number 317 'le Prince General Procureur Kourakin jusqu' aux genoux'.

Prince Kurakin is depicted seated at a writing desk before a pair of classical columns and a sweeping rural landscape. He is sumptuously dressed wearing a silver embroidered orange coat and breeches, a gold waistcoat and white jabot and stockings. His clothes are embellished with the sash, breast star and badge of the Order of Saint Andrew First Called, and the badges of the Orders of Saint Vladimir and Saint Anne.

Born in Moscow in 1759, Prince Kurakin moved to St Petersburg in 1764. There, he formed a close connection with Grand Duke Pavel Petrovich, the future Emperor Paul I, a friendship disapproved of by Empress Catherine the Great. When Paul I ascended to the throne in 1796, the Prince's status at court advanced. A skillful courtier, he held a number of significant positions, including Privy Counsellor, Minister of the Interior and of Justice, Governor of Little Russia and Court Chamberlain. Later, during the reign of Emperor Alexander I, he was appointed Ambassador to the Holy Roman Empire (1806-1808) and then France (1808-1812), where the Parisian high-society are said to have referred to him as the ‘diamond prince’, on account of the splendor of his costumes.

Augustin Ritt was one of the greatest miniature painters of any period. He was born in St Petersburg in 1765, although his father, a violinist in the orchestra at the Imperial court, was German. After spending much of the 1780s in Antwerp and Paris, in 1792, he returned to his native city. There, he met with great success and was appointed court miniaturist to both Catherine the Great and then Paul I.

Russian Works of Art, Fabergé & Icons

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London