PIMEN NIKITICH ORLOV
Portrait of Alexander Nikolaevich Karamzin
signed in Cyrillic and dated 1839 l.l.
oil on canvas
53.5 by 42cm, 21 by 16½in.
The canvas is unlined and is securely attached to a keyed wooden stretcher. The tacking and turnover edges have been reinforced with a synthetic strip-lining. There is a slight canvas draw in the upper right corner and the canvas also displays a few minor undulations. The paint surface has an overall pattern of raised craquelure including corresponding to the stretcher members. Thin spacing strips of wood have been attached to the outer face edges of the stretcher to give greater clearance from the canvas, thus mitigating the risk of further stretcher bar lines. There are two small repaired tears which have been reinforced with a synthetic gauze material in the upper left quadrant and lower centre as viewed from the reverse. These appear stable.
The paint surface has a relatively even varnish layer. The paint surface appears stable at present. Inspection under ultraviolet light shows an uneven fluorescence which appears to be attributable to the degradation and selective cleaning of the varnish layers. An uneven opaque varnish which prevents the ultraviolet light from fully penetrating covers passages of the composition. Inspection under ultraviolet light also shows a retouching within the background in the upper right quadrant which corresponds to a repair visible on the reverse and a small diagonal retouching within the sitter's jacket in the lower centre which also corresponds to a repair visible on the reverse. There are also a few small spots of retouching within the sitter's trousers and the chair in the lower right quadrant and a few very small intermittent retouchings on the extreme edges of the composition. Due to the uneven fluorescence and the opaque varnish layer covering passages of the composition it is difficult to ascertain the extent of any previous restoration work.
The painting would therefore appear to be in relatively good and stable condition.
"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."
Ekaterina Petrovna Kleinmichel (née Meshcherskaya; 1843-1924)
Thence by descent to her daughter Maria Vladimirovna von Etter (née Kleinmichel; 1872-1950)
Acquired from the von Etter family by the parents of the present owner in the 1960s
L.Bardovskaya, 'Vnov' obretennye portrety Karamzinykh-Meshcherskikh', Nashe Nasledie, 2017, no.122, p.35 illustrated, sitter incorrectly identified as Andrei Karamzin
The first half of the 19th century in Russia was marked by the political turbulence of the Decembrist uprising, the rise of sentimentalism and romantic nationalism, and the rapid development of Russian arts and literature. The Karamzin family played an important role in this cultural and political revival.
Of the six portraits presented for sale, five are of the children of Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin – Sofia, Andrei, Alexander, Vladimir and Ekaterina – and the sixth is of Ekaterina’s husband, and Karamzin’s son-in-law, Petr Meshchersky with their son Nikolai. The similar format portraits were executed by two different artists – Jean-Auguste Bard in Italy circa 1835 and Pimen Orlov in Russia between 1836 and 1839 and remained in the collection of the Karamzin family until the middle of the 20th century.
Nikolai Karamzin was a renowned writer and historian who laid the foundation for the future of Russian literature. Alexander Pushkin, a great admirer, was first introduced to Karamzin as an adolescent in 1816. Karamzin’s most famous work, a twelve-volume History of the Russian State, provided the main source for Pushkin’s drama Boris Godunov and had a profound influence on the young poet’s style. In addition to Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Mikhail Lermontov and Vasily Zhukovsky were all close friends with Karamzin’s children and frequently attended the literary salon hosted by Ekaterina Andreevna Karamzina and her step-daughter Sofia. According to the 19th century literary critic Ivan Panaev, ‘To be granted literary fame in high society, it was necessary to be admitted to the salon of Mrs Karamzina – the widow of the historian. That was where diplomas for literary talents were issued.’
The present lot, depicting Nikolai Karamzin’s son Alexander, was painted by Pimen Orlov while he was still a student at the Imperial Academy of Arts and a pupil of the leading 19th century portraitist Karl Briullov.
According to the famous Pushkin scholar Boris Modzalevsky, at the dawn of the Revolution the portraits of Karamzin’s two daughters, Ekaterina and Sofia, belonged to his granddaughter, Ekaterina Kleinmichel, who emigrated to Finland in 1916. These two portraits, along with the other works from the present group, remained with Karamzin’s descendants in Finland until the 1960s, when they were acquired by the parents of the present owner.