The display comprises six pictures by Moritz von Schwind, Hans Makart, Hans von Marées, Albert Zimmermann and others. These canvases represent the most valuable part of the works that have been moved from Baron Stieglitz’s mansion on the English Embankment in St Petersburg to the State Hermitage. The paintings will be kept in the Hermitage until restoration work in the mansion is completed.
To adorn the state rooms in his residence, which was constructed to the design of the architect Alexander Krakau in 1859–62, Baron Alexander Stieglitz, a banker and art patron who founded the College of Technical Drawing, bought and commissioned paintings by contemporary German and Austrian artists. The works, which differ in genre, manner and standard of execution, were produced by both acknowledged masters and painters just starting their careers, who belonged to the most important artistic schools of Vienna, Munich and Dresden. In this way Baron Stieglitz became the owner of some of the earliest works (today extremely rare) by Makart, Marées and a pair of artists who worked in tandem – Alexander von Liezen-Mayer and Alexander von Wagner.
Hans Makart (1840–1884), who by the end of his life had become Austria-Hungary’s foremost painter, produced one of his first monumental canvases for the Baron, on a subject from the life of Marie de’ Medici. Since the ceiling paintings and enormous historical canvases that later made Makart world-famous have tended to remain in the palaces and public buildings for which they were created, the existence in Russia of the large-format Siesta at the Court of the Medici (1863–64) can be considered great good fortune. It was paired in the mansion’s state dining-room with Return from the Hunt (1864) by the creative partnership of Alexander von Wagner (1838–1919) and Alexander von Liezen-Mayer (1839–1898).
The enigmatic and contradictory artist Hans von Marées (1837–1887) could not have been described as a famous or fashionable painter, but that did not prevent Baron Stieglitz from purchasing his Courtyard with the Grotto in the Munich Royal Residence (1862–63) for his collection. This painting, which is not typical for Marées’s mature work, provides a rare opportunity to see the sources of his artistry and the school of painting that lay behind it.
While Marées, who remained in the shadow of contemporaries throughout his life, was properly appreciated in the following century, the landscape-painter brothers Albert (1808–1888) and Richard (1820–1875) Zimmermann became forgotten and are today known only to specialists. Their canvases After the Storm (1860s) and Landscape with Harvesting (1864) with their restrained palettes represent the Dresden school of landscape painting in the Stieglitz collection.
The Baron’s acquisitions also included works by venerable painters. Moritz von Schwind (1804–1871) was professor of history painting at the Academy of Arts in Munich, the creator of many monumental murals in residences, theatres and cathedrals, and retained his exalted status to the end of his days. Diana Hunting (1867), a work from his mature years, was placed in a carved wooden frame above the fireplace in the grand dining-room of the St Petersburg mansion.
After Baron Stieglitz’s death in 1884, the mansion was purchased from his heirs by the treasury and reconstructed for Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich, the youngest son of Tsar Alexander II. The painting collection and the décor of the state rooms remained in place without any major alterations right up until the revolution. After 1917, the mansion was nationalized, the art works were confiscated and distributed between museums. A portion of the paintings, however, remained in the building, the occupants of which changed repeatedly over the course of the 20th century. It housed by turns an orphanage, design offices, “closed institutions” and restoration workshops. It suffered a fire and the loss of all utilities. In the early 2000s, the mansion was given to the company Lukoil before changing hands several more times. In this period the most urgent repairs were carried out and the badly damaged canvases were restored, but a comprehensive restoration of the building, which occupies a considerable plot of land between the Neva and Galernaya Street, required too much money. In 2011 the mansion was transferred to St Petersburg State University, with whose participation and active support, and with the approval of the Committee for the State Inspection and Protection of Historical Monuments, the transfer of the paintings to the temporary keeping of the Hermitage became possible. The expertise of the Hermitage’s restorers, led by Victor Korobov, head of the Laboratory for the Restoration of Easel Paintings, and the assistance of the university staff allowed the canvases to be moved successfully to the museum.
The paintings that for more than 150 years have been kept out of general view and excluded from scholarly circulation are being presented to the public for the first time.
The curator of the exhibition is Boris Asvarishch, chief researcher in the State Hermitage’s Department of Western European Fine Art.