The exhibition introduces to the public a collection of both fine and decorative arts dating from ca. 1660 to 1952. These objects were passed from one generation to the next in the family of the Russian Princes Belosselsky-Belozersky, who trace their origins to the legendary founder of the medieval state of Kievan Rus’, the Viking Prince Rurik of Jutland (reign 862 – 879). In 862, Rurik bestowed on one of his two brothers the vast Belozersky (“White Lake”) domain in northeastern Europe, hence the dynastic name. For centuries, the family crest has included a motto referring to an honorable singleness of mind and action, a quote from Jeremiah 32:39: “One heart, one way.”
The Belosselsky-Belozersky Collection was formed originally in the second half of the 18th century by one of the most notable collectors during the era of the Enlightenment, the philosopher and poet Prince Alexander Mikhailovich Belosselsky-Belozersky (1752 – 1809). German art historian Heinrich Christoph von Reimers (1768 – 1812) was the first to describe Prince Alexander’s collection, in 1805, and considered it one of the most distinguished displays of art in St. Petersburg. Several of the works that are now at the Georgia Museum of Art have never been published or seen outside their owners’ home. In contrast, some of the portrait paintings gained fame through publications in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but had been considered lost in the turmoil of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. In fact, they remained with their original owners.
The journey of this collection commenced exactly one century ago. In 1917, after the start of the Revolution, Prince Konstantin Esperovich Belosselsky-Belozersky (1842 – 1920) moved the contents of his palace in St. Petersburg to a family country estate in Finland. Subsequently, the collection traveled to Paris, then to London, where it survived the bombing during World War II. Finally, in 1951, the entire assembly of works of art and historic documents crossed the Atlantic to be deposited in its American home in Ipswich, Massachusetts, on the grounds of the large coastal estate established by Richard Teller Crane (1832 – 1912), the founder of Crane Industries. This exhibition announces to the international scholarly community and to audiences around the world the survival of the paintings that had been thought lost and the existence of other highly significant, hitherto unknown works of art belonging to the same collection.