PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE SPANISH COLLECTION
Most likely commissioned to celebrate the crucial alliance between Russia, Austria and Prussia of 1815, this magnificent vase, the finest and the largest of the type, is remarkable for its superb craftsmanship and important history. A work of the finest quality, it arguably represents the culmination of the best period in the history of the Imperial Porcelain Factory. It is one of the most important vases by the Imperial Porcelain Factory to come to auction for generations.
NICHOLAS I AND THE IMPERIAL PORCELAIN FACTORY
Emperor Nicholas I (1796-1855) was a great patron of the Russian Arts and commissioned a large number of porcelain vases during his reign. The factory’s wonderful creations were mainly intended for presentation, and thus reflected the emperor’s personal preferences in their design and decoration. Vases of this grandeur and virtuoso execution were often commissioned by the emperor as important presentation gifts to heads of foreign royal families and to foreign diplomats, as recognition for exceptional service. These vases were also often presented directly to the Imperial family on special occasions, such as Christmas and Easter, and were used to adorn the vast palaces, private mansions and exhibition pavilions.
PORTRAIT OF EMPEROR FRANZ I OF AUSTRIA AND THE MILITARY GALLERY OF 1812
The detailed painting on the present vase was copied by the Imperial Porcelain Factory artist Alexander Nesterov from an equestrian portrait of Emperor Franz I of Austria by Johann Peter Krafft (1780-1856). Painted in 1832, the portrait was commissioned by Nicholas I for the newly built Military Gallery of 1812 at the Winter Palace (fig. 1).
The Military Gallery of 1812 was created to honour the victories of the Russian Army in the war against Napoleon and to serve as a mark of recognition to its heroes. Alexander I initiated the idea of the gallery, however its construction started only during the reign of his successor Nicholas I in 1826.
Adorning the walls of the gallery are 329 half-length portraits of generals, seven full-length portraits of their main commanders, and equestrian portraits of three monarchs – Alexander I of Russia, Frederick William III of Prussia and Franz I of Austria, all members of the Holy Alliance of 1815. The last work to be commissioned for the Military Gallery was the the equestrian portrait of Alexander I painted by Franz Krüger in 1837.
FRANZ I AND THE HOLY ALLIANCE
Franz I (1768-1835) of Austria, also known as Francis II Holy Roman Emperor, was the last Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. He founded the Austrian Empire in 1804, and dissolved the Holy Roman Empire after the decisive defeat at the Battle of Austerlitz of 1805.
Following his final defeat in June 1815, Napoleon was exiled to the island of St Helena. In 1815, the Holy Alliance was forged between the leading conservative monarchies in Europe. Concluded between the Austrian Emperor, the Tsar of Russia and the King of Prussia, its aims were to collectively suppress any revolutionary movements and to strengthen the principles of monarchy. This occasion was commemorated with a number of fine art commissions in Russia, depicting all three leaders of the Holy Alliance (fig. 2).
THE PRESENT VASE AND COMPARABLE EXAMPLES
The present vase is probably one of the largest two-handled campana shaped vases ever produced by the Imperial Porcelain factory during the reign of Nicholas I. The other vase of almost identical design and size is painted after Franz Krüger's 1831 portrait of Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia, which is also housed in the Military Gallery. It is currently part of the State Hermitage Museum collection (fig. 3, also see N.B. von Wolf (ed. V.V. Znamenov), Imperatorskii farforovyi zavod, 1744-1904, St Petersburg, 2008, p. 303). The height of the vase is 142 cm. It was executed in 1836, the same year as the present lot, and is painted with the Prussian coat-of-arms on the reverse.
Both vases were painted by A. Nesterov in 1836, and were most likely produced as part of the series of three vases, depicting leaders of the Holy Alliance between Russia, Austria and Prussia established in September 1815. The existence and location of the third vase, which most likely depicted a portrait of Emperor Alexander I, remains unconfirmed.
The Napoleonic Wars became a popular source of inspiration for the Imperial Porcelain Factory painters. A number of other vases and plates were produced, depicting the interiors of the Military Gallery and Winter Palace (see N.B. von Wolf (ed. V.V. Znamenov), Imperatorskii farforovyi zavod, 1744-1904, St Petersburg, 2008, pp. 304, 484).
Another comparable vase painted after Franz Krüger's portrait of Friedrich Wilhelm III was produced in 1832 and was presented as a gift from Emperor Nicholas I and Empress Alexander Feodorovna to her brother future Frederick William IV of Prussia (part of the collection of the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation, see M. Korablev, M. Sokolenko, Antologiia Russkogo Farfora XVIII-nachala XX veka, vol. 3, part 2, Moscow, 2013, pp. 42-43).
Of such grandeur and size, the present vase would have been produced as a centrepiece for a palace interior, and would have reflected the emperor’s personal preferences in design and decoration. Only a few comparable vases of similar size and craftsmanship exist and can be found in the world’s leading museums and collections. It is exceptionally rare to find such an important vase in private hands, and it is undoubtedly the largest Imperial porcelain vase to have ever appeared at auction.
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE SPANISH COLLECTION
BY THE IMPERIAL PORCELAIN FACTORY, ST PETERSBURG, PERIOD OF NICHOLAS I, 1836
By repute, acquired by a Spanish dancer of the Imperial ballet troupe in Russia before the Revolution of 1917.
Acquired from the above by the present owners in the 1970s in Spain.