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At the Court of the Russian Emperors. Works by Mihaly Zichy from the Collection of the State Hermitage
11 November 2005 - 22 January 2006

An exhibition which has opened in the Concert Hall of the Winter Palace (Room Ļ 190) is devoted to the career of court painter Mihaly Zichy (1827 - 1906).

Mihaly Zichy was born in Hungary in 1827. He received his first artistic training in Pest under Giacomo Marastoni, then continued his studies in Vienna under the well known Austrian painter Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller

In 1847 Waldmuller responded to the request of Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna to give painting lessons to her daughter, the niece of Emperor Nicholas I, by recommending Zichy for the post. In January 1848 the artist arrived in Petersburg. From this moment on, his destiny was very closely linked with Russia.

News of the young and talented artist quickly spread among aristocratic circles of Petersburg and he took on a great many students.

During 1852 - 1853, Zichy had a commission from Emperor Nicholas I to sketch events of court life in Gatchina and he did portraits of courtiers. In 1856 Mihaly Zichy was among a group of artists who made drawings for the coronation album of Emperor Alexander II.

In 1858 he was given the title of academician of water color painting. In 1859 Emperor Alexander II conferred on academician Mihaly Zichy the title of court painter attached to the Imperial Hermitage. The artist remained in this post under Alexander II and Nicholas II.

Among Zichyís duties was the obligation to capture events having state significance such as military reviews, parades, studies, the reception of foreign ambassadors, betrothals and marriage ceremonies, court shows, balls, and tsarist hunts. The artist constantly accompanied the Emperor on trips across the country, making travel sketches which later served as material for work on large compositions.

Zichy associated closely with Russian artists. Beginning in 1857 he became a member of the Society for the Encouragement of Artists and he was a regular visitor at the gatherings of the Petersburg Artistsí Union.

Mihaly Zichy died in Petersburg on 1 March 1906.

The curators of the exhibition have selected more than 100 gouaches, drawings, and water colors which are characteristic of the various periods in Mihaly Zichyís career and give the viewer an idea of how skillful he was as graphic artist, court painter-chronicler and book illustrator.

Among the exhibits, the water color Undina (1859) stands out. The composition includes nine episodes from V.A. Zhukovskyís poem of the same name which was first printed in full in 1837 with a dedication to Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna. The story of Undina, which was played out as tableaux vivants by members of the imperial family and courtiers, was meticulously drawn by the artist.

The water color Formal Dinner in the Palace of Facets (1883) illustrates the banquet on the occasion of the coronation of Emperor Alexander III in the Moscow Kremlin. This water color was supposed to be included in a formal album. Below, on the left, Zichy has depicted himself seated on a low chair and sketching the scene of the festive dinner in a notebook.

The theme of the court hunt occupies a large place in the masterís career. Both Alexander II and Alexander III were passionate hunters. There is an unusual series of 52 watercolors forming a set of playing cards bearing scenes from Alexander IIís hunts.

Zichyís fascination with Russian poetry was reflected in a series of drawings on motifs from works by Lermontov and Pushkin. His charcoal and chalk drawing Demon flying over the Caucasus (1881), which is on display in the exhibition, illustrates the first lines of Lermontovís poem The Demon.

One can also see at the exhibition a series of genre drawings, designs for theater decorations, sketches of scenes and costumes.

An exhibition catalogue has been prepared by the State Hermitage Publishing House. The authors of the catalogue and curators of the exhibition are A.S. Kantor-Gukovskaya, senior researcher of the Department of Western European Art, and G.A. Printseva, senior researcher of the Department of History of Russian Culture, State Hermitage.


Alexander II receives well-wishers from the diplomatic corps
on 1 January 1863
Larger view

Breakfast of Alexander II and Wilhelm I in
the Winter Palace
Larger view

Coronation of Alexander II in the Cathedral of the Dormition,
26 August 1856
Larger view

Formal Dinner in the Palace of Facets
Larger view

Mikhail Zikhi in his study
Illustration: the journal "Sever"
Larger view

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