Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Alexander I, Emperor of Russia 1777 - 1825 1815c.

George Dawe 

Portrait of Alexander I, Emperor of Russia 1777 - 1825, George Dawe
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Oil on canvas
19th Century
34 1/2 x 24 inches 87.6 x 60.9 cm
 
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An inscription on the reverse of this portrait of Tsar Alexander I, records that it was given by the sitter's brother, Tsar Nicholas II to Charles Moberley of St.Petersburg in 1826. Charles was one of the seven sons of Edward Moberley, a merchant of St.Petersburg by his wife Sarah, daughter of John Cayley, British consul-general in Russia.

Alexander visited London in June 1814 when he is known to have sat to Lawrence and possibly Dawe as well. Lawrence did not finish his portrait until the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818 and Dawe was also at Aix-la-Chapelle painting Emperors & Kings employed by Prince Leopold. Dawe made a favourable impression on the Tsar and was subsequently invited to go to St. Petersburg to paint a series of portraits of senior Russian officers who had been engaged in the war with Napoleon.

Dawe established a studio in St.Petersburg and with the help of royal patronage quickly established himself. He is reported to have built up a fortune of some 100,000 during this period. He remained there for the next nine years and besides painting three-quarter lengths of Wellington and Kutusov, he also executed a 20 frt. high equestrian portrait of Tsar Alexander. This group of portraits was installed in a purpose-built gallery in the Winter Palace. Ill-health precipitated a return to London in 1829, where he died soon after.

This is one of a number of official portraits of the Tsar which were commissioned for presentation. The prototype is probably the portrait in the Royal Collection. Other versions include a large full-length also in the Royal Collection, and another which was formerly at Londonderry House.

Alexander succeeded his deranged and despotic father Paul, son of Catherine the Great in 1801. He encouraged education and science and the introduction of western civilisation, carrying out many reforms including the abolition of serfdom in the Baltic provinces. In 1805 he joined the coalition against Napoleon and was present at the battle of Austerlitz. He joined Prussia against Napoleon in 1806 and signed the Peace of Tilsit in 1807 and conquered Finland in 1808.

He waged a successful war against Turkey 1806-12 and in 1812 when Napoleon invaded Russia and Alexander was leader of the coalition against France (1813-14). He was a dominant figure at the Congress of Vienna, at which Russia obtained control of most of Poland.

Alexander later turned to religious mysticism hoping to establish a new Christian order to Europe through a Holy Alliance with Austria and Prussia. He withdrew in seclusion towards the end of his life, and supposedly died in the Crimea in 1825, although there were rumours that he had in fact left for Siberia where he lived as a hermit. Culaincourtt wrote that underneath his appearance of goodwill, frankness and natural loyalty, there is a core of deep dissimulation which is the mark of an obstinacy which nothing can move.
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