NGV Old Master Portraits: Alexandre Roslin

National Gallery of Victoria - Installation View - Portraits by Alexandre RoslinWednesday, 5 January 2011

NGV Old Master Portraits: Alexandre Roslin

Perhaps the best example of the Rococo portraiture at the NGV is Alexandre Roslin’s portrait of Princess Anastasia Ivanovna Troubetzkaia, Countess von Hessen-Homburg.

Alexandre Roslin (1718-1793) was born and trained in Sweden, but the bright lights of major European cities beckoned, and in the 1740s he first moved to Berlin, then in the 1750s to Paris, and from the middle of the 1770s he found himself in St Petersburg, where he was extensively patronised by Catherine the Great, her family, and her court.

NGV - Alexandre Roslin - Princess Anastasia TroubetzkaiaIn 1757 he was commissioned to paint a portrait of a Russian aristocrat, Princess Anastasia Ivanovna Troubetzkaia, widow of Field-Marshal Ludwig Graf von Hessen-Homburg. She was a close friend of Empress Elizabeth of Russia, and was appointed her lady-in-waiting upon Elizabeth’s accession to the Russian Throne in 1741. We see the Princess in the portrait wearing the Grand Order and sash of St Catherine the Martyr, which was allegedly given not only to the Empress’s favourite ladies-in-waiting, but especially to those who supported her during the coup of 1741, which brought the Empress to power.

Every detail in the portrait provides us with an insight into the Princess’s life and character. Books, letters, seals and writing implements attest to her excellent education and epistolary proficiency; the globe in the foreground and a seascape seen through an open window attest to her reputation as a great traveller. The Princess was a renowned Francophile with an impeccable taste, who spent quite a few years living in Paris. We see her in this portrait dressed in the latest French fashion in a richly decorated gown of pale pink, and seated within an interior filled with sumptuous Boulle furniture.

NGV - Alexandre Roslin - Princess Anastasia TroubetzkaiaOne of the interesting quirks of the picture is that the portrait is actually posthumous. The Princess passed away in 1755, and the portrait was painted in 1757. Roslin recreated the “living likeness” of the Princess perhaps by relying on a contemporary miniature, while the pose, dress, and the interior are influenced by (and perhaps are loosely based upon) portraits by François Boucher of the celebrated royal mistress, Marquise de Pompadour, who was likewise renowned for her wit, taste, and glamour.

The Princess’s face, details of her dress and jewelled decorations, embroidered upholsteries and gilded furnishings are carried out in the most minute, barely perceptible brushstrokes. The detailed execution of this portrait belies its modest size (the portrait measures 63.5 x 53 cm only), and gives the portrait a sense of intimacy. This is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the 18th-Century Rococo portraiture, as is the playfully frothy gamut of lighter pinks and greens. The repeating undulating curves of the flowing drapes, garment folds, and furniture decorations encapsulate the spirit of the French Rococo within this charming and remarkable painting.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

January 2011


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