Russia: Royalty & the Romanovs

A new exhibition at The Queen's Gallery is promising to unravel the tangled history of diplomatic relations between Britain and Russia. Peter Gray reports.

The front facade of the Queen's Gallery

From Peter the Great to Nicholas II, this new exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery in London, tells the story of the relationship between two of the great powers of European history.

Through a variety of portraits, sculpture, photographs, portraits, archival documents and miniatures, the show traces the growth of familial and diplomatic ties between a Russia desperate to come in from the cold and a Britain at the height of its powers.

From the moment Peter the Great’s ship landed in Britain, he was determined to strengthen relations with the European superpowers. The Russian ruler arrived in the country in 1698 as part of a ‘Grand Embassy,’ a voyage of diplomacy through the heart of old Europe. On his way he was to meet a host of European leaders including the British king William III. The tour lasted three months and in it time the Russian leader hoped to portray a sense of a new open Russia.

The exhibition presents the relationship between the two countries at a series of critical points. So, we have Sir Godfrey Kneller’s portrait of Peter the Great at the time of his visit to England. Kneller depicts the Tsar as a youthful and energetic leader, looking outwards optimistically.

We have a depiction of Empress Catherine II by Vigilius Eriksen. This portrait of the Empress was gifted to George III by the Russian leader and it was subsequently hung at Kensington Palace.

Then there’s the series of portraits of the military leaders responsible for the successful naval campaign against the French in the Napoleonic wars.  The group is the work of the Engl05/12ish painter Sir Thomas Lawrence and a number of Russian naval leaders are included. This reflected the Russian army’s key role in the conflict.  Among their number is Count Platov, the Cossack cavalry commander, General Fedor Petrovitch Uvarov and Matvei Ivanovitch.

Also, in the collection is the portrait of the Duchess of York (later the Queen Mother) which was executed by the Russian portrait painter Savely Sorine. A couple of decades later, Sorine would be called upon again, this time to paint a portrait of the Duchess of York’s eldest daughter, the then Princess Elizabeth.

With so many of the works coming from the private collection of Her Majesty the Queen herself, the collection is certain to illuminate and shed further light on the diplomatic and private relationships of two of Europe’s traditional superpowers.

Russia: Royalty & the Romanovs opens at the Queen’s Gallery on the 9th November 2018. The exhibition will run until Sunday the 28th of Apr 2019.

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-London's Best Attractions-
What: Russian art
When: closed
Where: Buckingham Palace