The secret life of the Romanovs sketched by a court artist

These unique images from the life of the imperial family are the work of Mihaly Zichy, who chronicled the ceremonies, amusements, and family events of the royal court in the second half of the 19th century.

These unique images from the life of the imperial family are the work of Mihaly Zichy, who chronicled the ceremonies, amusements, and family events of the royal court in the second half of the 19th century.
The profession of court painter and chronicler was mainly the domain of foreigners. Besides Mihaly Zichy, there was Louis Caravaque, Johann Gottfried Tannauer, and Georg Christoph Grooth, who arranged the first collection of the Hermitage, and many others.
Mihaly Zichy was a Hungarian painter of noble birth, active in Russia. Having graduated from grammar school and university in Budapest, he later studied drawing and painting there under Italian artist Marostoni, and then at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, where his mentor was Ferdinand Waldmüller.
Having acquired some fame through exhibitions of his paintings in Vienna, such as “Convalescent Girl Praying before the Image of Our Lady,” “The Dying Knight” (1844), “The Crucifixion,” and others, he was invited by Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna to teach drawing and painting to her daughter, Princess Ekaterina Mikhailovna.
He arrived in St. Petersburg in 1847. In addition to teaching her highness, he attended classes in the homes of the Petersburg aristocracy.
After two years he was forced to give up teaching and to seek a living by selling drawings and retouching photographic portraits.
During this difficult period of his life, Zichy found some support in the form of Prince Alexander of Hesse-Darmstadt. His situation finally improved thanks to Theophile Gautier, who visited St. Petersburg in 1858. In his book “Voyage en Russie” Gautier devoted an entire chapter to Zichy, which significantly raised his profile among the Russian public.
In 1859 Zichy was appointed court painter, and remained there until 1873. During his 15-year tenure, he produced numerous drawings depicting various incidents of court life, scenes from royal hunting expeditions, caricatures of those close to the court, etc.
Prior to that, in 1856, he had created a series of major watercolor sketches of the coronation of Emperor Alexander II, for which the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts awarded him the title of academician.
1869 saw an exhibition of his works. Five years later, in 1874, he departed for Paris, where, inter alia, he was commissioned by the Hungarian government to paint “Austrian Empress Elizabeth Lays a Wreath on the Coffin of Deak,” in addition to which he published pictures in illustrated journals.

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