Monday, 27 November 2017

Grand Duke’s diary on the painter Franz Winterhalter

The diaries from 1836 to 1890 of Grand Duke Konstantin, the second son of Nicholas I and Empress Alexandra, reveal rare insights of imperial sittings with the portrait painter Franz Xavier Winterhalter.

Konstantin, his wife Alexandra Iosifovna and their eight year old son Nikolai left St. Petersburg on October 8th 1858 for a long journey through Europe.

Sailing from Genoa they anchored in Villafranche on November 24th where his cousin Catherine, the daughter of Mikhail Pavlovich, had a villa. Four days later on the 28th Franz Winterhalter arrived at their villa in Nice.

The following day Konstantin wrote that ‘Winterhalter began the portrait of my wife and from the first strokes of the brush grabbed the resemblance. But for a long time they were busy choosing the place for the sitting and the lighting!’ After lunch on November 30th, Konstantin returned to their villa and found ‘Winterhalter continued to paint my wife’ and on the 1st of December ‘Winterhalter painted my wife’s portrait all day which comes out surprisingly similar’.

Winterhalter’s portrait (below) of Grand Duchess Alexandra Iosifovna

After the ceremony of the laying of the foundation of the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas and St. Alexandra and lunch with the dignitaries on December 2nd, Konstantin wrote ‘Winterhalter began to paint my portrait’.

Photograph (below) of Église Saint-Nicolas-et-Sainte-Alexandra in Nice

The next day the grand duke went to Villafranche in the morning and on returning to Nice ‘Winterhalter continued with my portrait. It seems it will also be good’. On December 4th Konstantin had to wait! ‘Winterhalter painted in the morning another client and after lunch me’.

Winterhalter’s painting of the grand duke is lost. A lithograph (below) of Konstantin in 1859 may be a copy of it.


  1. Winterhalter! Now you have my attention. : )

    Very interested to read this. The artist was a busy fellow; clients stacked up and waiting. His portrait of the Grand Duchess Alexandra Iosifovna is as lovely as its subject, but it isn't my favorite. There's something a little flat about it; his portraits of her sisters-in-law are so much more vivid.

    There does seem to be an existing portrait of the Grand Duke; unless Winterhalter painted another portrait of him, it must be the one written of here. It doesn't appear to be a pendant to the one of his wife, as it's in an oval format, is only head and shoulders, and faces in the same direction as the latter. I don't know where it currently resides, and only Getty Images - grrr - seems to have a full image available.

  2. The portrait of the grand duchess was in the Marble Palace. With their marriage disintegrating later and Alexandra having control of their Marble, Strelna and Pavlovsk to a degree, Konstantin may have moved his to Oreanda. I am searching old interior photos!