Franz Xaver Winterhalter and the ‘Other’ Demidov Portrait
Further patronage by the Demidov family is suggested by a portrait in the Museum of Fine Arts, Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The painting is known as a Portrait of a Lady, but it has also been suggested that this is a portrait of another woman from the Demidov family (illustrated on the left). In this entry, I would like to firmly establish the identity of this sitter and the date of the painting.
The research into the Demidov family history suggests that the woman in the portrait is no other than Princess Maria Elimovna Meshcherskaia [Княжна Мария Элимовна Мещерская] (1844-1868), who married in June 1867 Pavel Pavlovich Demidov, 2nd Prince di San Donato (1839-1885), son of the sitter discussed in the previous post (Avrova Karlovna Demidova-Karamzina, née Stjernvall, 1808-1902). Her identity is confirmed by contemporary photographs of Princess Maria just before her marriage, which show the same distinctive, almost Oriental beauty, elongated oval of the face, large soulful eyes, and the prominent nose (see the three images below).
Princess Maria Meshcherskaia is predominantly known today as the first love of Alexander III, Emperor of Russia when a Grand Duke and only third in line to the throne. However, upon the death of his older brother, Alexander stood to inherit the Russian Imperial Crown, and under the pressure from his parents, he gave up Princess Maria Meshcherskaia to marry a girl from his own caste, Princess Dagmar of Denmark, the future Empress Maria Feodrovna. Princess Meshcherskaia was ordered to leave St Petersburg, and while in Paris she met – and married shortly afterwards – Prince Paul Demidov, one of the most eligible bachelors and wealthiest Russian aristocrats.
But her newly found happiness in married life was not to last. Princess Maria died in August 1868 two days after giving birth to her only child, Elim Pavlovich Demidov, future 3rd Prince di San Donato (1868-1943).
Winterhalter’s portrait of the ill-fated Princess was most likely painted within a space of fourteen months, between June 1867 and August 1868. The existence of Winterhalter’s portrait of Princess Marie’s mother-in-law, Avrova Karlovna Demidova-Karamzina, which also dates from around c. 1868 (oil on canvas, 60.0 x 50.0 cm, Private Collection, FXW cat no 842, illustrated left), suggests a possibility that both portraits were commissioned from Winterhalter simultaneously, and there are numerous precedents in Winterhalter’s practice to paint various members of the same family within a short period of time, more often than not within a space of a few months. The date of the portrait can be further confirmed by its comparison with the recently-surfaced portrait of Sophie, Duchesse de Morny (née Princess Troubetzkaia; 1838-1896), also from c. 1868 (oil on canvas, present location unknown, no 846, illustrated lower right). Both portraits bear striking compositional similarities and show both sitters within an oval portrait format, standing at three-quarter-length, enveloped in a fur-edged wrap.
Therefore, both the date and the identity of the sitter can now be firmly established, as a the portrait of Princess Maria Elimovna Meshcherskaia, Princess Demidova di San Donato, of c. 1868 (FXW cat no 842a).
It is an interesting twist of fate, that the widower, Prince Paul Demidov, married secondly, three years later, in June 1871, Princess Elena Petrovna Troubetzkaia [Княжна Елена Петровна Трубецкая] (1853-1917), whose mother, Princess Elizaveta Esperovna Troubetzkaia (née Princess Beloselsaia-Belozerskaia; 1834-1907), was captured by Winterhalter in the famous, effervescent 1859 portrait (oil on canvas, 147.0 x 108.0 cm, Private Collection, FXW cat no 663, illustrated lower far right).
© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012.