Portrait of Tsar Alexander II

Ivan WinbergYear: 1840
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Miniature in Ivory
Signed to mid-right of image

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This miniature by Ivan Winberg depicts Tsar Alexander II. The Tsar wears a black coat with a gold-embroidered collar with red piping, gold buttons and gold epaulettes. Gold aiguillette is affixed to the centre of his chest. The Tsar also wears the chest-star of the Russian Order of St Andrew, patron saint of Russia. Winberg captures the Tsar in his youth, with his characteristic, swept-back hair and prominent moustache. Alexander is shown against a plain brown background. The oval portrait is embedded in a rectangular gilt frame, with a gold loop affixed to the top. The central image of this miniature closely resembles a Winberg miniature sold at Christie’s in 2007.

The eldest son of Tsar Nicolas I, Alexander became Tsar in 1855, aged 36. He assumed power in the midst of the Crimean War, which his father had started, and which pitted the Russian army against a coalition of Turkish, French and British forces. Recognising the disastrous effects of the war on the Russian economy, Alexander embarked on a series of peace talks immediately after becoming Tsar. This resulted in the Treaty of Paris, 1856, which ended the conflict. As this move demonstrates, Alexander’s liberal attitude was sharply at odds with his father’s reactionary one. The Tsar became known as Alexander the Liberator for his wide-sweeping reforms. Most notable of these was his emancipation of the serfs in 1861: widely recognised as a turning point in Russian history. His reforms were not universally popular, however: in 1881, the Tsar was assassinated in St Petersburg by members of the Narodnaya Volya (the People’s Will).

Ivan Winberg was a well-known Russian miniaturist of Swedish origin. He studied at the Imperial Academy in St Petersburg and, in 1846, became a professor of miniature painting there. He regularly exhibited his miniatures at annual academic exhibitions. Today his works can be viewed in major museums nationally and internationally, including: the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, the Hermitage, St Petersburg, and the Victoria and Albert, London.

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