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October 22, 2010

The Stroganoff Collection in 1800 by Alexander Stroganoff

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

In 1800, Alexander Stroganoff recorded his thoughts about the 116 paintings he had collected over 40 years in an 80-page book under the title, “Catalogue raisonné des Tableaux qui composent la collection du Comte A. de Stroganoff.” The image on the right is of a painting by Johann Baptist Lampi the Elder, “Portrait of Count Alexander Stroganoff,” now at The Perm Art Gallery in Perm, Russia. The second image (bottom left) is a portrait by Jean-Laurent Mosnier, “Portrait of Count Alexander Stroganoff, the President of the Academy of Arts (1800-1811)”, painted in 1804 and now at The Museum of the Academy of Arts, St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Getty Research Institute has a copy of Stroganoff’s red leather-bound book from the Duits Collection, part of the 69 boxes of business records kept from 1920 to 1979 for the London branch of an Amsterdam art dealer specializing in Old Master paintings who closed his shop in 1938. The inside of the front cover of the 210-year-old book has a label indicating that it was purchased from a bookstore in Paris’ sixth arrondissement (Librairie F. De Nobele, at 35, Rue Bonaparte). The book is in pristine condition and can only be read in the GRI’s Special Collections reading room.

Alexander Stroganoff, the son of the baron who founded the Stroganoff Picture Gallery, wrote about and described the appreciation he had for the paintings that were in his possession for more than 40 years. Alexander (1733-1811) had lived in Paris, first to study, and then during the 1770s while he attended art auctions and expanded to his father’s art collection.

In the introduction, Stroganoff explained that he wrote for passionate art fans, that had a natural instinct for beauty, a sincere love for the arts, and who strove to acquire the knowledge necessary to appreciate the artworks. Stroganoff divided the paintings amongst the different schools of art, by painter, and by title, adding comments as he wished. No images were included, but he did describe the content of the paintings.

Stroganoff owned paintings from the schools of “Florence”, “Romaine”, “Lombarde”, “Venitienne”, and “Napolitaine et Espagnole”, but the bulk of the collection, 51 paintings, were lumped into what he called “Ecole des Pays-bas” and described as Flemish, Dutch and German artists. The second largest category was for “Ecole Française” (25 paintings).

Artists included André Del Sarto, Guido Reni, Jacques Robusti (Tintoretto), Joseph Ribera, Don Diego Velasquez, Pierre Paul Rubens, Antoine Van-Dyck, Albert Kuyp, Rembrant Van-Ryn, Nicolas Poussin and Fragonard.

Stroganoff’s two paintings by Rembrandt (“Le philosophe en meditation” and “Portrait d’un jeune homme en habit de St. François”) were described as magic and bold. He admired Rubens’s “Portrait de Rubens et de son fils” for it’s action and movement. In describing Don Diego Velasquez’s “Le buste d’un vieillard”, he compared the artist to Caravage: “On trouve dans ses ouvrages l’énergie des Grecs, la correction des Romains, le belle couleur des Vénitiens [The work has the energy of the Greeks, the restraint of the Romans, and the bold colour of the Venetians].” As for Tintoretto’s Portrait of André Doria, the noble Genoan and great seaman, Stroganoff felt that Tintoretto had managed to paint his sitter’s soul.

More than a hundred years after Alexander Stroganoff’s death in 1811, the Stroganoff Collection that remained in Russia, which dated back to the court of Catherine the Great, became property of the state during the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Recently, the Stroganoff Collection was in the news as having allegedly once included the “Adam” and “Eve” diptych by Lucas Cranach the Elder that now resides in The Norton Simon Museum. Jacques Goudstikker had purchased the Cranach painting at a sale in Berlin in 1931 that had been marketed under the name of the Stroganoff Collection; however, the sales catalogue said that “Adam” and “Eve” were one of the items in the sale that were not actually from the Stroganoff Collection (ARCA blog, “The Norton Simon Museum’s “Adam” and “Eve”).

In writing about his collection in 1800, Count Alexander Stroganoff does not mention any works that contained any images of Adam and Eve, or any paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder, who he would have categorized with the Dutch and Flemish painters since he considered that the German artists worked in the same genre.

Although this book does not answer the question as to how Cranach’s “Adam” and “Eve” diptych reached a church in Kiev in the 1920s, it does document the appreciation and love Alexander Stoganoff had for his vast collection and document the paintings and their titles as known to him.

Further provenance research may provide answers to this mystery.

Olga’s Gallery/The Stroganoffs (also Stroganovs)