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Restoration of Vigilius Eriksen’s Portraits of the Orlov Brothers

The Paintings:

These two portraits by the noted Danish painter Vigilius Eriksen of the noted Orlov brothers. Grigory Orlov, pictured in Roman costume, was a lover of the Empress Catherine the Great and one of her closest advisors. Alexi, depicted in Turkish dress, was one of Catherine’s ablest military and diplomatic leaders. The portraits are oil on large canvases and are known to us chiefly from black and white reproductions. The paintings were put in storage during World War II, and were only recently unwrapped.

The History:

In 1766, Catherine the Great ordered the first Russian carousel, an imitation of the exhibitions of horseback riding, swordsmanship and shooting then popular in all the great courts of Europe. While this event was repeated in subsequent years, no subsequent celebration inspired so many artistic and literary creations as the first. There are references to the event in the works of Casanova, Poroshin, Voltaire and V.P. Petrov as well as numerous paintings and other works of art.

These portraits hung in the Winter Palace until the reign of Paul I began in 1796. They were stored in warehouses for many years, were sent to the Court Stable Chancellery in 1827 and found their way to the Gatchina Palace in 1833. After World War II they were stored in the Central Warehouse of Museum Holdings at the Hermitage.

Once restored, the portraits became part of the main exhibition dedicated  the reign of Catherine the Great.