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Restoration of Pierre Etienne Falconet’s painted "Portrait of Catherine II"

Pierre Etienne Falconet. Portrait of Catherine II. 1773. Oil on canvas. 238 × 164 cm.

Pierre Etienne Falconet was a French painter and draughtsman, primarily a portrait artist. The son of the sculptor Etienne Maurice Falconet, who created the famous “Bronze Horseman” monument to Peter the Great in Saint Petersburg, he received his initial artistic training in Paris and then, from 1765, studied in London where he attended Joshua Reynolds’s studio and classes at the Royal Academy of Arts. He exhibited his works at the Royal Academy and the Society of Artists of Great Britain. He was the recipient of several special prizes.

From August 1773 to July 1777 (apart from a brief visit to London in the spring of 1774), Falconet lived and worked in Saint Petersburg. Here, through his father’s influence, he received a prestigious commission to paint portraits of Empress Catherine II, her son Grand Duke Pavel Petrovich (the future Paul I) and his first wife, Natalia Alexeyevna, for the gallery of portraits of European monarchs that the Empress had conceived and was creating at that time in the Chesme Palace.

Falconet’s portrait of Catherine II is exceptionally interesting as a rare iconographic type. It stands out from the series of customary grand official portraits for its combination of formality and intimacy. The Empress is depicted standing by two Doric columns and a vase in a niche between them that imitates examples from classical Antiquity. Her breast is adorned with the sashes and stars of the two highest Russian orders of chivalry – of St Andrew the First-Called and St George. Her right hand, meanwhile, rests not on a throne or a table carrying the imperial regalia, but on an ordinary armchair in which her pet Italian greyhound is lying in a relaxed pose.

The project envisages carrying out the following types of work:

  • preparation of restoration documentation
  • carrying out technical-technological, physical and chemical studies
  • photographic recording of the work at all stages of the restoration process
  • removal of soiling
  • elimination of deformations of the canvas
  • strengthening of the paint layer and primer across the entire surface
  • backing of the restoration edging and restretching the painting on the old stretcher
  • regeneration of the varnish layer
  • development of a methodology for the removal of later accretions
  • removal of varnish that has changed colour
  • removal of extensive old retouchings
  • application of restoration primer in places where the paint layer has been lost
  • covering the picture with fresh varnish
  • making good the losses (toning in)
  • covering the painting with a second coat of varnish

A working group has been formed for the restoration of the Portrait of Catherine II from members of the Hermitage staff:

project coordinator – Yevgeny Vladimirovich Feodorov, head of the project finance sector in the Development Service

project curator – Victor Anatolyevich Korobov, head of the Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Easel Paintings

artist-restorers – Sergei Nikolayevich Bogdanov, Andrei Sergeyevich Nikolsky, Andrei Viktorovich Tsvetkov

The painting is in the process of restoration.