The second half of the 19th century encompasses both "the era of great reforms" of Alexander II, which changed Russia's social system and the face it presented to the world, and the reign of Alexander III, who sought to bring his father's reforms more into line with the traditional Russian approach through consolidation of autocracy and the state order.
Developing national self-awareness led Russians to take an interest in their national history and culture, and in contemporary art. Numerous art galleries were set up and private collections appeared, the most famous being the Tretyakov collection in Moscow and the Museum of Alexander III in St. Petersburg (most items for the latter came from the Gallery of Russian Painting in the Hermitage).
The Hermitage's collection of items from this era is extensive and varied, its nucleus formed by portraits of representatives of all levels of Russian society: formal portraits of members of the imperial family, soldiers and statesmen, merchants, manufacturers, and bankers. This group is very important in terms of iconography, and is supplemented by a collection of decorative paintings and landscapes, as well as a superb selection of interior views of the Winter Palace.
The Historicist or "eclectic" style, which was widespread in 19th-century Europe, influenced the development of everything from painting to architecture to the applied arts. A wide variety of different trends were revived and reinterpreted by modern artists and craftsmen.
Throughout the second half of the 19th century Moscow was the centre of silverware production in Russia. Articles produced at the Sazikov and Ovchinnikov factories reveal the great skill of Russian craftsmen. These factories revived old enameling techniques and many objects imitating the forms of utensils in medieval Russia appeared, together with settings for icons, bowls, albums and caskets.
Through the porcelain collection we can trace how the different styles were combined and reflected in one particular art form. The fashion was set by the Imperial Porcelain Factory, the oldest and largest producer in Russia, while private workshops such as the Gardner factory and those of the Batyenin and Kornilov brothers rapidly turned out works which imitated the latest trends.
Meanwhile leading architects were developing new furniture designs, from which large workshops in Moscow such as the Gambs, Svirsky and Meltzer firms made their fine furniture.
An important place in the history of Russian bronzework is occupied by 19th-century St. Petersburg factories. The foundries at the Academy of Arts, the Schreiber, Bauman, Chopin, and Werfel factories all produced fine decorative bronzes. Owing to their high cost they were made almost exclusively for the imperial palaces and mansions.
A group of skillful artists of the St. Petersburg Mint created a notable collection of medals, often reflecting important historical events or showing a veritable portraiture gallery of outstanding contemporary figures.
Talented fashion designers were also inspired by Historicism and they developed interesting models on the basis of traditional styles and motifs. The museum collection of costume contains splendid clothes and accessories which once belonged to the imperial family.
Leading 19th-century architects made their own contribution to St. Petersburg architecture. A great number of new palaces, apartment houses, theatres, hotels and stations constructed in the Historicist style changed the look of the city. By the end of the 19th century, St. Petersburg's main streets had more or less taken on that appearance which we see today, with a mixture of facades including elements of the Baroque, Renaissance. and early Neoclassical styles.
Portrait of Emperor Alexander II
Portrait of Empress Maria Alexandrovna
Empress Maria Fyodorovna's Oil Painted Fan with Bust Portraits of Alexander III and his Children
Service with nielloed views of Moscow
Portrait Bust of Empress Maria Fyodorovna
Nikolay Svirsky Manufactory, St. Petersburg
Plates from the Raphael Ceremonial Dinner and Dessert Services from Tsarskoye Selo Palace
Imperial Porcelain Manufactory, St. Petersburg