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Portrait of the Ladies of the Imperial Educational Society for Noble Maidens Ekaterina Nikolaevna Khrushcheva, Married Name von Loman, and Princess Ekaterina Nikolaevna Khovanskaya, Married Name Neledinskaya-Meletskaya

Painting, 1773, 164×129 cm

Description of the artwork «Portrait of the Ladies of the Imperial Educational Society for Noble Maidens Ekaterina Nikolaevna Khrushcheva, Married Name von Loman, and Princess Ekaterina Nikolaevna Khovanskaya, Married Name Neledinskaya-Meletskaya»

The “Portrait of Ekaterina Khrushcheva and Princess Ekaterina Khovanskaya” belongs to a series of seven portraits of ladies who studied in the Smolny Institute of Noble Maidens. Rzhevskaya, Davydova, Levshina, Alymova, Borshchova, NelidovaMolchanova and other girls from noble families, according to the plan of Empress Catherine II, were to receive an excellent education there and develop their talents, so that later they could honourably fulfil the duties of maids of honour.

All the seven large portraits were placed in the imperial residence in Peterhof. The portrait of two Ekaterinas, Khrushcheva and Khovanskaya, is considered one of the best in this series.

For a modern unprepared viewer when looking at a picture, it is now difficult to understand what kind of mummers are painted on the canvas, without knowing the context. Is it a boy or girl depicted on the right? What does his (or her) strange gesture mean? And why was this double portrait so highly appreciated by art critics?
Shall we try to unveil these questions?

In all the seven portraits of the series, the Smolny Institute ladies, who were especially noted in the studies, demonstrate the natural talents and virtues they developed during their education. Glafira Alymova, for example, plays the harp, Natalya Borschova froze in a dancing figure, and Khovanskaya and Khrushcheva act out a scene from the play.

In the 1770s, the pastoral opera “The Whims of Love” was popular; the name of its author says nothing to the modern reader. The girls (both girls in the picture are a little over ten years old) present a scene from this comic work. Swarthy and mischievous Khrushcheva in a man’s dress plays the role of a shepherd in love. The “shepherd” touches the chin of his “object of passion” — the shy and therefore a little stiff Khovanskaya. Their faces with irregular features cannot be called beautiful, but they perfectly correspond to the well-known formula “ugly, but lively and charming”.

The special value of the picture is in the reliability of Levitsky’s painting: he conveyed not only the appearance, but also the psychological state of his subjects. After all, they are still quite children and are simply “playing adults”; and they do not always feel organic in these chosen roles. Khovanskaya is especially embarrassed — she does not seem to know where to put her hands and still doesn’t quite know how she is to look at her “seducer”. Khrushcheva, more lively and energetic in temper, on the contrary, copies the condescendingly affectionate look and the dashing gesture of the experienced love-pirate with visible pleasure. All this gives rise to both a comic effect and an understanding of how accurate Levitsky was in conveying the situation duality, because he portrayed Khovanskaya and Khrushcheva both in the roles they play, and at the same time in their own life experience and image.

We should still add that the series of portraits of the Smolny Institute ladies was so well received by the public that it even provoked a fashion for a new painting genre “portrait in a role”.

Author: Anna Vcherashnia

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About the artwork

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Portrait

Style of art: Rococo

Technique: Oil

Materials: Canvas

Date of creation: 1773

Size: 164×129 cm

Artwork in selections: 12 selections