Description of the artwork «Portrait of Emperor Nicholas II in the uniform of the Royal Scottish 2nd Dragoon Regiment»
In 1894, Queen Victoria appointed Nicholas II as honorary chief of the regiment of Scottish dragoons. The appointment was made on the occasion of the ascension of Nicholas to the throne and his marriage to the queen's granddaughter, Alice of Hesse. It was a symmetrical political gesture, a common practice at the time: Nicholas II took care of the Scottish dragoons, Edward VII - of Kiev. The position, of course, was nominal. The duties of monarchs included from time to time to pay visits to their wards courtesy, flaunt in authentic form, in a word, to declare good good-neighborly intentions. Parade uniforms played a crucial (if not the main) role in this process and often became the cause of anecdotal situations.
During the solemn meeting of the kings in Revel Bay, a curious episode took place. After the traditional exchange of cannon salutes, the English royal yacht was suddenly "talked flags." The meaning of the signals was incomprehensible, although it was clear that we were talking about something important and urgent. General excitement subsided after it turned out that Edward had demanded a tailor on board: since the last fitting, he had recovered considerably, and the uniform of the Kiev Dragoon Regiment was cracking all the seams.
In turn, Nicholas also received too close a form: English tailors did not take into account that the measurements were taken in versions, not inches. The court tailor was able to alter the uniform, but the boots had to be replaced by others. The British noticed that Nicholas’s spurs were steel, not copper, as is proper under the protocol.
In general, by commissioning a portrait in the uniform of the Scottish dragoons to Valentin Serov, Nicholas fairly risked. On the one hand, no one doubted that Serov was the best portrait painter of his generation. On the other hand, Serov was a pathologically truthful painter, he never flattered his models and did not paint traditional formal portraits. Shoulder straps, buttonholes and buttons did not interest him - he could subscribe to the words Anders Zorn who once said, "I am an artist, not a tailor."
Nicholas commissioned this portrait not out of vanity - the picture was intended as a gift to his British ward. However, the portrait turned out quite affectionate. The picturesque attire does not overshadow the identity of the emperor. Determined cheekbones, straight look, which reads not only the will, but also the mind. Serov treated Nicholas II with sympathy. He valued in him intelligence, kindness, and tact - all that after the events of 1905, many (including Serov) would spend on the department of weaknesses. He generously left the unfortunate boots "behind the scenes". The extra tops and the missing inches are hidden behind the royal spread of the shoulders - so that Edinburgh has no doubt: you will not be lost with such a curator.
Nevertheless, it did not go off without an "international" scandal. The following day, after the work was finished, Valentin Serov came in order to finally “touch the portrait” with a brush. And suddenly got to the drawing lesson. Alexandra Fedorovna (the same granddaughter of Queen Victoria) began to explain to him where and how to correct the portrait. Serov handed the Empress a brush and offered to finish the work for him, who, not yielding the color of her face to the uniform of the Scottish dragoons, ran out of the hall. The diplomatic efforts of Nicholas II did not help - Serov said that "he no longer works in this house." And henceforth, if portrayed members of the royal family, then no longer in such a heroic context.