Portrait of Tsar Nicholas II

Artist: Boris Kustodiev
Date: 1910–11
Media: Tinted plaster
Dimensions: 50 x 53 x 31 cm
Ownership: Russian Museum, St Petersburg
Yulia Kustodieva collection (until 1942) (?)
Style: World of Art
Portrait of Tsar Nicholas II


In 1910, Boris Kustodiev was invited to sculpt a portrait of Tsar Nicholas II for the centenary of the Imperial Alexander Lyceum. The lyceum had been founded in August 1810 by Tsar Alexander I for the sons of the nobility in a wing of the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo. It opened in October 1811 for the first intake of thirty students, including the future famous poet Alexander Pushkin.

The lyceum specially chose the artist, even though Kustodiev was an academician of painting, recommending that he “sculpt a bust of the sovereign in the uniform of the Hussars Life Guard Regiment.” Like the Imperial Alexander Lyceum, the Hussars Life Guard Regiment was based in Tsarskoe Selo.

Nicholas II posed for Kustodiev in the Portrait Hall of the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo on twelve occasions between 30 December 1910 and 16 January 1911. The artist described the sittings in a letter to his friend, the architectural historian Ivan Ryazanovsky, observing that the emperor “posed extremely well, for an hour and more without resting.”

This is the modello for the finished work. When the Russian art collector and Hermitage director Count Dmitry Tolstoy saw it, he suggested casting it in bronze and submitting it to the Esposizione internazionale di Roma. The final version of the bust was completed in April 1911.

Kustodiev spent the summer of 1911 in Switzerland, recuperating from bone tuberculosis at the Institute of Heliotherapy (Sun Clinic), which Swiss physician Auguste Rollier had opened in 1903 in the alpine resort of Leysin at the eastern end of Lake Geneva. But the artist travelled specially from Switzerland to Russia in September 1911 to transfer the sculpture from plaster into marble in October 1911, before returning to Leysin via Dresden in November 1911.

Installed in the Assembly Hall of the Imperial Alexander Lyceum, Kustodiev ’s bust of Tsar Nicholas II enjoyed great success. The artist was then asked to sculpt a marble bust of the emperor for the general meeting room of the State Council. Portraying Nicholas II in the armour of one of his Circassian regiments, this portrait now belongs to the Scientific Research Museum of the Academy of Arts.

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