300 Original Photographs of the
Russian Imperial Family For Sale

Six photographs of Tsar Alexander III: 3 portraits mounted on card by Levitsky, 16x10 cm, and 3 photos mounted on card (including 2 by Levitsky) from tsar with his wife, Empress Maria Fedorovna and their children: 1. the Tsarevich Nicolas 2. Nicolas and George 3. Nicolas, Georges and Xenia CHF 600-900.

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On Monday 12th December, Geneva ’s Hôtel des ventes will once again spend an evening reliving the splendour of the Russian Tsars by auctioning without reserve prices over 300 original photographs, many of which signed, of the Russian Imperial family. Estimated at an approximate total of 30,000 Swiss francs, this ensemble comes directly from the private Swiss collection of Ferdinand Thormeyer, tutor for the Russian court. Discreetly guarded by the same family until the present day, these images of Emperor Alexander III, Empress Maria Feodorovna, their heir Tsar Nicholas II and his siblings afford the public a closer look at the history surrounding the family of the last Tsars from a more intimate viewpoint. Hôtel des Ventes’ Director and Principal Auctioneer Bernard Piguet states: "The discovery of this until now veiled collection has such exceptional characteristics that it should attract the attention of the greatest collectors of Russian art throughout the globe – as was the case in December 2010". Another main event of the evening of 12th December will be no doubt the auction of a rare 19th century Scythian style gold bracelet made by the celebrated jeweller Carl Fabergé (est. 50,000-80,000 Swiss francs) as well as a gilt-bronze and malachite table dating from the period of Tsar Alexander II (est. 30,000-50,000 Swiss francs).

Over 300 original and unpublished photographs from the Thormeyer collection, signed by the Russian Imperial family.

The unique and distinguishing factor of the photograph collection to be sold on 12th December 2011 at Geneva ’s Hôtel des Ventes is its exceptional provenance from this private Swiss estate. The ensemble was recently discovered in Geneva in the loft of a descendant of Ferdinand Thormeyer, personal tutor to the Russian court during the final years of Imperial Russia.

In 1918, History changed course when the 300 year reign of the Romanovs over the Russian Empire was extinguished by the brutal assassination of Tsar Nicholas II, his Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, their four daughters and the 14 year old Tsarevich Alexi by the Bolsheviks. All remaining members of the dynasty who survived the revolt fled into exile.

Such a dramatic historical context clearly marks the importance of the discovery of these 300 or so photographs - never before exposed to the collector’s market and kept a secret for so many years. The auction also takes place just one year after some 2000 documents from the same private collection were sold by Hôtel des Ventes for a total of 390,000 Swiss francs (December 2010 auction).

During his life, Ferdinand Thormeyer maintained contact with the Imperial family. Towards 1904-1905, he wrote to Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich telling him how he had created “a Russian corner” in his home including all the mementos collected at court. This explains the presence of two exceptional photo albums that are to be sold featuring official and less formal photographs of Tsar Alexander III, Empress Maria Feodorovna and their children, Tsar Nicholas II and the last Grand Dukes and Duchesses of Russia (est. 4,000-6,000 and 10,000-15,000 Swiss francs). Taken mainly by official Imperial Court photographers S. Levitsky et Ch. Bergamasco, these visual testimonies from the past are often signed by the sitters, for example, the photograph of Tsar Nicholas II flanked by his sister the Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna and her young husband Grand Duke Alexandro Mikhailovich (right: lot 270 est. 400-600 Swiss francs). The albums equally include many images of Grand Duke Mikhail Aexandrovich - the somewhat favourite of Mr Thormeyer - and his older brother, the more rarely photographed Grand Duke George Alexandrovich who also met his own untimely death at a mere 28 years old.

Correspondence between Thormeyer and the Imperial family was exchanged continuously. Many lots in the sale include hand-written post cards from Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna and Tsar Nicholas II to their Carougeois personal tutor, Monsieur Ferdinand Thormeyer. In one particular card, the Tsar writes “Dear Mr Thormeyer, wishing you a happy new year, from he who once called you an “ass” – Nicholas” (Tsar Nicholas II). (est. 300-500 Swiss francs).

The family of Mr Thormeyer’s descendants have also preserved an astonishing pair of gold, diamond and peridot button holes set with two photographs of Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich of Russia (circa 1900, lot 276, est. 3,000-5,000 Swiss francs).

Source & Copyright: Hôtel des Ventes
23 November, 2011

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