Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Christina Robertson, Successful Female Artist in a Man's World

by Debra Brown

Portret Orlovoi Davidovoi
People have, at times, asked me about the wonderful portrait (to the left) I use as my avatar on Facebook. I tell them she is Evangeline, the protagonist in my work in progress. That is how I have always seen Evangeline, at least, though without the head covering.

The portrait, though, is that of (apparently) Orlovoi Davidovoi of the Russian aristocracy, and comes with this description on Wikimedia:Русский: Ольга Ивановна Орлова-Давыдова (1814–1876), дочь князя Ивана Ивановича Барятинского (1722–1825). Feel free to help me out with that.

(Helena Schrader tells me Ольга Ивановна Орлова-Давыдова is Olga Invanovna Orlova-Davidova (all feminine form as she's a lady) and дочь князя Ивана Ивановича Барятинского means the daughter of Princess Ivana Ivanovicha Baryatinskogo. Thanks, Helena!)

Christina Robertson, Self Portrait
The artist is the amazing Christina Robertson.

Christina Robertson (née Sanders, 1796-1854) was born in Scotland but settled in London with her artist husband, James Robertson, whose career she would eclipse. They were married in 1822. Christina gave birth to eight children, four of whom lived to adulthood. Little is recorded about her life beforehand, sadly, not even where she received any formal education. Isabella Bradford says her father painted coaches, and her uncle was a miniaturist who "taught her painting and helped her launch her career". Her talent brought her out of the realm of unknowns into high places.

Christina began to show her work in the annual exhibitions of the Royal Academy in London and Edinburgh beginning in 1823. She also exhibited with the Society of British Artists starting from 1824 and the British Institution as of 1833. In 1829 she became the only woman ever to become an honorary member of the Scottish Academy.

Zinaida Ivanovna Yusupova
In the 1830s and 40s, her work was used as the basis for engravings for magazines including The Court Magazine, La Belle Assemblée, Heath's Book of Beauty and John Burke's Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Females. Through these she caught the eye of Russian nobility, who at the time found anything English to be fashionable, and went to Paris to paint for various ones there.

Grand Duchess of Russia
Alexandra Nikolaievna
After an exhibition in St. Petersburg in 1839, she was hired as painter in residence to do full length portraits of the Emperor Nicholas I and the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. She was named an honorary member of the Imperial Academy of Art. Christina returned to Russia in 1847 to an enthusiastic welcome, and she stayed for several years although the Crimean War changed the views of the Russian upper classes. Perhaps this war was the cause of problems for Christina.

The Imperial Couple rejected a painting of a daughter-in-law and deemed the portrait of another unsatisfactory. They continued to hire her to work for them, however, even having her do a second painting of the Empress. Some of her clients, though, refused to pay her.

Z.Yusupova (Naryshkina)
Christina's health declined. She died in St. Petersburg in 1854 and was buried in the Volkhov Lutheran Cemetery. Her work can be seen in various Russian museums, but the largest collection is in the Hermitage.

There is a lovely gallery of her work here. Many of her Russian nobility portraits can be seen here and Russian royalty here on Wikimedia.

Olga Nikolaïevna

Children with Parrot




Debra Brown cut her teeth on the Bookhouse Books which created a nagging longing to live in a land of castles and wear flowing gowns and headdresses. Though life was busy and full, she eventually became able to do so vicariously through the characters of her books.

Her first published novel, The Companion of Lady Holmeshire (World Castle Publishing, 2011), is set in early Victorian England. Emma, a former servant girl, was chosen as companion to The Countess of Holmeshire and dragged along into polite society where she was sure to receive a rude reception.

Debra's beloved work-in-progress, For the Skylark, is on the back burner but simmering slowly. She runs the English Historical Fiction Authors blog and is an author and co-editor of Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors (Madison Street Publishing, 2013) which will soon be released as an audiobook. Please watch for Volume Two of Castles, Customs, and Kings in the future.

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  1. She appears to have been able capture a certain delicateness of the women unlike male artist could.

    1. She does have that touch, Lindsay. I think she could bring out sweetness in a face, too.

    2. And I forgot to mention that she is my Companion of Lady Holmeshire, too, Orlovoi Davidovoi. :)

  2. Great post, and I love the way that Christina Robertson's women have such dignity without looking in the least self-conscious. As a matter of interest, is it known what CR thought of other painters working around the same time as herself?

    1. I don't know, Victoria. I thought of looking for anything more about her at the library. Since she did rise above the "completely hidden" level of women at that time, perhaps some of what she did, thought, and said is in a book--despite the fact that she was relegated to drab clothing according to her class.

  3. Debbie, since you asked....
    Ольга Ивановна Орлова-Давыдова is Olga Invanovna Orlova-Davidova (all feminine form as she's a lady) and дочь князя Ивана Ивановича Барятинского means the daughter of Princess Ivana Ivanovicha Baryatinskogo.
    At all events a lovely lady!

    1. Thank you, Helena! I should have known you could fill me in. :) I'll add that into the post.


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