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Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev

Portrait of Admiral Oscar von Kraemer

Sold for 560.000 SEK at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale 13-15 June 2018.

711. Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev (Russia 1878‑1927).
Portrait of Admiral Oscar von Kraemer (1826‑1904). Signed and dated in Cyrillic B. Kustodiev 1902.
Sketch for I. Repin’s 1903 painting ”Ceremonial Meeting of the State Council on May 7, 1901”.
Oil on canvas, 58.5 x 44.5 cm.

The Family von Kraemer.


In April 1901 Tsar Nicholas II commissioned a painting by Ilya Repin, that was to depict the upcoming Ceremonial Meeting of the State Council. Having trouble with his right hand, Repin asked for permission to hire assistants for the work, and accepted only when he got this permission.

As his assistants Repin chose Ivan Kulikov (1875-1941) and Boris Kustodiev (1878-1927). The team started to work a few days before the meeting, beginning with sketches for the interiors. During the anniversary meeting the three artists made plenty of sketches, and also used a tripod camera to fixate the motif. During the following two months Repin worked with sketches, and in July the large canvas (400 x 877 cm) was delivered to the Mariinsky Palace, where the artists started creating the final painting. Kustodiev wrote to his fiancé: “It is a dull and tedious work […]. The canvas is so large, you feel really small in front of it. Repin made us, as he always do, redo everything we’d already done, we had to start again from scratch, and I don’t know whether he will be satisfied this time either.”

They split the work: Repin painted the central part of the canvas, Kulikov the left and Kustodiev the right. During the autumn they visited the ordinary meetings of the State Council to make more sketches of the figures. Sometimes all the three of them made sketches for the same figure, and then they would compare the results and Repin would choose the one he liked the most (most often his own version). As the work progressed, Kustodiev found it more interesting: “The painting itself has started, and I start to feel an interest, and we work with joy. There is a lot of work to be done, and it is interesting work… there are things to learn.”

Finally, in the beginning of January 1904, the painting was ready. It was presented to the public in the Mariinsky Palace on the 4th of January.

The portait in this sale is signed by Kustodiev in 1902 and depicts the Admiral Oscar von Kraemer (1829-1904). Born in a noble Finnish family he would become known for his military and diplomatic career and his deeds in the Far east. Graduating in St. Petersburg as a Marine Officer he participated in the Crimean War in 1853-1855, but got wounded in Sevastopol. He was the head of many warships including the Frigate Alexander Nevski which got lost in a shipwrek in 1868. The Admiral von Kraemer had a successful career and climbed in rank in his military titles. He was highly appreciated in the Russian Imperial Court. His highest recogntion came in 1896 when he became a member of the State Council, an honour only a few of his fellow countrymen had been given. The same year he received the order of S:t Alexander Nevski. He was appointed Head of the Russian Red Cross. In 1904 he got the rare Imperial Russian Order of Saint Vladimir.

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