At a recent Dorotheum auction in Vienna, Tsarskoye Selo won the EUR 260,000 bid on A Stroll in Palermo by Franz Ludwig Catel.
The original oil on canvas of 1846 has a group of figures consisting of a person in a sedan chair accompanied by riders and progressing along the coastal road in Palermo, with Mount Pellegrino in the background. The persons depicted are Tsarina Alexandra Fiodorovna in her sedan chair, accompanied by Grand Duchess Olga Nikolayevna and her fiancé Crown Prince Charles of Württemberg on horses behind her, and Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich on horse at right.
The work was painted in the year when the Tsarina sojourned in Palermo in order to undergo treatment for her illness. Alexandra Fiodorovna travelled to Palermo in October 1845 together with her husband, Tsar Nicholas I, and her daughter, Grand Duchess Olga Nikolayevna.
Whilst the Tsar left Palermo again in December to travel to Naples and Rome, the Tsarina and Grand Duchess remained in Sicily. Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich joined them on the island in December 1845 and Olga’s future husband, Crown Prince Charles of Württemberg, in January 1846. Olga’s engagement to Crown Prince Charles of Württemberg, announced on 6 January 1846, may have been the reason for the commissioning of the painting A Stroll in Palermo.
It is documented that the Tsar commissioned a painting entitled Passeggiata von Palermo from Franz Ludwig Catel in Rome in December 1845, after having seen sketches of one of the artist’s similar works at an exhibition in his honour at Porta del Popolo.
It was hardly surprising that the Tsar commissioned the painting by Franz Ludwig Catel because it is known that Catel had contact with Russian artists and representatives of the Russian nobility. He was an acquaintance of the Russian landscape painter Fiodor Matveyev and Sylvester Shchedrin; Catel’s painting Sicilian Vespers hung in the studio of Alexander Ivanov and in the 1830s the famous artist Karl Bryullov painted a portrait of Catel with his wife Margarita Prunetti. Grigory Tchernetsov also spoke about exchanging visits with Catel. Catel probably executed the painting in Rome, with the aid of the landscape sketches he had already used for his 1818 painting of Ludwig of Bavaria. He may have used portrait miniatures for depicting the travelers although the possibility cannot be excluded that he based his depictions on hearsay or his own imagination.
Once the completed painting had been sent to St Petersburg it was presented as a gift from the Tsar to Alexandra Fiodorovna who had returned to Russia at the end of March 1846. The painting became part of her private collection and was displayed in the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo together with other paintings by Catel. It remained there until her death in 1860.
This painting is depicted in a watercolour by Luigi Premazzi, who had been commissioned to paint scenes of the Russian Imperial palace and Catel’s work can be seen hanging at right on the wall of the Marble (Billiard) Drawing-Room in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.
After the death of the Tsarina her art collection was divided amongst her children. In 1861 this painting went to Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich, the last of those depicted in the painting still living in Russia, who hung it in the Marble Palace in St. Petersburg where it remained until 1874.
In 1874 the Russian Imperial family made a further connection with the house of Württemberg, with Grand Duchess Vera Konstantinovna, daughter of Konstantin Nikolayevich, marrying Duke Eugene of Württemberg. This painting became the property of Vera Konstantinovna, who was adopted by her childless aunt Olga Nikolayevna. She, in turn, left it to her own daughter Olga. The private collection of the royal house of Württemberg contained several other works by Franz Ludwig Catel which were sold to various buyers in 1919.
Brought to the Dorotheum by a private collector from Rome, A Stroll in Palermo was auctioned in its original frame. Tsarskoye Selo was represented in Vienna by Dr. Burkhardt Göres, a renowned art historian from Berlin.
A Stroll in Palermo will return to its historical place of display in the Marble (Billiard) Drawing-Room of the Alexander Palace after the latter’s restoration, which is to commence in 2012.