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Winter Palace Table est £150,000 - £200,000. Sold for: £916,000. Photo: Bonhams.

NEW BOND STREET.- A striking, circular table originally placed in the Golden Drawing Room in the Winter Palace, the main residence of the Russian Imperial family in St. Petersburg, has sold for £916,000 in the Russian Sale at Bonhams New Bond Street on December 1st. Reflecting the legendary opulence of the Russian Empire, the table encompassed an intricate design and range of materials, from coral to onyx and turquoise. Exceeding the pre-sale estimate of £150,000 – 200,000 by over four times, bidders were clearly keen to secure this important piece of history.

Commenting on the extraordinary success of the table, Yelena Harbick Director of Russian Art in Bonhams NY adds:  "Having secured the magnificent table early on allowed ample time to thoroughly research the provenance in Russian archives and to establish its relevance within its Imperial context. We never doubted that a work of such historical importance would be well received by our clients."

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An Imperial Russian gilt-bronze centre table, the marble top with a lapidary relief bouquet. photo Bonhams

Imperial Lapidary Factory in Peterhof, design by Joseph August Satory (1803-1868), bronze mounts by Nichols and Plincke English Shop, 1842
the circular top depicting a bouquet of flowers surrounded by a lapis lazuli Greek key border, the gilt-bronze surround with a frieze of cartouches, on a foliate stem and tri-form base mounted with swans, on a scrolling foliate frieze and acanthus cast feet; verso of the top stamped in Cyrillic 'Z.D. IX N 207' (inventory mark of the Winter Palace), paper labels: 'Zimnii Dvorets/Polov.Glavn./Komn/23 Zolot.Gost./N 227' and another: '4134/18'; height: 77cm (30in).; diameter: 72.5cm (28 1/2in). Sold for £916,000

PROVENANCE: Commissioned for Empress Alexandra Fedorovna (1842), presented to Grand Duchess Maria Aleksandrovna, future Empress Maria (1844) and became part of the furnishings of the Golden Drawing Room, Winter Palace, St. Petersburg
Probably sold in late 1920s through Antikvariat
Private collection, Germany

This magnificent circular table is striking in its whimsical eclectic style, flawless execution and important Imperial provenance. One of only two known tables of its kind, it predates the similar table in the British Royal Collection by two years, making it one of the most important pieces of Russian furniture ever to come up at auction.

Executed at the famous Lapidary Factory at Peterhof founded in the XVIII century by the decree of Empress Elizabeth, the table reflects the enormous mineral riches of the Russian land and the fabled wealth and elegance of the Russian Imperial court. According to the documents discovered in the State Russian Historical Archives in St. Petersburg, the present table was completed at the factory in July 1842 as a gift to Empress Alexandra Fedorovna, wife of Nicholas I, but instead a month later was delivered to her daughter-in-law, Grand Duchess Maria, and was installed in her private apartments in the Winter Palace, the main residence of the Russian Imperial family in St. Petersburg (Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi Istoricheskii Arkhiv [RGIA] {Russian State Historical Archives}, fond 504, opis 1, delo 254, list 7, 12, 25, 28).

The remarkably intricate stone mosaic was made not in the typical pietra dura technique but as a low and medium relief and was protected with a glass panel secured by the bronze mounts. It features a splendid bouquet of tulips, delphiniums, rose buds, primulas, anemones, daffodils, dahlias, forget-me-nots, and morning glories realistically executed in agate, jasper, coral, onyx, turquoise and opal. Surrounding the central composition is a white Greek key border set against the deep blue lapis lazuli background. The total cost of the table is listed in the factory's documents as '5715 golden rubles', a remarkable amount reflecting the high quality of the work by experienced stonecutters and bronze makers (RGIA, fond 504, opis 1, delo 275, list 6). The same document revealed the name of the artist responsible for the magnificent floral composition: Joseph August Satory (1803-1868), an Austrian floral painter from Vienna was commissioned by the Peterhof Lapidary Factory to draw several compositions for the lapidary panels. Little is known about this artist beyond the fact that he maintained a lithographic workshop in Vienna and specialised in floral still lives. Not until recently was it discovered that in September 1839, Satory visited St. Petersburg and participated in several academic exhibitions as a 'floral painter'. His works caught the eye of the Russian Empress Alexandra and she acquired at least one painting showing lavish orchid arrangements, which was kept in the Ropsha Palace (Joseph August Satory, Bouquet of flowers in a vase, reproduced in Star of Renaissance, St. Petersburg, 2008, issue 8, page 82). The highly ornamented gilt-bronze table mounts were commissioned at the renowned Nichols and Plincke Company in St. Petersburg famous for its fashionable designs and meticulously executed bronzes. The legendary establishment had been in existence since 1789 under the name 'English Shop' owned by a succession of Englishmen. At the beginning of the 19th century, William Nichols and Constantine Plincke took over the company and turned it into a landmark establishment, producing bronzes, silver and jewellery according to the latest European fashions and employing the best craftsmen in the Russian capital. As a result, the workshop was able to produce the highest quality bronze and to secure a number of lucrative Imperial commissions. An invoice in the State Historical Archives reveals that the English Shop was paid 700 rubles for the bronze mounts for this table (RGIA, fond 504, opis 1, delo 275, list 13). Apparently unmarked, the bronze-work most likely was made at the workshop of Carl Johan Tegelstein (1798-1852), Finnish-born bronze workmaster, who worked under direct commission from Nichols and Plincke's company as well as directly with the architects responsible for remodelling Imperial Palaces in the Russian capital (Igor Sychov, Russkie Svetil'niki aepokhi klassitsizma, 1760-1830, St. Petersburg, 2003, page 197 and Igor Sychov, Russian Bronzes, Moscow, 2003, page 227).

Apparently the present table made such an impression on the members of the Russian Imperial family that two years later a very similar table was made at the factory to be presented to Queen Victoria from Emperor Nicholas I after his state visit to England in June of 1844. The table is now on view at the exhibition Victoria & Albert: Art and Love at the Queen's Gallery in Buckingham Palace in London (19 March 2010- 5 December 2010) [J. Marsden (ed.), Victoria & Albert, Art and Love, Royal Collection Publications, St. James's Palace, London, 2010, n. 165, p. 241, colour illustration]. With a remarkably similar lapidary panel featuring a splendid floral arrangement within a lapis lazuli and white marble border encapsulated in circular bronze mounts, it rests on an elaborate bronze pedestal marked with C. Tegelstein stamp. Delivered to Windsor palace in December 1844, the table was placed in the White Drawing Room and remained part of the Royal Collection and can be seen in the Joseph Nash (1809-1878) colour lithograph (the table is on the right near the window).

It is unclear why the table made for Empress Alexandra was redirected to the suite of rooms designated as the private apartments of Grand Duchess Maria, wife of Grand Duke Alexander Nikolaevich, the future Alexander II, nevertheless, on 12th August, 1844 with great precautions, the present table was delivered to the Golden Drawing Room of the Winter Palace. Reconstructed in 1838-1840 by the architect Alexander Briullov following the devastating fire of the Winter Palace in 1837, the Golden Drawing Room was splendidly decorated with lavish elegance and luxurious touches, such as this table, throughout. A watercolour by A. Kol'b shows the interior of the Golden Drawing Room in the 1860s after it was further remodelled by Andrei Schtakenshneider. It illustrates the gilded plasterwork, massive gilt-bronze chandeliers, and elaborate parquetry floors: the luxurious interior of the grand room used for private dinner parties and receptions, informal dancing parties for intimate circles of friends, and Christmas parties for the Imperial family (T. A. Petrova, Komnaty Imperatritsy Marii Aleksandrovny v Zimnem Dvortse, Gosudarstvennyi Ermitazh, St. Petersburg, 2007, pp. 45-56). Three small alcoves with elevated platforms near the windows facing the Admiralty building were created for intimate conversations and furnished with gilded chairs and three elegant tables, of which the present table is one.

Grand Duchess Maria Aleksandrovna adored the Golden Drawing room and retained it as her private reception room even after she became Russian Empress. In a letter to her brother she noted: 'the large Golden Drawing Room is reminiscent of the Throne Hall of the Bavarian Kings; on a sunny day it is magnificent'.

Today the Golden Drawing room in the Winter Palace houses the Hermitage museum collection of cameos and carved stones. Although the room has retained its original décor, few of its original furnishings survived the tumultuous years of the Revolution (two other Italian tables with pietra dura tops are now on view at the Pavilion Hall in the Small Hermitage). Research indicates that the present table, like many other original furnishings from the private rooms of the Imperial family, was sold in the 1920s through Antikvariat, a state-run commission shop that catered to foreigners and diplomats. The piece ultimately ended up in a private collection in Germany where it remained undiscovered and virtually unknown until today.

We would like to thank Adrienne Summers, floral designer, Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens, Washington, DC for her help in identifying the flowers on the mosaic panel.

The table in the Royal Collection with very similar lapidary work also completed by the Imperial Lapidary Works at Peterhof can be viewed up until 5th December 2010 in the exhibition: Victoria & Albert: Art and Love at the Queen's Gallery in Buckingham Palace in London.

Further highlights included a riverside scene with a crane and barge by Robert Rafailovich Falk, painted by the artist during his time in France that sold for £120,000. A painting by Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky entitled, Sunset over the Golden Horn (Constantinople) from Pera was also one of the top ten lots, selling for £96,000. There was much interest in the room for a painting by Konstantin Ivanovich Gorbatov entitled, Harbour View and Sunset, which sold for £65,000 against the pre-sale estimate of £35,000-45,000. The works of art within the sale were also very successful, including a silver-gilt and enamel desk clock by one of the most important Fabergé Workmasters, Henrik Wigström. The clock sold for £108,000 against a pre-sale estimate of £45,000 – 55,000.

The icon section of the sale far exceeded pre-sale expectations. St Vladimir, “Equal to the Apostles” made in Moscow in 1896 sold for £36,000, over ten times its lower pre-estimate of £3,000. Christ Pancrator, made in St Petersburg in 1870, which had the makers mark of Pavel Ochinnikov with the Imperial Warrant, sold for £33,600 and The Mother of God of Smolensk, made in Moscow in 1891 sold for £30,000.

Commenting on the overall success of the sale, Department head Evgenia Teslyuk adds "We are extremely pleased with the results of the sale. It underscores that well priced quality objects from private collections and items of historical importance continue to captivate the market's attention. Working closely with our International offices, we benefitted from an influx of new buyers from Russia, America, Europe and Middle East.".