PORTRAIT OF JULIA AND MARTHA TAAFFE

Author

Prince Grigori Grigorievich Gagarin

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Dated mai 1832, watercolour over pencil, on paper watermarked J. Whatman Turkey Mill 1826. The son of Grigori Grigorievich Gagarin, Russian Ambassador in Rome and Munich, Gagarin never underwent the rigours of formal training at the Academy, but while in Italy (1816-32), he was able to study informally with Karl Briullov, the leading romantic artist of the day who undoubtedly exercised a major influence on Gagarins development. Until he was thirteen, Gagarin lived with his parents in Paris and Rome and then studied in Siena. After 1826, he resided in the Russian Embassies in Paris, Rome, Constantinople and Munich. He returned in 1839 to St. Petersburg where he met Pushkin who commissioned him to make a series of illustrations to accompany his works. Between 1834 and 1839 Gagarin undertook diplomatic missions to Munich and Constantinople. He also travelled widely in Russia making sketches and joined the campaign in the Caucasus, where Muslim tribesmen were resisting the Russian administration. In 1841 he took part in a military expedition to Daghestan. While in the Caucasus he met the exiled romantic writer Lermontov; they became firm friends, even collaborating in painting watercolours. In 1855 Gagarin was nominated to the staff of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna, the President of the Imperial Academy of Art, and in 1859 he became Vice-President, a member of the Russian archaeological society, and did much to further the study of Byzantine art. In 1832, while in Italy, he met and courted the Irish girl Julia Taaffe. He wrote her letters, and with these Julia was given a series of romantic drawings to amuse and flatter her. This series of watercolours celebrates his love for her, and records how deeply he was wounded. Eventually they were all mounted in an album stamped Rome 1832 in gold on the front . From Julia they passed to a great-niece, who added some explanatory notes to the album (perhaps not altogether accurate). Gagarin proposed to Julia but was turned down, and Julia eventually married an Irishman, Theobald Mackenna. She died in 1881. For the story of this romance see Brigid Brophy, The Prince and the Wild Geese, London, 1983.