Konstantin Makovsky: "A Boyar Wedding Feast"
Konstantin Makovsky was 44 years old and one of the highest paid artists in Russia in 1883 when he painted A Boyar Wedding Feast. He had achieved fame as a portraitist and salon painter, and he was living the life of a celebrity artist when the coronation of Alexander III continued a new national patriotism rooted in the history of the tsar's Romanov ancestors. This renewed engagement with national history included a fascination with the settings, characters, and customs of the boyars, the old Russian elite of the 1600s. In its intricate detail, A Boyar Wedding Feast created an intimate connection with the men and women of the boyar class and was celebrated for its magical ability to blur the line between the present and imagined past.
A Boyar Wedding Feast was the first among Makovsky's three monumental canvases focusing on boyar wedding traditions. It was not meant to represent a specific moment in time, but rather to represent key moments of a boyar wedding feast, as understood from historical sources and with a theatrical tableau vivant as its model. The painting highlights a pivotal moment in the feast when a stuffed swan is presented to the wedding couple shortly before they leave. The scene is rich with embroidered costumes, an array of authentic boyar antiques, and the faces of some of Makovsky's famous friends and clients. Makovsky unveiled the picture in St. Petersburg in a carefully controlled public exhibition setting in which the picture appeared under gaslight at one end of a darkened room. For the next two years, the artist attempted to sell the work by organizing private exhibitions in St. Petersburg, Paris, and London. After it won the medal of honor at the Antwerp Universal Exhibition in 1885, it was purchased by New York jeweler Charles Schumann, whose novel promotion helped foster the painting's popularity and spark international enthusiasm for boyar culture.
The painting entered the collection of Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens in 1968 as a gift from Hillwood founder Marjorie Merriweather Post's friend and esteemed collector and philanthropist C. Michael Paul. It served as the focus of the 2016 exhibition Konstantin Makovsky: The Tsar's Painter and companion publication Konstantin Makovsky: The Tsar's Painter in America and Paris (2015, D Giles, Ltd.).