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Artists

Jérémie Pauzié, goldsmith

Jérémie Pauzié, goldsmith© Collection MAH, Geneva, CR 449

The new Russian capital soon attracted artists from all over Europe, including some from Switzerland.

Fine arts

Georg Gsell (?1675 - ?1740), originally of St Gallen, was recruited by Peter the Great in 1716 during the tsar's visit to Amsterdam where Gsell was living. Peter used Gsell's expertise as a connoisseur of Dutch art to help him purchase the many Dutch pictures which went to decorate his palace at Peterhof just outside Petersburg. Gsell and his wife Maria-Dorothea - herself an artist - subsequently went to live in Petersburg where they both worked in the Kunstkammer before Georg was appointed first curator of the Imperial art gallery founded in 1720. Four of Georg's own paintings are displayed in one of the Peterhof museums. His work also decorates the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Petersburg, the burial place of the Russian tsars.

In addition to his museum duties he taught drawing and was employed to make technical drawings, which included the entrails of a dead lion which had been kept near the Academy of Science, and a strange fish.

After Gsell's death the whole family stayed on in Russia. His daughter Katharina married the eminent Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler in 1733.

Jewellers

By the nature of their work, many of the artists who came to Russia depended on imperial patronage. Jérémie Pauzié was apprenticed to the court jeweller B Gravero and later opened his own studio. His best known work was the Russian imperial crown, made in 1762 for Catherine the Great. Russia regarded itself as the heir of the Byzantine empire, and the crown was based on a Byzantine design: it consists of two half spheres, representing the eastern and western Roman empires. It is made of gold and silver and contains 75 pearls and 4936 diamonds, and is topped with a ruby. It is now on display in the Kremlin Armoury in Moscow. Pauzié also made jewelry for the Russian nobility. He returned to Geneva in 1764.

Another Swiss, Louis-David Duval, who had been apprenticed to Pauzié succeeded him as the top jeweller in Russia. His two sons made the crown for the coronation of the wife of Alexander I in 1801.

J-P Ador, from Geneva like Pauzié, opened a studio in Petersburg in 1760, where he made enamel-ware of various kinds, gaining a particular reputation for his snuff boxes.

These three artists influenced style and fashion not only in Russia, but throughout Europe in the 18th century.

Nearly a century later, another Swiss, François Birbaum (1872 - 1947) of Fribourg, who arrived in Petersburg at the age of 14, became the chief designer for the Fabergé firm, best known for the intricate jewelled eggs it produced for the Russian imperial family. Birbaum was forced to leave Russia, much against his will, after the 1917 Revolution, and died in the Swiss town of Aigle in 1947. (Carl Fabergé also came to Switzerland when he left Russia in 1918; he died in Lausanne's Hotel Bellevue in 1920.)

Photography

In quite a different field, Fred Boissonnas of Geneva opened a photographic studio on Petersburg's main thoroughfare, the Nevsky Prospekt, in 1902. His business had branches in several European cities, but he gained fame - and fortune - in Russia as one of the photographers to the imperial family. This was a particularly lucrative line of work, because photographers were allowed to sell to the public copies of official portraits they had made of the imperial family. Not surprisingly, his studio was closed and the material abandoned once the Revolution broke out in 1917.