Zichy, Mihály

Biography

Hungarian painter and graphic artist Mihaly Zichy (1827-1906) is called “the artist who served to four Russian emperors”. He worked for more than 50 years in Russia. He was born in in Zala (Kingdom of Hungary) in the middle-class noble family, received art education in Pest, and then continued it under the guidance of the famous painter Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller in Vienna, becoming his favorite student. In 1847, following the request of Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, to teach her daughter, the niece of Emperor Nicholas I, painting - he recommended that Zichy would undertake this post. Thus, in 1848, Mihaly Zichy arrived to St. Petersburg as a teacher of painting. From now on, his fate was closely connected with Russia.

In 1849, Zichy left the teaching position and entered a photo workshop at Weninger as a retoucher, simultaneously working as a portraitist. In addition to custom-made works, he created a series of genre-satirical drawings dedicated to St. Petersburg daily life, where officers were often the principal characters. Nicholas I was fond of one of those series made in 1853. He invited the artist to Gatchina, having instructed the painter to sketch the events for several days that he spent at Court. From now on, orders became permanent. Thus, in 1856, a group of artists, including Zichy, was commissioned to make drawings of all the episodes of the Emperor Alexander II coronation for the following publication in the lithographic album.

In 1858, Mihaly Zichy – the name that he was given in Russia, was dignified to the rank of academician of watercolor painting. In 1859, the artist was granted the title of “the painter of His Imperial Majesty” with the regular salary. From now on, his duties included “cataloguing” the life of the Court and creating portraits of the Imperial family members.

In addition to the Court service, a special place in the artist’s work was devoted to illustrative graphics. Referring to the European and Russian literature, he created drawings based on the motifs of the works by M. Yu. Lermontov, A.S. Pushkin, N.V. Gogol, D. Byron, I. Goethe, W. Shakespeare and other famous poets and writers.

Since 1857, Zichy became a member of the Society for the Promotion of Artists; he was a regular participant of the so-called “Friday” evenings of drawing. In 1858 while attending one of such events, he met the famous French writer Théophile Gautier, who highly appreciated the artist’s works and influenced the perception of his works not only in Russia, but abroad as well.

In 1874, according to his own petition, Mihaly Zichy was dismissed from the post of the Court painter and left Russia; hence, he did not break his ties with the Russian artistic life. In 1881, he received a proposal to create a series of drawings for the “edition-luxe” works of M.Yu. Lermontov and returned to the Russian Caucasus. Zichy created numerous sketches and turned to Shota Rustaveli poem “The Knight in the Panther's Skin. Ten tableau vivant were staged in 1882 in Tiflis Theater, which further served as the basis for illustrations.

In 1883, Zichy received an offer to re-occupy the post of the Court painter and remained there until his death. Once more, he became the "artist-chronicler" of the Court’s life events, attending the coronation of the Emperor Alexander III and accompanying the royal family on voyages, creating cursory sketches of individuals, landscapes and costumes, sketches of compositions that were intended for the accomplished sheets. With the accession of the Emperor Nicholas II, Zichy's position did not change.

Besides his activities for the Court, Zichy was preoccupied with illustrative graphics, mainly to the works of the Hungarian poets (Imre Madách, János Arany, Sándor Petőfi, János Garay), as well as with theatrical sketches for the Court performances in the Hermitage theater.

Mihaly Zichy died in Petersburg in 1906. He was buried in his Motherland in Budapest. Until his last days, he attended the St. Petersburg receptions wearing the Hungarian ceremonial suit and retained the citizenship of his country, noting in one of the letters that he had to sacrifice himself for the sake of a sincerely beloved, but still a foreign nation …

Exhibits in the Museum Collection