Russian Art in Washington D.C.

Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973), heir to the Post cereal fortune, was the founder of Hillwood Museum and Gardens – her former twenty-five acre estate in Washington, DC. This is one of my favorite works of art that is housed in her former home.


This large painting depicts one of the most important social and political events of old Russia, a wedding uniting two families of the powerful boyar class that dominated Muscovite politics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The artist has singled out that moment during the wedding feast when the guests toast the bridal couple with the traditional chant of “gor’ko, gor’ko,” meaning “bitter, bitter,” a reference to the wine, which has supposedly turned bitter. The newlywed couple must kiss to make the wine sweet again. The toast occurs towards the end of the feast when a roasted swan is brought in, the last dish presented before the couple retires.

For the rest of these photos I zoomed in on the painting above to get more of the detail to share…


The sumptuously attired guests at this lavish wedding feast fete the newlyweds in a candlelit dining hall replete with gleaming silver and gold and richly embroidered linens. Konstantin Makovskii painted this work in 1883, two hundred years after such an event would have occurred. The Russian revival style was quite popular at the time, as Russians were nostalgic for the traditions predating Peter the Great’s efforts to westernize the country.


Mrs. Post acquired the painting in the 1960’s. It was among her final major acquisitions as she and her curator, Marvin Ross, prepared to open her home as a museum.



On her death in 1973, Mrs. Post’s final and most important philanthropic gesture became reality when Hillwood, her last estate in Washington, DC, was bequeathed to the public as a museum. Her magnificent French and Russian collections remain on view at Hillwood Museum and Gardens, where her legacy of opulent beauty and gracious elegance continues to thrive.


I saw this next painting at the National Portrait Gallery. I was drawn to it again because of it’s Russian origin. The Samovar on the table suggests that it was a tea gathering. My parents and relatives were from the Peasant class so they never dressed up like this or had such a luxurious tea…



Many times at our Russian wedding receptions in the States the tradition of tapping our tea glasses with silverware to alert the newly wed couple that our tea was not sweet was performed. This was to inform the newlyweds they needed to stand and kiss each other to sweeten our tea.  The Russian receptions that I attended did not serve alcohol so the “tea not being sweet” replaced the “wine is bitter” Chai nye slotky is one phonetic way to pronounce “the tea is not sweet”…

Despite myself I’ve had a productive week so far. I mowed the lawn, got some laundry done, cooked some new dishes, ran errands, payed bills, picked up books at the library, and did some shopping. I’m getting ready to take a few days off to have some fun with a bloggy friend flying into town. The main event we’ll be enjoying is the Sequim Lavender Festival on Friday. Of course you’ll be seeing what we did and where we went because neither of us will be forgetting our cameras…

Have a great Wednesday! I’ll be watching the U.S. Women play France in a World Cup semi-final.

HT: Hillwood Estate Museum & Gardens Tour Guide.

Icons from Russia ~ Hillwood Museum

We are already up to the letter I in Jenny’s Alphabe-Thursday. Thank you Jenny for hosting.

This long post is a series of photos and information about Marjorie Merriweather Post’s amazing collection of Russian treasures including Icons from the Russian Orthodox Church. Mrs. Post’s collection was very interesting to me because of my Russian heritage. Both of my parents were born in Russia. My parents and their families were not Orthodox, although they have many Orthodox friends. I still find these treasures fascinating.


Icon artists are not expected to be original, but instead replicate an “original” image as faithfully as they can. Therefore, it may seem that icons are repetitive. However, each work of art differs subtly from one to the next. Each generation of iconographers contributes to the steady and subtle development of the genre. Each geographical area, each era and each monastery has a distinctive style.


Russians sometimes speak of an icon as having been “written”, because in the Russian language (like Greek, but unlike English) the same word (pisat’, писать in Russian) means both to paint and to write. Icons are considered to be the Gospel in paint, and therefore careful attention is paid to ensure that the Gospel is faithfully and accurately conveyed.


Russian icons are typically paintings on wood, often small, though some in churches and monasteries may be much larger. Some Russian icons were made of copper. Many religious homes in Russia have icons hanging on the wall in the krasny ugol, the “red” or “beautiful” corner.


Mrs. Post has some four hundred objects in her Icon Room including creations by Carl Faberge, the celebrated jeweler to Russia’s imperial rulers. The icons and chalices represent the types of objects Mrs. Post acquired through government-sponsored storeroom sales and commission shops in the Soviet Union. She bought them during a period in the 1930’s, when the Soviet government sought to sell imperial treasures to raise hard currency to finance its industrialization program.



Notable among Mrs. Post’s eighty pieces of Faberge objects are two imperial Easter eggs.


Both eggs were gifts from Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, to his mother, Maria Fedorovna. Nicholas’ father, Alexander III, had begun the Romanov family practice of presenting specially commissioned Easter eggs to loved ones in 1885. The tradition endured for more than thirty years and yielded in excess of fifty eggs.


The stunning, midnight blue Twelve monograms Easter Egg is decorated with the Cyrillic initials AIII, for Alexander III, and MF, for his wife. Maria received this egg in 1895 as the first of many eggs Nicholas would give her following his father’s death.


Nicholas presented his mother with the pink Catherine the Great Easter Egg in 1914. This egg’s pink and white cameo-like medallions bear scenes fo the arts and sciences. Cherubs representing the four seasons adorn the smaller ovals. Between the panels in raised gold are musical instruments. This egg was named for Catherine the Great because of the marvelous “surprise” it once held inside – a miniature figure of the empress. The surprise, revealed by opening the top of the egg, was lost long ago.









Among the ceremonial objects on view are icons created for the veneration of saints, elaborate chalices used for communion, and ornate textiles, including vestments, or priest’ robes, chalice covers, and altar cloths.








I’m really in awe of Mrs. Post’s collections and her foresight in collecting and preserving these amazing treasures.

Remember if you are ever in Washington D.C. put Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens on your list of places to visit.

Photobucket replaced all my photos with blurred out versions and they are holding my photos hostage until I pay them lots of money. I’m slowly going through all my posts and trying to clean them up and replacing some photos. Such a bother.