Painting Princess Tarakanova by Konstantin Flavitsky

Konstantin Flavitsky. Painting Princess Tarakanova, 1864
Konstantin Flavitsky. Painting Princess Tarakanova, 1864

Painting Princess Tarakanova by Konstantin Flavitsky is an artistic version of the death of the impostor in the Peter and Paul Fortress

Princess Tarakanova is a painting by Konstantin Dmitrievich Flavitsky, the heroine of which is an adventurer who has made claims to the Russian throne. According to the artist, the self-styled daughter of Elizabeth Petrovna died during the flood of 1777.

A young woman stands on the bed, huddled against a grim, cracked wall. Her clothes are in disarray, under her feet is a lamb skin, apparently serving as a blanket. To the right, from a narrow window, water gushes, pouring over the floor of the cell and already reaching the prisoner’s bed. Rats climb here, fleeing the flood. The heroine doesn’t care. Her head is thrown back, her eyes are half-closed. Flavitsky used brownish, dirty gray, gloomy colors.

The strip of light, the bed and the underskirt of the prisoner, visible between the folds of the burgundy dress, stand out with yellowish spots. Even the princess’s pale skin took on an earthy hue. The artist’s skill makes the viewer feel the horror of the inevitable death that fettered the unfortunate woman. Author: Konstantin Dmitrievich Flavitsky (1830-1866).


Year of writing: 1864.
Size: 245 x 187.5 cm.
Style: Realism.
Genre: Portrait, historical.
Technique: Oil painting.
Material: Canvas. Location: State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Konstantin Flavitsky was a promising Russian artist of the 19th century.

As a student of the academic school, he gravitated towards romanticism, trying to convey emotions through his works, to arouse in the viewer a desire to sympathize with the characters. For his work, the master took as the basis of the plot the legendary version of the impostor who declared herself the heir to the Russian throne. Count A.G. Orlov, on behalf of Catherine II, deceived her from Italy to Russia and handed her over to arrest in the Peter and Paul Fortress. The image of the last minutes of the heroine’s life can be interpreted as an allegory. The death of the princess is a foregone conclusion, she cannot fight the elements, just as she is powerless against autocratic power.

Emperor Alexander II, having visited the exhibition of the Academy of Arts in 1864, declared that the plot had nothing to do with the historical one. According to the official version, the real heroine of the events died in prison from tuberculosis, two years before the flood.

The painting “Princess Tarakanova” by Konstantin Dmitrievich Flavitsky made a great impression on his contemporaries. The artist created a sense of belonging, as if the viewer was looking into a real casemate. Despite the fact that the painter received the title of professor for his work, no one dared to buy it, fearing the royal anger. The work was acquired by Pavel Tretyakov for his gallery, after the death of the author.

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