Pieces of the Russian history in the Swiss auction house
The Russian sales in December 2010 and 2011 at Hotel Des Ventes were exceptionally successful featuring very rare and important Russian history pieces. The collections consisted of the unrevealed documentary of the Romanov family: letters, photos, postcards, and even watercolours made by the imperial family members. The auctions broke several records, making Hotel des Ventes one of the most famous auction houses in the world.
MYSTERIOUS OWNER OF THE COLLECTION
|Alexander III family|
All objects of the collection (the first part revealed in 2010 and then in 2011) once belonged to Ferdinand Thormeyer, whose personality is not yet quite explored by historians. Ferdinand Thormeyer was born 1 Ferbuary 1858 in Carouge in the suburbs of Geneva. In the 19th century it was common to seek fortune abroad, and Ferdinand Thormeyer was not an exception. At the age of 18 he went to the Russian Empire, and after some years of studies was granted the right to work as a tutor at military schools and cadet corpse. In after years he was awarded a number of honorary orders, and among his greatest achievements was his nomination to the post of a tutor to the children of the Emperor of Russia Alexander III, who was the last but one emperor of the ruling Romanov dynasty.
Thormeyer was a modest and reserved person, and not without that reason was he warmly admired by the imperial family. He taught George Romanov and Nicholas Romanov French language and literature, and later became a mentor to Mikhael Romanov, Olga Romanova and Xenia Romanova. The relationship between the tsar’s children and Thormeyer may be called trustworthy, which is documented in their long-lasting correspondence started in 1887, and ended only after his death.
In the letters revealed young Michael, Olga and Xenia discussed with Thormeyer mainly their everyday activity, such as games with cousins, hunting and cycling. As they grew older they changed to thoughts on Revolution, hard life far from Russia, financial problems and difficulties in bringing up their children. It was until his death in 1918 that Grand Duke Michael called Thormeyer “my angel Sesha”, und often ended his letters with the message “Michael, who adores you”. Olga continued to write letters to Thormeyer even after 1944, by when he had died.
During WWII Fredinand Thormeyer served in the headquarter office of the Red Cross where he often visited Russian war prisoners. Soon after his death the valuable collection of photos, letters and souvenirs from the Romanov was carefully preserved and packed by his relatives in travel cases to be stored in the loft.
UNEXPECTED FIND BY THORMEYER DESCENDANTS
Descendants of Ferdinand Thormeyer never suspected the existence of the unique and exceptional collection. The unnoticeable travel cases were carried together with other things during removals and had never been opened. However in 2010 the content of the suitcases was finally shown to Bernard Piguet.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE COLLECTION
|Mikhael Alexandrovich Romanov|
|Georgij Aleksandrovich Romanov|
The find was incredible: around 2000 objects including 1000 handwritten letters, sent by the Romanovs to their mentor Thormeyer, who in return sent back messages of kind words in their good and bad times, 400 telegrams, around 150 photographs, 200 postcards and other memorable documents and objects. One of the pieces was a gifted cigar case made of silver and rose gold with the engraving inside: “Nicholas and George to M. Thormeyer in the memory of three good years”.
The collection included rare letters of Olga Alexandrovna Romanova, photographs of Alexander III, Nicholas II, Mikhael Alexandrovich Romanov and other members of the family never revealed before. The photographs of young dukes and duchesses were exceptionally valuable. By the initiative of Bernard Piguet the entrance to the auction preview in December 2010, exhibiting unique lots at Hotel des Ventes, was free of charge, which allowed general public to become closer to the Russian history.
Some time later, in the heap of old things in the same loft, the descendents of Ferdinand Thormeyer found another set of precious lots – around 300 photographs of the Romanov family, which likewise had never been published before. Some of the photos were hand-signed by Nicholas II, his sisters and brothers. The servants of the imperial family carefully registered the place where the photographs were taken and marked the date. The price on such photos was particularly high. Other important lots of the collection were two photo albums with around 50 photographs each. Some photographs were sold as combined lots, and those more precious were sold separately. Thus the auction run in December 2011 was not less successful than the auction of 2010.
INCREDIBLE “RUSSIAN ART AUCTION” 2010
6 December 2010 at the reception before the auction the visitors did not show much interest to the imperial collection. The mood changed during the sale, when not only Thormeyer’s pieces were sold at record price, but also the rest of the Russian art lots – icons, Russian porcelain, silver etc. Some pieces were sold at price higher 5-10 times forecast by the specialists of the auction house. The auction beat several world records of the sales of such kind. Bernard Piguet highlighted that the history of the Romanov family attracts interest not only of Russians, but also many people from Europe and around the world.