Tuesday, January 24, 2012


("Olga Nikolayevna, Queen of Wurttemburg," Franz Winterhalter, 1865, Wurttembergisches Landsmuseum, Stuttgart, Germany)

We all know that it is possible to over do anything in life.

(That is, of course, with the exception of eating chocolate.)

It is also true that any queen worth her salt knows she must look spiffy in her official royal portraits.

After all, she is the first royal lady of her country and she should look the part, shouldn't she?

Olga Nikolayevna, later Queen Olga of Wurttemburg, certainly thought so.

This blue-blooded lady, born in 1822, was sister to the doomed Alexanader II of Russia.

The very same Alexander II who was ousted as czar during the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.

Miss Olga came with a long list of desirable characteristics.

Olga was attractive, cultured and intelligent.

She spoke several languages and thoroughly enjoyed music and painting.

She was one of the most eligible princesses in the Europe of her day.

Olga's parents wanted her to secure a high level dynastic marriage.

Three of her siblings had not done so well in the marriage department.

Each of them married - how shall I put this? - lesser members of European royal families.

So the pressure was on Olga to step up to her royal duty and outshine them all.

After only a few meetings, Olga accepted Crown Prince Charles of Wurttemburg's proposal of marriage in 1846.

The wedding was a royal shindig of the finest sort.

It was held at the Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Now that's saying something!

That's because Peter the Great of Russia became entranced with a little place called "Versailles" when he visited France several decades earlier.

So he went home to St. Petersburg and threw together his own version of Louie's palatial home.

I have seen both of these royal estates.

They literally glow with glittery architecture, furniture and decorative accessories.

(Louis XIV Bedroom in Versailles)

And they are a hoot to visit!

But I gotta say that, in my opinion, both Louie and Peter frequently passed the realm of good taste in their respective dwellings.

Too much of a good thing is often just too much!

(Peterhof, St. Petersburg, Russia)

Anyway, after the splendiferous wedding, Olga got busy with her royal work.

She dedicated her life to several social causes - particularly the education of girls.

I love this woman!

And she supported wounded veterans and children's health needs.

These charitable works endeared Olga to her subjects.

As a result, she was more popular in German society than her husband.

She was personally interested in agriculture and held a firm fondness for all of the day-to-day happenings on her farming estate.

Olga loved natural science as well.

She collected minerals and identified them in a systematic fashion.

As of 2011,  part of her collection is still on display in the Staatliche Museum fur Naturkunde in Stuttgart.

And to this very day, Olga's name is attached to a geological formation in the Northern Territory of Australia.

Well, now, this woman came packed with brains and she knew how to use them!

Olga was admired for her "dignity" and "queenly demeanor" as well.

During a visit by Olga and Charles to Austria in July, 1873,  a lady-in-waiting to Empress Elisabeth of Austria reported her observations of the royal couple:

"He is most insignificant.  She, however, makes a most imposing appearance."

That "imposing appearance" is readily apparent in Franz Xaver Winterhalter's 1865 royal portrait of Olga.

Winterhalter was a student of Joseph Stieler - the master who painted last week's subject, Maria, Queen of Bavaria.

As so often happens in the world of art, Joseph's student eventually surpassed his teacher in the mastery of technique and artistic innovation.

Eventually, Franz was appointed court painter to Grand Duke Leopold of Baden.  This was a promotion that jump started his career.

After success there, he moved to Paris in 1834 where the "citizen king" Louis Phillipe and his successor Emperor Napoleon III recognized his talent and kept him busy painting leading members of Parisian society.

It wasn't long before word got out concerning Franz's artistic talents.  When that happened many of the royal houses of Europe came knocking on Winterhalter's door.

For example, it is known that Franz painted the family of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of England at least 120 times.

Winterhalter was particularly skilled in combining "likeness with flattery and enlivening official pomp with modern fashion.  He created the image his royal sitters wished or needed to project to their subjects.  He was skilled in the art of painting fabrics, furs, jewelry and facial features as well.  His portraits are elegant, refined, life-like and pleasantly idealized."

Franz became an international celebrity of the first degree due to his royal patronage. The constant demand for his work made him a very wealthy man.  Though Franz desired to paint other subject matter, he was destined to paint portraits of the rich and notable for the rest of his life.

It was no surprise when Olga Nikolayevna asked Franz to record her queenly image for the ages.

He, of course, desired to accommodate her.

Let's take a look.

One glance at Olga's gown tells us that this woman is dripping in royal blood.

That splendid dress is a feast for the eyes - especially for all of us dedicated blue and white lovers!

Indeed, one can almost reach out and feel the soft texture of Olga's blue velvet over-skirt.

I love the background details in this painting.

Those gauzy greens, cloud-swirled skies and carved stones are the perfect note of serenity for Queen Olga's portrait.

We can't help but notice that Olga's ensemble is literally laden with heavy strings of pearls.

They seem to be hanging from every possible point on Olga's gown, don't they?

We see large loops of them drooping everywhere.

I'm thinking that the queen went a little too far with all those magnificent pearls.

But you know what?

There have been those times in my life when I have overdone it with jewelry myself.

So I can empathize with Olga's overzealous desire to wear her beloved pearls.

This girl loves her pearls!

It's easy to get caught up in the excess of lovely things.

I'm seriously guilty of this myself.

So thank you, Queen Olga, for reminding me that I don't really need another vase, bracelet, blouse or......bite of heavenly chocolate.


What about that last piece of gooey chocolate sitting seductively in that golden box?

Isn't there some sort of law that says "it is not lawful to pass up the last piece of chocolate in a box?"

There has to be!

I can tell you this:

Olga and I have made a pact born of courage and self-mastery.

We're going to pass up that last piece of chocolate lying innocently in the box.

That's because we're off to check out the new line of pearls at Tiffany's!

NOTE:  Some of the information in this post was sourced through "Wikipedia" and Claudia Lanfranconi's wonderful book,  "Girls in Pearls."


  1. Not only lovely and smart, she must have been in really good shape to be able to wear a gown that must have weighed a ton!

  2. Lovely post, lovely portrait; I'm a huge fan of Winterhalter. One thing, though. You're a few generations off with the "ousted" tsar/czar. It was Alexander II's grandson, Nicholas II, who fell victim to the revolution.