TSAR ALEXANDER II. This brilliant sixth plate daguerreotype has been in Erin’s collection for many years. After much thought, and searching to find what it was copied from, we came to the following conclusion a few years ago: The dag is a copy of another, larger daguerreotype that was heavily tinted. As you can see, certain parts of this dag are more life-like than others but this daguerreotype, nevertheless, feels photographic (i.e., not a copy of a painting or other medium). Being a copy of a tinted dag would explain that. Having seen and studied many copies of dags over the year, in many formats, we feel confident in this explanation.
Alexander II was Russian Emperor from 1855-1881. We believe the original daguerreotype was executed circa 1855-1856, when Alexander was about 37 years old. The copy we offer for sale was most likely done at that time too. Known as a reformer, indeed the “Tsar-Liberator,” he came to the throne in the middle of the Crimean War, during which Russia’s backwardness compared to Europe was evident. His father had been draconian and Alexander took the throne determined to modernize Russia. His greatest reform was the Emancipation Act that freed the serfs on February 19, 1861. He also expanded the railroads exponentially, passed educational reforms, introduced localized self-government, upgraded the military, and changed the judicial system. That said, in later years, as revolutionary thoughts stewed in Russia, nationalist movements grew in the greater Empire, and terrorists repeatedly tried to kill him, he became stricter. He was killed on March 13, 1881 when a group called the People’s Will succeeded in throwing a bomb to overturn his carriage and killed some of his Cossack guards. He survived the carriage attack, but when he got out to see to his men, another terrorist killed him with yet another bomb. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg is built on the spot where he died.
Alexander II was in his early twenties as the news of daguerreotypes, and the works themselves, spread across the world. The three daguerreotypes Daguerre made and sent to Alexander’s father, Tsar Nicholas I, in 1839 were rediscovered in 2002. The images were on display at the Hermitage several years ago. The royal family was captivated by daguerreotypes at once (indeed, Russia had been aware of and studying Niepce’s and Daguerre’s work for years). Over the generations, the family continued their love of and support of photographic ingenuity until the end of the empire.
A few years ago, Erin found the pictured CDV, which, as you can see, is a copy of that same, perhaps lost, original daguerreotype. It has been worked over, of course (note the change in collar decoration), but it is clearly made from the same image. Photographic (especially cartes de visite) and other representations of Alexander II are easily found, but daguerreotypes are not, despite that surely, many of them would have been made. Also below this text is a reversed lithograph of Alexander in the same uniform, but in a slightly different pose. We could find no provenance for the image, as it appears only on a few random websites, so we list it here as unattributed. The last example pictured is a lithograph from a book of those prominently involved in the Crimean War. It’s difficult to make out the tiny writing underneath the lithographs, but it appears that each of them was made from a daguerreotype (the last word appears to be Daguerreotype). Thus, the daguerreotype the lithograph was based on would have been made around the same time as the one we are offering here. You will note that he’s wearing a different uniform and the medal lineup is changed. You can find the book online here. I have yet to figure out who put this website together, but it’s a treasure trove of imagery.
The dag is resealed and in fine condition, with colorful tarnish around the periphery. It comes in a nice thermoplastic case with a shell design that we added to the image, which lacked a case when purchased. The provenance for this image is unknown. We purchased it at a flea market in upstate NY. As a particularly happy bit of serendipity, we were shopping with one of Erin’s Russian professors at the time. He immediately recognized the Tsar and animatedly encouraged us to buy the piece.