Baron von Stieglitz was the most prominent Russian financier, industrialist and philanthropist of his day in addition to being Governor of the State Bank of Russia, Privy Counselor, founder of the Central School of Technical Drawing and donor of its subsequent museum.
In 1859 Baron von Stieglitz commissioned prominent architect Alexander Krakau to design a magnificent waterfront mansion in the Renaissance Revival style at 68 The English Embankment, the street named after the British Embassy and English church located there. It has been historically one of the most fashionable streets in Saint Petersburg, and in the 19th century was called by the French term, Promenade des Anglais. No expense was spared on this luxurious home and he spent a staggering 3.5 million rubles, which is reflected in the splendid décor of the interiors.
Five years after the palace’s completion, Stieglitz commissioned drawings of the sumptuous interiors by the Italian painter Luigi Premazzi. The master produced seventeen watercolors documenting the décor in minute detail which has been preserved as an album in the Hermitage collection.
To adorn the state rooms in his residence, Baron Stieglitz bought and commissioned paintings by contemporary German and Austrian artists. The works, which differ in genre, manner and standard of execution, were produced by both acknowledged masters and painters just starting their careers, who belonged to the most important artistic schools of Vienna, Munich and Dresden. In this way Baron Stieglitz became the owner of some of the earliest works (today extremely rare) by Makart, Marées and a pair of artists who worked in tandem – Alexander von Liezen-Mayer and Alexander von Wagner.
Hans Makart (1840–1884), who by the end of his life had become Austria-Hungary’s foremost painter, produced one of his first monumental canvases for the Baron, on a subject from the life of Marie de’ Medici. Since the ceiling paintings and enormous historical canvases that later made Makart world-famous have tended to remain in the palaces and public buildings for which they were created, the existence in Russia of the large-format Siesta at the Court of the Medici (1863–64) can be considered great good fortune. It was paired in the mansion’s state dining-room with Return from the Hunt (1864) by the creative partnership of Alexander von Wagner (1838–1919) and Alexander von Liezen-Mayer (1839–1898).
The enigmatic and contradictory artist Hans von Marées (1837–1887) could not have been described as a famous or fashionable painter, but that did not prevent Baron Stieglitz from purchasing his Courtyard with the Grotto in the Munich Royal Residence (1862–63) for his collection. This painting, which is not typical for Marées’s mature work, provides a rare opportunity to see the sources of his artistry and the school of painting that lay behind it.
The Baron’s acquisitions also included works by venerable painters. Moritz von Schwind (1804–1871) was professor of history painting at the Academy of Arts in Munich, the creator of many monumental murals in residences, theatres and cathedrals, and retained his exalted status to the end of his days. Diana Hunting (1867), a work from his mature years, was placed in a carved wooden frame above the fireplace in the grand dining-room of the St Petersburg mansion.
While Marées, who remained in the shadow of contemporaries throughout his life, was properly appreciated in the following century, the landscape-painter brothers Albert (1808–1888) and Richard (1820–1875) Zimmermann became forgotten and are today known only to specialists. Their canvases After the Storm (1860s) and Landscape with Harvesting (1864) with their restrained palettes represent the Dresden school of landscape painting in the Stieglitz collection.