RUSSIA; St Petersburg - MORNAY (illus.)

A Picture of St. Petersburgh,

represented in a collection of twenty interesting views of the city, the sledges, and the people. Taken on the spot at the twelve different months of the year: and accompanied with an historical and descriptive account.

London: Printed for Edward Orme, 1815 Stock Code: 120459

"One of the most beautiful plate books of St. Petersburg"

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First edition, "one of the most beautiful plate books of St. Petersburg" (Bobins Collection). Published at 6 guineas coloured, this is a superb record of the city of Peter the Great - captured in the wake of the Napoleonic wars - and divided into two sections: the first 12 plates represent the months of the year through characteristic views of the city; the other 8 illustrate different modes of transport, various types of sledges and carriages, but include excellent character studies, showing diverse types of costume by class and by season.

The 26-page introduction entitled "The present state of St. Petersburgh," includes a brief historical survey and a few statistics, along with descriptions of the main sites and monuments. "Though unsigned, the letterpress was chiefly compiled from Robert Ker Porter's Travelling Sketches in Russia and Sweden during the years 1805-1808, as many sections repeat his text verbatim" (Vincent Giroud, St. Petersburg: A Portrait of a Great City, 2003, p.72). Mornay, the artist responsible for the original sketches upon which Clark and Dubourg's aquatints were based, eludes identification and does not appear in Thieme-Becker. Martin Hardie, in characteristically waspish fashion, describes the plates as "lurid in colouring, very much in the style of toy theatre scenery" (English Coloured Books, 1906, p. 138); this is entirely unfair, the colouring in the present copy is certainly not "lurid" and the "toy theatre" quality of the views only lends them a most appealing charm: many of the views are composed in such a way that they resemble vues d'optiques - symmetrical and theatrical middle-distance perspectives - which combine well with the small, scaling figures (staffage) adding splashes of bright colour, against backgrounds of snowy streets, grey skies, and yellowish-brown buildings of this "city of stone", forming a satisfyingly picturesque effect. Two of the buildings shown - the Exchange (1809) and the Kazan Cathedral (1811) - had only recently been completed.

Edward Orme - "Publisher to His Majesty and HRH the Prince Regent" - was "after Rudolph Ackermann, the most important publisher of illustrated books during the short golden age of the coloured aquatint" (ODNB). He would have had a prudent eye on the visit of the Allied sovereigns to London in June 1814, which celebrated the Treaty of Fontainebleau (11 April 1814) and the peace following the defeat and abdication of Napoleon. Amongst them was Tsar Alexander I (who stayed with his sister, the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg, at the Pulteney Hotel on Piccadilly). "In 1809 Edward Orme had begun buying land and property in Bayswater, London. He exploited the gravel deposits, built houses, and in 1818 added a chapel of ease. Orme Square, developed between 1823 and 1826, was named after him, and Moscow Road and St Petersburgh Place nearby may have commemorated the state visit of Tsar Alexander I in June 1814. In the following year he published a volume of twenty coloured aquatint views of St Petersburg, and the reference in his will to jewellery presented to him by the emperor of Russia may be connected with these events" (ibid.).

This is a marvellous survey of one of the world's great cities, captured at the time when it served as the backdrop for Tolstoy's War and Peace.

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Folio (469 x 310 mm). Late 19th-century dark brown morocco-grain half skiver professionally refurbished, marbled sides, gilt edges, drab grey endpapers.


Additional engraved title page (incorporating a large double-headed Russian eagle), 20 handcoloured aquatint plates by Clark & Dubourg after Mornay; watermarks: plates J. Whatman 1825, text W. Balston 1813.


From the library of noted bibliophiles Maxine and Joel Spitz, with their "Trail Tree" bookplate (Joel Spitz was a member of Chicago's prestigious Caxton Club). Light offsetting from frontispiece to engraved title. An excellent copy, the plates fresh and bright, and with the four leaves of explanation of the plates (in French and English).


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