L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Prince Serge Obolensky, two portraits by Savely Sorine

Circa 1924.

Sergei Platonovich "Serge" Obolensky (3 November 1890, Tsarskoye Selo - 29 September 1978, Grosse Pointe, Michigan), Russian prince. As the son of General Platon Sergeyevich Obolensky, Prince Obolensky-Neledinsky-Meletzky and his wife, Maria Konstantinovna Naryshkin, he was a product of two of Imperial Russia's oldest and most prestigious aristocratic families. Like his contemporary, Prince Felix Yusupov, he went abroad to study at Oxford, where he was a member of the famous Bullingdon Club and spent a good deal of time playing polo and riding to hounds.

When the war began, he returned to Russia and joined the Chevalier Guards, later being awarded the Cross of St. George for bravery three times.  With the Revolution, he fought with the White Russian forces against the Bolsheviks, and became involved in guerrilla fighting before having to flee the country. During World War II, he was a lieutenant colonel in the United States paratroopers and a member of the OSS; in 1943, at the age of fifty-three, with only a crew of three, he parachuted into Sardinia and captured the island for the Allies.

Before and after the war, he tried his hand at various businesses, from stockbroking to sales - a friend once remarked of him, "Serge could be successful selling umbrellas in the middle of the Sahara" - and spent much of his career involved in hotel management and public relations. From 1945 to 1949, he was vice president of the Board of Hilton Hotels Corporation, and he was affiliated with several of New York City's grandest hotels, like the St. Regis, The Plaza, and the Sherry-Netherland.

He married three times. His first wife, twelve years his senior, was the daughter of Alexander II from the Tsar's second, morganatic, marriage. He married Alice Astor, of the wealthy Astor family, in 1924; they had two children before they divorced in 1932. He wed once more, seven years before his death. A man of great charm, wit, and dash, all his life women found him very attractive, and he had many "peripheral" romances and affairs. His memoir, One Man in His Time, published in 1958, is still considered one of the best primary sources on late Imperial and Revolutionary Russia, and the Russian emigré experience.

This portrait drawing, completed in 1917, was soon after shot at and damaged during an attack on the prince's palace in Yalta, and subsequently used
for a time as a "wanted poster" for Obolensky.  The artist bribed a guard for its return and later carried it out of Russia; it was eventually returned
to the prince, who used the image as the back cover of his autobiography.  (The damage is still evident in the upper left hand corner.)


Savely Abramovich Sorine (14/26 February 1878, Polotsk, Vitebsk Province - November 22 1953, New York), Russian portrait painter. The son of a Jewish tailor, he left home at the age of sixteen, and from 1895-1899 he studied art at the School of Fine Arts in Odessa. He graduated with honors and, without examination, was admitted to the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, where he studied with Repin until 1907. From that point on he became increasingly successful as a portraitist, and his work was included in many important exhibitions, including those presented by Sergei Diaghilev. He lived in Yalta during the Revolution, then Tiflis, finally emigrating to France in 1920. Of the Russian emigré artists living in Paris in the Twenties and Thirties, he was probably the most successful and well known. His subjects included major figures in society, the aristocracy and royalty, his fellow Russian emigrés, and those in theatrical and artistic circles, especially the ballet. From 1923, he spent much time in Britain and the United States.

Sorine and the sitter were great, long-time friends; Obolensky even lived in Sorine's New York apartment for two years while the prince was separated from his second wife.

1 comment:

  1. Another revelation, courtesy of Stephilius.
    Both images new to me, yet I knew that face before reading the captions, based only on Slim Aarons's photograph of the
    aged Serge Obolensky in the rooftop restaurant of the St Regis hotel.