Although this miniature portrait is unsigned, it was at first thought to be by Mikhail Zatsepin, a Russian artist who was active around 1813. However, expert opinion is now that it is likely by a different unidentified artist. The sitter is identifed as "Harry Leeke Gibbs MD FRCS of St Petersburg". A note within the miniature states Dr Gibbs was private physician to the Tsar of Russia. He is shown here wearing a Russian decoration.
The marriage of Harry Leeke Gibbs (1782-1858) to Mary Ann Angliss is recorded at the British Chaplaincy, St Petersburg, Russia on 28 March 1808. In 1851 he was retired and living with his wife, his daughter Sophia M A Gibbs, who had been born in Russia in 1817, and several servants in Exeter St David, Devon, England. It therefore appears he was in Russia at least between 1808 and 1817.
The Tsar in question is not known for certain. From the date of the costume Gibbs is wearing and his sideburns which both date to around 1813, it could be either Alexander I (1777-1825) or Nicholas I (1796-1855). The former would seem to be more likely. 670
Later- A kind visitor, Sue Jones, who is descended from Dr Gibbs, has contacted me to confirm that Alexander I was the Tsar in question. She enclosed a copy of the attached note and writes;
I felt I had to e-mail to thank you for providing me with a picture of my great-great-great grandfather, Dr Gibbs, which I found online today thanks to an internet search.
Many years ago my paternal grandmother gave me a box which had belonged to this gentleman, and I attach a copy of the note she gave me at the time.
I do not know if you want to know the details of my family history but, in case it were to be of interest, I can offer the following information. I believe the daughter Sophia Gibbs (referred to in your note about Dr Gibbs) married a Devonian barrister whose surname was Shapter. They had homes in Exeter and in Bayswater in London. Their daughter Sophia Emily Shapter, born in 1851, was married in 1877 in London to Richard Holmden Amphlett, a barrister with Worcestershire roots. He later became a judge. Sophia and Richard had six children and my grandmother was their youngest daughter, Edith, who was born in Worcestershire in 1890. Sophia died in 1936, and Edith died in 1976.
The miniature portrait of Alexander I showing here is also in this collection.
I am in some difficulty about the box that belonged to Dr Gibbs, if only because it is in a very poor state of repair and I really do need to get it attended to. It is too large for a snuff box and looks as if it may either have held some Russian regalia or perhaps have held some of Dr Gibbs' medical instruments. It is made of black wood (possibly ebony?) and is lined with a pink material that is not particularly soft.
Two miniature paintings are incorporated into the box. One, on the outside of the lid, is of a Russian palace and the other, on the inside of the lid, is a likeness of a young girl, whom I have always assumed to be a Russian princess. I will photograph them for you over the next few days and send them to you for information, but I am afraid you will need to close your eyes to the sorry state of the box, whose hinges are broken and which is splitting across the top. The box measures 9 inches x 6 inches. It is 3 inches deep.
Looking at it closely once more, I am not sure that it is of any immense value. What I had thought to be miniature paintings are in fact small prints and their gilt frames have been glued onto the box rather clumsily and crookedly. I would still like to have it repaired for sentimental reasons (but not if that is going to cost me a lot of money). My suspicion is that the box was mass-produced and was not special to Dr Gibbs. Maybe it just held some imperial decoration awarded to Dr Gibbs among others.
Although it is hard to be sure, to me the box looks as if it perhaps contained a gift to Dr Gibbs or his wife, maybe jewellery, from a patient before he left Russia, where the portrait likely represents the giver of the gift and the building was her home? Such a gift could well be in a standard purchased box, which was then personalised with the added miniatures.
As he was part of the royal court, he would have had very wealthy patients who would give such gifts to their doctors and similar attendees when their services ended. At the time he left Russia, say c1825 on the Tsar's death, the only prints available would have been cheap hand-coloured engravings and it would therefore surprise me that a wealthy patient might use an engraving of herself as a decoration, when miniatures on ivory were the common form of making miniature portraits. If those thoughts are at all correct, it may be possible to send the images to Russia and see if they recognise the house (palace!) and then perhaps the girl. Also possibly the artist. If such detective work was effective it could significantly increase its value. I have had contact with miniature portraits experts in Russia in the past and if we can clarify whether they are prints or paintings I could perhaps try to send images there for you?
Sue replied again; Thank you for your informative message. I confess I said the miniatures were prints only because I couldn't see any evidence of oil paint on them. That's probably a hangover from my principal experience of miniatures: little Tudor portraits in museums! These ones are quite delicate and (especially in the case of the picture of the building) detailed, not crudely done at all, and from what you say it's likely they are watercolours on ivory. It would be great if the place could be identified and, of course, the girl. Your theory of a rich patient's gift is very plausible: I hadn't thought of Dr Gibbs having any patients other than the Tsar - but I do recognise that looking after one patient, however demanding, would hardly be a full-time job for a doctor.
I replied; Oil paints were very rarely used for miniatures as it was not possible to get such fine detail, especially after the introduction of ivory from c1700. Hearing that the miniatures seem to be watercolours on ivory is thus good news and I would guess the box might have a good auction value as it stands and perhaps more if the sitter or palace can be identified. Thus you might like to think more about repairing it.
I tried to investigate something about Dr. Gibbs’ biography. It was published in St. Petersburg annual calendar which contained the lists of all persons at the Court service. I failed to find Dr. Gibbs’ name therein. I didn’t find him in the list of the cavaliers of the Order of St. Vladimir of the 4th degree either. But I am glad to inform you that the building on the box is the country house of Dmitry Lvovich Naryshkin (Дача Нарышкина). His wife Maria Antonovna (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Naryshkina) was Alexander I’s mistress.
This box is very interesting indeed. It would be nice to get better-quality images of it if possible. As for the girl, I can’t identify her from such bad quality picture. It would be great to suppose that she is the daughter of Alexander I and Maria Antonovna. I think that the girl wears the Empire-style dress and it impossible to detect it definitely. This style was popular in Russia in the beginning of 19 c. for a long time. If this box was presented to Dr. Gibbs by the Naryshkins, we can suggest that it must be the portrait of the person who is connected with the building. It can be either Sophia Naryshkina (1808-1824) or her older sister Maria (1798-1871) .
I sent the images onto Sue who was then able to arrange better photos of the two miniatures which made it clear it was the very same country house.
Thank you so much. This is really interesting. It does begin to look as if Dr Gibbs was the physician to the mistress and her children. I wonder if Georgian/Victorian sensibilities were at play so that he told his daughter he had been physician to the Tsar rather than to his mistress? The story told in my family could only have come from his daughter.......
Dr Gibbs was in Russia c1810-1817 and so it seems less probable the miniature is of the elder step-sister, Maria Naryshkina (1798-1871). Thus, although it has not been possible to confirm it as she died at age 16, it appears more likely the miniature portrait is of Sophia Naryshkina (1808 - 18 June 1824). Unless any kind visitor knows of any image, this may be the only portrait of Sophia at this age?
She was the illegitimate daughter of Tsar Alexamder 1 and Maria Antonovna Naryshkina (Russian: Мария Антоновна Нарышкина, 1779–1854), who was born Princess Maria Antonovna Svyatopolk-Chetvertinskaya. Maria was of Polish noblity and for thirteen years the mistress of Tsar Alexander I of Russia. At least one other image believed to be of Sophia does seem to exist, the oval one in black and white, where she is several years older and it does appear very likely they are of the same person.
The research is currently at a rest unless any further information emerges, but Sue was able to send the attached photos of an oil painting one of her cousins has of Dr Gibbs in later life.
Although they are not yet identified, it is hoped the medals might help further to decipher his career....... It can certainly be seen that one of the decorations is the same as the one he is wearing at a much earlier age in the miniature portrait.
Sue also observed 'We had a family party in Worcestershire on Sunday, and people greatly enjoyed the idea that Dr Gibbs was physician to the Tsar's mistress rather than to the Tsar himself!