From Antarctica to Alaska: two round-the-world trips by artist Pavel Mikhailov

Pioneer captains described in detail in the ship’s log everything that they happened to meet during the voyage: from hitherto unknown islands to the appearance of native monarchs. Sometimes what they saw was so exotic that words could not convey the picture in all its glory. Then they tried to accompany the story with images. It was for this purpose that professional painters were sometimes sent on trips.

War and Peace

Pavel Mikhailov was born in 1786 in the family of an actor in the imperial theaters. He himself showed a penchant for a different kind of creativity and at the age of nine he entered the Educational School at the Imperial Academy of Arts. His mentor was the portrait painter Stepan Shchukin, who produced such masters as Vasily Tropinin and Alexander Varnek. The professor of the Academy devoted himself to teaching with all his heart, teaching, as he himself wrote, “portrait painting of students, of whom up to 200 people have already left my class and who have all learned to be useful citizens and members of the Academy”.

Pavel Mikhailov also from a young age “became” a useful citizen, and later a member of the Academy. At the age of 18 and 19, he received a small and a large silver medal for drawings from life, at 20 – a small gold medal and the title of an artist of the 1st degree for the program “Imagine artists drawing views and talking to each other about their art.”

Despite the fact that Mikhailov chose the most peaceful profession, when Napoleon’s troops came to Russia, he did not sit out in the workshop.

“The war of 1812 called him under the banner of the defenders of the fatherland. He served with honor and was in business against the enemy. Returning after the campaign to the fatherland, he again took up the brush and worked with love.”

Vasily Grigorovich, conference secretary of the Academy of Arts

Pavel Mikhailov was mainly engaged in miniature painting – private commissions brought him enough money to live on. In those days, in order to receive the title of academician, it was necessary to paint a portrait of some significant person, adhering to certain rules. Mikhailov was given the coveted title by a portrait of Count Fyodor Tolstoy.

True, there is some confusion here – according to the “Jubilee Handbook of the Imperial Academy of Arts 1794-1914”, compiled by Sergei Kondakov, this happened in 1807, and the artist received the title of academician “in miniature portrait painting”. On the other hand, the Museum of the Academy of Arts presents the work of 1815, and this portrait cannot be called a miniature. The data of the Russian Museum also indicate that Mikhailov became an academician precisely in 1815. But one way or another, the artist was given a new status.


When preparations began for a round-the-world trip towards the South Pole, the Minister of Marine de Traversay turned to the President of the Academy, Alexei Olenin, with a request to recommend a good graphic artist who could join the team. So Pavel Mikhailov went to sea to discover Antarctica.

“What exactly prompted him to go on such a long and dangerous journey is unknown, but it can be assumed with sufficient certainty that these were the most ordinary reasons. As a miniaturist, Mikhailov was not in sufficient demand and needed funds. Therefore, Mikhailov the portraitist readily took for the development of new, different pictorial tasks – documentary sketches of various kinds, since the expedition needed a watercolorist and draftsman, not a painter.

Natalia Solomatina, art historian, employee of the Russian Museum

Before letting the artist go to distant lands, Olenin, at the request of the same de Traversay, developed detailed instructions for him. The fact is that Mikhailov faced tasks that were quite different from those for which the Academy had prepared him. The instruction strongly recommended drawing like this, “so that everything imagined … be the most faithful image of what you see. For this reason, you should by no means draw anything from one memory”.

In addition to memory, one should not trust creative impulses that could leave an imprint on the paintings and reduce their reliability. “It is necessary to avoid as much as possible what is seen to complement or decorate with imagination, the President of the Academy pedantically instructed. — Failure to comply with this important rule makes drawings for various trips completely useless. It would be unforgivable for you.”.

Pavel Mikhailov treated the recommendations with due attention. The result is hundreds of drawings and watercolors that allow us to see the islands, local people, polar views and much more as they were found by 19th-century navigators.

Around the world south and north

July 4, 1819 “Vostok” and “Mirny” under the command of Thaddeus Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev left Kronstadt. The first drawing, however, appeared in the artist’s album only on September 17 – this is “View of the port of Santa Cruz on the island of Tenerife.” Then follow San Sebastian, the Bay of Rio de Janeiro, sketches of various islands – South Georgia, Leskov, Vysokoye, Montagu, etc. On January 8, Mikhailov made a watercolor “View of the Ice Islands”, and eight days later the ships reached the sixth continent.

True, the painter never depicted Antarctica – it looked painfully inexpressive. “We saw solid ice”, – Bellingshausen noted on the navigation chart at latitude 69 ° 25 ‘. Mikhail Lazarev described the discovery in his diary a little more detailed: “… met hardened ice of extreme height … it stretched as far as vision could only reach”. An object worthy of capturing appeared only a couple of months later – on March 2, Mikhailov made a drawing “Aurora Borealis in Antarctica”.

The swimming went on as usual, and now the tropical islands and their inhabitants were full of colors in the album. In the meantime, the artist made a joint portrait of both captains and himself in the form of a lieutenant – the drawing is called “F. F. Bellingshausen, M. P. Lazarev and P. N. Mikhailov at breakfast with the Taitian king.”

“The king and his whole family ate willingly and washed down regularly with wine. As we had water from Port Jackson, therefore, not quite fresh, the king ordered one islander to serve coconut water; the islander, bringing coconuts, skillfully beat off the tops of them with a hammer, and the king drank water, mixing it with wine, while constantly wiping the sweat that rolled from his healthy face. When drinking unmixed wine, at each time, according to the rite of the English, he mentioned someone’s health, bowing his head and touching a glass of a glass. asked for a cigar, smoked and drank coffee.

Meanwhile, he noticed that the artist Mikhailov was sketching him furtively; so that he was calmer, I gave him my portrait painted by Mikhailov. He expressed a desire to be painted with this portrait in his hand; I answered him that if he wants to be drawn, holding someone’s image, I will give him an incomparably decent one, and handed him a silver medal with the image of Emperor Alexander I, with which he was very pleased.

Thaddeus Bellingshausen “Two-time surveys in the Southern Arctic Ocean and sailing around the world”

On a journey, the painter suddenly acquired an island of his own name – uninhabited, but replete with coconut palms. “The easternmost of these islands in latitude 21° 1′ 35″ S, longitude 178° 40′ 13” W, one mile long, half the length wide, two and a half miles in circumference, surrounded by a coral reef to WNW and OSO for a mile from the coast, to NO and SW for one third of a mile, so that the coral beds are five and a half miles in circumference, Captain Bellingshausen described this land. — I named this island by the name of the skilful painter Mikhailov who was with us.”.

Only on July 24, 1821, the travelers returned to their native port, having spent 751 days at sea. Upon his return, Bellingshausen processed the materials collected on the expedition for about three years. In 1824, he submitted to the Admiralty Department a manuscript in ten notebooks, to which he attached travel maps and Mikhailov’s drawings. Some of them were made during the expedition – animals, plants, the characteristic outlines of the islands. Others the artist painted already in St. Petersburg based on field sketches, these watercolors were intended for an atlas of maps and lithographs based on the results of the circumnavigation.

Certificate №211

This is given to Mr. Academician Mikhailov, who is in the first detachment of sloops of the Southern Expedition under my command, in that he behaved completely nobly during the two-year campaign: he sent a power of attorney by rank with special activity and zeal, which I would like to have in my team from now on; as proof of this, I testify by my signing and the seal attached to the Vostok sloop.

Dan on the Kronstadt roadstead on August 15, 1821. His Imperial Majesty the Most Gracious Sovereign of my Baltic Fleet, the head of the sloops “Vostok” and “Mirny”, who were on the Southern Expedition, captain of the first rank Bellingshausen.

In 1826, the painter again went to sea. This time he accompanied the three-year round-the-world expedition of Mikhail Stanyukovich and Fyodor Litke, the purpose of which was to explore the coast of the Bering Sea and the central part of the Pacific Ocean. And again, Mikhailov’s album began to be filled with drawings and watercolors depicting ports, islands, residents of Alaska, etc. As Vasily Grigorovich wrote later: “The appointment at different times of two expeditions around the world opened up a new field for him; he made these two trips and enriched his portfolio with many beautiful drawings, and his inquisitive mind with observations and useful information. For the labors and services rendered to him on these trips, he was awarded Order of St. Vladimir IV degree and pension”.

The last years of his life the artist spent, according to the conference secretary of the Academy, “quietly and solitude, he studied and worked. Rarely he was in society, and then only with people close to his heart”. Pavel Mikhailov died in 1840. The location of his grave is unknown. But the album with images of distant lands and their inhabitants promises the painter a long good memory.

Olga Ladygina

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