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Russian Treasures in Mexico

How did Russian treasures from the centuries-old dynasty end up in a house in Mexico?

Prince Felix Yusupov was considered one of the wealthiest men in Russia in the 1900’s.

At the age of 21, Felix Yusupov (1887-1967) was the sole heir of the patrimony of a centuries-old dynasty when his older brother died in a duel in 1908.

When he married Irina, the only niece of Tsar Nicholas II, he acquired the title of Prince Felix. He and his wife Irina were the most striking and elegant couple in Russia, until Rasputin’s assassination.

In his Moika Palace, in 1916, along with conspirators, Prince Felix assassinated Rasputin.  That and the revolution put an end to the Yusopovs extraordinary life. They were banished to one of their estates.

In February 1917, a few days after the Tsar abdicated, the Yusupovs returned to the Moika Palace to collect the most valuable treasures they could take with them. They retrieved jewels and other treasures. These included the blue Sultan of Morocco Diamond, the Polar Star Diamond, and the Marie Antoinette Diamond earrings. Then they headed abroad and exiled in Paris.

One of many Yusupov diamonds Photo credit

The sale of two paintings by Rembrandt financed much of their exile in Paris.

The family home in Paris had only three bedrooms on the second floor, atop a wooden staircase. With only one woman in charge of cleaning and cooking, staff was at a minimum. The Yusupovs accepted their circumstances and did not expect to return to their country.  They said “Now, we may not have great wealth, but we have great friends.”

It was in 1958, in Paris, where they met a young art student, Victor Manuel Contreras from Mexico. The Yusopovs welcomed him into their home for five years.

After Prince Felix’s only daughter, Irina Félixovna Yusúpova, died in 1970, the Yusopov collection was commissioned to Contreras. Contreras, now a renowned Mexican sculptor, became owner of Yusupov’s private papers and family artifacts and paintings.

When Contreras returned to Mexico, the remainder of the immense inheritance of the imperial family was stored. For years, those treasures of Tsarist Russia were kept and stored in Cuernavaca, Morelos.

What are these Russian treasures?

In November 2016, some of the Yusupov possessions owned by Contreras went up for auction by Coutau Bégarie, at the Drouot house in Paris.

400 lots of Fabergé goldsmiths, costumes, photos, letters, and drawings were put on auction. The most important object was a statuette of Jupiter made of silver, attributed to Benvenuto Cellini. Mounted on a gold base by the Cartier jewelry firm.  

The highlight of the auction was Prince Felix boyar’s outfit. It consisted of an 18th-century gold brocade suit and an orange silk taffeta jacket embroidered with silver thread, gold braid frogging and mother-of-pearl beads.

Prince Felix Yusupov ordered the outfit in St. Petersburg and wore it at the ball given at the Albert Hall in London in 1912. This suit was the outstanding lot of the sale.

There were also the famous “grotesques” painted in the late 30s by Yusopov, a collection of 25 drawings.  

Tie pins, family portraits, religious icons, clothing, handwritten letters, and  letter seals were also up for auction.