Vadim Zabelin: Alexei, for which other Russian artists has the Queen sat?
Alexei Maximov: I am not aware of such precedents. In 1923 Princess Elizabeth (from 1937 Queen Elizabeth) and in 1949 Princess Elizabeth (from 1953 Queen Elizabeth II) were drawn by a Russian emigre artist Savely Sorin, but they both were princesses at the time. I do not know how the sessions have been negotiated, I only know that after his departure from Russia to France in 1920, he (Sorin) was widely known in aristocratic and business circles in Europe and America. Interestingly, almost simultaneously with us, the Office of the President of Russia came up with an idea to commission a portrait of Elizabeth II as a gift to be presented during the planned state visit. A Moscow artist Sergei Prisekin has been commissioned to do the job. The efforts of the Foreign Ministry led to nothing, Mr Yeltsin presented a portrait drawn from photographs.
Vadim Zabelin: Have these drawings been made as part of a commission and why have you kept them all these years?
Alexei Maximov: Under the agreement with the Moscow Kremlin Museum I had to make enamel miniatures, which I did, leaving the artworks to the Museum after my solo exhibition at the Armory of Kremlin in September 1994. Drawings’ donation was not a part of the contract, they remained in my property. In 1992, and then in 1994 I received an offer to sell the drawings at Sotheby's. In 1992 it came personally from Sotheby’s Chairman Lord Gauri. Back then I needed them myself in order to make enamel miniatures. In 1994, the proposal was received from a Sotheby's expert who has seen my exhibition in the Kremlin. That time the possibility of a sale (especially public) seemed unethical to me. In the early 1994 through a friend who worked in London as financial advisor I received an offer from an Arab bank opening its office in London. The owner of the bank was keen to buy three drawings and three miniatures and give them as a gift to the Queen. However, the miniatures were executed as part of the Museum of Kremlin commission. My exhibition in Moscow was planned for September. I was reluctant to talk about the drawings as there was something of the politics in this proposal. At the end the pictures have been deposited in a German bank for quite a long time and now they are owned by the VZ Gallery.
Vadim Zabelin: Whose signatures are on the drawings?
Alexei Maximov: All drawings are signed by me, I also put my monogram on some of them. There are other signatures depending on the situation the pieces were created. During the sessions with Queen Elizabeth II I made two drawings, one was completed at her presence, the second I finished the next day. The one completed was signed by the Royal Secretary Sir Kenneth Scott. Before sessions we established good relationship with him, so it was easy to make such a request. During the session with Princess Anne her secretary was not present, to ask the Princess to sign the picture was not appropriate. The Queen Mother not just signed the portrait but carefully put down date and place, from the very first minute she acted very openly, at the end of the session we showed pictures to her ourselves, apparently she liked them and then signed. When I approached Queen Beatrix with a similar request I felt I put her (or rather myself) in an awkward position, the Queen replied in this manner: "I only sign state papers, I cannot sign a picture." Having had this experience we have not approached King Harald and Queen Sonia anymore. In Norway there have been four sessions, at the last of them a lady apparently responsible for events signed two drawings, or, to be precise - wrote who is depicted, when and where.
Vadim Zabelin: On what paper and with what pencils did you draw?
Alexei Maximov: From 1990 to this day I work with German pencils Faber Castell. Drawings are either in regular pencil or brownish - close to sepia. In 1999 in the portrait of King Harald coloured pencils of the same brand were used. Paper is different for all portraits, usually I buy large sheets of different textures and shades, cut them into non-standard formats, and at the beginning of a session pick up the one which is more suitable.