Prince Felix Youssoupov costume
The costume worn by Prince Felix Youssoupov to the Eglinton Ball at the Royal Albert Hall in 1912. It was sold in Coutau Bégarie’s sale at the Hotel Drouot in Paris for €62,000 (£56,365).

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From one of the wealthiest families in Russia, he spent some of his early youth in Britain attending University College, Oxford, before returning to St Petersburg to marry Princess Irina, niece of Tsar Nicholas II. Back in Russia he was famously involved in the assassination of Rasputin and, come the Revolution, he and Irina escaped via the Crimea to live in exile in France.

Irina survived her husband by three years and after her death many of their remaining possessions passed into the ownership of their friend, the Mexican sculptor Victor Contrenas who lived with them in Paris as a young student in the 1950s.

On November 4 at the Hotel Drouot in Paris the auctioneers Coutau Bégarie offered a group of items from Contreras’ collection. They formed part of the second of a two-day Russian Art sale that was dominated by Youssoupov memorabilia incorporating additionally family photographs and correspondence that had passed down by direct descent.

Brocade Costume

One of the highest prices in the 390-lot auction was provided by a splendid 18th century brocade costume. In Youssoupov’s student days in Oxford, when he had London residences and mixed in high society, he wore this to the Eglinton Ball on July 11, 1912.

The ball, held at the Royal Albert Hall, was a successor to the Eglinton Tournament, a romantic revival of mediaeval jousting and banqueting organised by the Earl of Eglinton at his eponymous castle in Scotland in 1839.

The young Prince entered fully into the spirit of the event. The costume is that of a boyar or mediaeval aristocratic and Youssoupov himself recalls the exact circumstances of the occasion. “I received an invitation to a grand costume ball at the Albert Hall and as I had time to spare, I took advantage to visit Russia to order a Russian costume and found a 16th century gold brocade. The costume was magnificent, studded with stones and trimmed with sable with a matching hat. It created a sensation. That evening I met all of London society and the next day my photo was in all the papers.”

This is a reference to what became a famous image of the Prince.

Prince Felix Youssoupov

The famous photograph of the Russian aristocrat Prince Felix Youssoupov wearing his elaborate costume to the 1912 Eglinton Ball which was published the following day in the English national newspapers. An original print of the photo which was kept by the Prince for the remainder of his life was offered at the Coutau Bégarie auction, making £4800.

At the Coutau Bégarie sale the costume lacked the hat and the sable trim but came with a pair of emboidered leather boots. It sold for €62,000 (£56,365) plus 22% buyer’s premium)

The previous day’s Russian sale was given over to the collection of Prince and Princess Demidoff and together the two events realised a premium inclusive €1.1m.