The Empress of Art

Catherine the Great and the Transformation of Russia


Susan Jaques (Author)

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Ruthless and passionate, Catherine the Great is singularly responsible for amassing one of the most awe-inspiring collections of art in the world and turning St. Petersburg in to a world wonder.  The Empress of Art brings to life the creation of this captivating woman's greatest legacy

An art-oriented biography of the mighty Catherine the Great, who rose from seemingly innocuous beginnings to become one of the most powerful people in the world. A German princess who married a decadent and lazy Russian prince, Catherine mobilized support amongst the Russian nobles, playing off of her husband's increasing corruption and abuse of power. She then staged a coup that ended with him being strangled with his own scarf in the halls of the palace, and she being crowned the Empress of Russia.

Intelligent and determined, Catherine modeled herself off of her grandfather in-law, Peter the Great, and sought to further modernize and westernize Russia. She believed that the best way to do this was through a ravenous acquisition of art, which Catherine often used as a form of diplomacy with other powers throughout Europe. She was a self-proclaimed "glutton for art" and she would be responsible for the creation of the Hermitage, one of the largest museums in the world, second only to the Louvre. Catherine also spearheaded the further expansion of St. Petersburg, and the magnificent architectural wonder the city became is largely her doing. There are few women in history more fascinating than Catherine the Great, and for the first time, Susan Jaques brings her to life through the prism of art.


“A well-researched biography. The author provides a unique perspective on the woman who "transformed Russia from a northern backwater to global superpower." An intriguing biography of a ruler whose ruthlessness encompassed art.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Jaques portrays Catherine II of Russia, founder of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, as a shrewd investor in this considerate biography of the art-obsessed monarch. The ambitious, German-born empress remains a rich source of material. The Hermitage marked its 250th anniversary in 2014, and as Jaques shows, it stands as a fitting testimonial to its visionary founder.” — Publishers Weekly

“An absorbing account of a fascinating figure and her legacy” — Booklist

“Readers of biography, art history and collecting, Russian history, and 18th-century world history will enjoy this book. Lovers of opulence will drool over Catherine’s lifestyle.” — Library Journal

“What a wonderful book this is for art lovers of every stripe.” — Annalyn Swan, Pulitzer prize-winning co-author of DE KOONING: An American Master

“Susan Jaques has produced an informative, accessible guide to the fascinating mosaic of America’s art musems. Chock full of history, beautifully descriptive and always engaging, this work will introduce art loves (and art lovers to be) to many undiscovered riches.” — Dewey Blanton, Director, American Association of Museums