FEMbruary: The Other ‘Empress Catherine’

I’ve been making swift progress with my FEMbruary submission. In the first FEMbruary challenge back in 2018, I chose Bad Squiddo’s 28mm figure of Catherine the Great. One of the most remarkable rulers in history, most people are familiar with her name, the monarch being the subject of recent TV miniseries in the UK (2019) and Russia (2014-19). While Catherine II of Russia is famous, less familiar is Catherine I, mostly because she only reigned for three years after Peter I’s (her husband’s) death.

Catherine I, Empress of Russia by Augustine Fauchery, hand-coloured lithograph, 1830s NPG D34625 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Born of very humble beginnings as Marta Helena Skowrońska, she was nonetheless to become a remarkable and very capable empress. In a happy marriage, the “energetic, compassionate, charming, and always cheerful” Catherine proved to be the perfect partner to support and manage the tempestuous emperor Peter. With no successor named by the dying Peter, popular Catherine took power with the support of Peter’s best friend, Prince Menshikov, and the Guards Regiments.

I was interested to discover there was an equestrian portrait of Catherine I in a Guards uniform riding a grey charger, closely resembling (perhaps not coincidentally) the later painting of Catherine II by Eriksen which had inspired my 2018 figure. So, it seems that the Bad Squiddo figure could stand for either Empress Catherine?

I am very unfamiliar ground painting 18th dresses but thankfully the fashion of the early 18th century was for plainer designs:

“In the beginning of the (18th) century…a plain style was preferred, without too many ornaments. This style was strongly influenced by Françoise d’Aubigné, the wife of King Louis XIV.” How did women dress in the 18th century?

This seems to be born out in contemporary portraits and it made things much easier for me. My Strelets 1/72 scale figure wears a dress which I’ve painted in a similar shade to her portrait by Jean-Marc Nattier. A red sash and an ermine-lined velvet cloak is all that’s missing. I may brush on a little satin varnish to imitate silk.

The above painting most probably was the inspiration for Strelets’ sculptor too. The dress design being remarkably similar and there’s even a tiara on her head closely resembling the one she wore (making some allowance for the complications of sculpting such a thing in 20mm scale)!

Catherine’s opulent tiara; an abundance of large pearls, gold, possibly diamonds, together with some pretty hefty rubies in there too!

The other two FEMbruary ladies at court are also nearly completed. This charming figure is using her richly decorated fan and gazing into the distance:

The other lady has a small dog at her feet which she is reaching down to pet. I thought that it looked a little like a King Charles Spaniel (a breed, incidentally, particularly popular with the 1st Duke of Marlborough), so I painted it in that fashion. This is the figure for whom I had to resort to some serious flash removal. To conceal her disfigurement, half of her face I’ve hidden under the locks of her hair.

So, these three courtly women are nearly completed but not quite! There’s more to come – the Empress Catherine is reaching her hand out in front of her and I’m also painting something which will make sense of this gesture and complete the scene more fully. So, ‘stay tuned’!

Court Appearances: FEMbruary 2020

FEMbruary has been declared! For the 3rd year, I’m formally throwing my hat into the ring for FEMbruary 2020. Begun in 2018, this cracking idea by Alex at Leadballoony blog invited modellers to share their work on female miniatures or otherwise join in as “part of an ongoing conversation about how women are presented within our hobby”. In previous years, Suburban Militarism has submitted:

Catherine the Great by Bad Squiddo Games

This year, I’m turning to my preferred 1/72 scale. The figures I’ve chosen are from Strelets’ “Court and Army of Peter the 1st” ‘big box’ set which I’ve had for a little while now in my far-too-large pile of unpainted items. It features soldiers and guards from Tsar Peter I’s newly formed professional Russian army, and also contains a number of unusual and entertaining court figures, including Peter the Great himself.

For FEMbruary, I’ve taken from this set three aristocratic ladies in fine dresses, one of whom is the Empress, Peter’s wife. I’ve already glued them on pennies and PSR’s description of each is below:


“Empress Catherine I (1684-1727) – Peter’s second wife, whom he married in 1707 and was named Empress but only really had power after his death. The marriage was a very happy one.”


“Court lady – In ‘German’ or western dress, with a large wig as required by Peter.”


“Court lady – As above, but this one pets a small dog at her skirts.”


Much of the court personalities from this set will of course fit the era for my new War of the Spanish Succession project. As such, they could as Plastic Soldier Review state; “work equally well at the court of Louis XIV or any other monarch, so the potential is quite considerable. However a top quality paint job is about the only hope for these otherwise rather unsatisfying figures.” Gulp! The pressure is on to meet that challenge, and I hardly need confess that I’ve not painted 18th Century ladies dresses before, never mind a dog…

The figures seem to show those early Strelets characteristics of imagination and fun, with a distinctive sculpting style which divides opinion. In the main, I haven’t found flash to be a particular issue with Strelets figures but these courtly ladies underwent some serious plastic surgery with my scalpel. In the case of the lady and dog, her face quite literally went ‘under the knife’!

Always up for a challenge, I’ll share my progress, good or bad, in due course. In the mean time, do pop over to Leadballoony’s blog for more on other FEMbruary figures and participants!

#FEMbruary Challenge Complete: Catherine the Great!

My contribution to the FEMbruary challenge, a 28mm metal figure of Catherine the II of Russia is now finished! Here is the great lady herself astride her grey; Brilliant.

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In a previous post, I observed how this Bad Squiddo figure was cleverly based upon an original portrait of the empress painted by a Swede named Vigilius Eriksen. You can observe below just how my figure compares with it’s original inspiration:

I’ve based her on a kind of rough track, complete with grasses and flowers, on her way to suggest to her husband Peter III that he should maybe consider abdicating in favour of her. Something about the sharpness of her glittering sword lends further weight to her suggestion…

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I used a shade of blue for her sash appropriately called “Royal Blue”, which I think looks the business.

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Getting her face ‘satisfactory’ was an interesting challenge what with me not being used to painting female faces. It’s always easier to create an acceptable looking face when it’s covered over with a luxuriant moustache or bushy beard! That’s one terrific thing about FEMbruary – guiding me into neglected territory. I’m pleased to say that – no doubt thanks more to the sculptor than the painter – I think the face looks suitably feminine.

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Catherine’s long hair can be seen to cascade down her back, tied with a black bow.

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And after that admittedly modest submission, and with the end of February fast approaching, I bow out of #FEMbruary. If FEMbruary in some way encourages more women into the hobby; encourages more appropriate female miniatures to be manufactured; or just enables us bloke modellers to reconsider female figures and their portrayal more carefully, then all to the good.

I urge visitors to check out the realistic female miniatures on Annie Norman’s splendid Bad Squiddo Games site and also check out some of the other participants terrific work:

Diamond Geezer

Just a quick update on my progress with my FEMbruary challenge – Bad Squiddo’s Catherine the Great and her horse “Brilliant”. The latter’s name refers to the Russian word for diamond. Well, the sculpting is a real gem, for sure (groan…).

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Brilliant – Catherine II’s grey

I’m not used to painting greys at 28mm, or in metal for that matter, so I’ve had to go back and re-adjust my paint job a couple of times. There is supposed to be a very slight dapple effect on the coat, but it’s got lost a little with those readjustments. Hopefully, the end result is satisfactory.

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Still a couple of things I’d like to do get Brilliant’s face looking slightly better. Unlike in Eriksen’s painting of Catherine the Great on Brilliant, I painted them in a light colour instead of black. This is correct for a grey – and what’s more, I am rather sad and very fussy about these things!

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I must confess that reproducing freehand all that rich, ornate embroidery seen on the saddle cloth isn’t something I’m a natural at. And it probably shows too, but it’ll do!

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Catherine herself is, I’d say, half to 2/3rd’s done. Her face and hair are up next, with plenty of other details still to do. All will be revealed when she’s finally finished and glued on to the back of Brilliant!

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The #FEMbruary Challenge!

I’m pleased to say that it appears that my previous post on the heroic female soldiers of Serbia has been particularly well-timed. Not only does it coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first piece of legislation extending voting rights to women in the UK, but it also coincides with #FEMbruary.

It was my friend from the Imperial Rebel Orc blog who drew my attention to FEMbruary – a painting challenge for this month intended to “celebrate females and highlight the dismal fact that our hobby is so male dominated“. The idea for the FEMbruary painting challenge has apparently originated with Lead Balloony.com. Well done, sir! A fine suggestion.
https://leadballoony.com/2018/01/29/more-eru-kin-and-the-fembruary-challenge

Suburban Militarism occasionally posts on topics related to women’s often overlooked role in conflict, military art and military history. Furthermore, this blog loves a communal challenge, and so I’ve ‘signed up’ to FEMbruary – a time for painting some female miniatures that celebrate, not demean, women. There was just a small matter of finding an appropriate female figure to paint, though. Not only are there not enough females in the hobby, there’s not enough female figures which are realistically proportioned and non-sexualised. Step forward, Bad Squiddo and the Dice Bag Lady!

Guided by the ever-knowledgeable Mark from Man of Tin blog, I checked out Bad Squiddo – a site dedicated to believable female miniatures! Quickly through the post came a perfectly sculpted figure together with a rather lovely Darjeeling tea bag to boot. My chosen FEMbruary figure from Bad Squiddo is one of the most powerful rulers of the 18th century; Catherine the Great of Russia!

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Born as Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, this German lady came to power after her ineffectual husband, Peter III, was assassinated. She proved to be an astonishingly successful ruler for Russia, reigning from 1762 to 1796. Catherine combined intelligence, shrewdness, an appreciation for the arts, knowledge of Enlightenment principles, and an autocratic ruthlessness whenever required. Like many other powerful autocrats, Catherine fed both her ego and her libido; she didn’t stint on palatial opulence and also enjoyed a long list of lovers.

She was also keenly aware of the need to dress to impress, or should that be Empress? Her magnificent dresses brought western fashions to the Russian court. In a subtle demonstration of her power, and to cement her relationship with army, some of these were military uniform inspired dresses and explicitly mimicked military fashions and colours of the day.

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Catherine the Great’s Uniform dress modeled after the uniform of the Life Guards Cavalry Regiment, St. Petersburg, Russia. 1789..

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Officer’s dress of Catherine the Great

For the Bad Squiddo figure, Catherine the Great eschews the fine dresses of court and appears in full military uniform, on a white charger with sword drawn.

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28mm Catherine the Great figure by Bad Squiddo Games

Catherine is wearing the full uniform of the Russian Life Guards. The Bad Squiddo figure (above) cleverly takes the Vigilius Eriksen portrait (below) as its inspiration.

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Equestrian portrait of Catherine II of Russia (1729-1796) – Catherine II of Russia in Life Guard Uniform on the Horse Brillante, by Vigilius Eriksen

The Eriksen portrait of her formed part of an enormous collection of paintings which Catherine acquired with the stupendous wealth that she enjoyed;

Among many portraits of the empress is Vigilius Eriksen’s Equestrian Portrait of Catherine II. She is on her horse Brilliant (Russian for “Diamond”) on the summer’s day in 1762 when she set out from St Petersburg to demand the abdication of her weak, stupid and unpopular husband, Peter III. Her backers included her lover, Count Grigory Orlov, and one of his successors, Prince Grigory Potemkin. Her sword is drawn, and she would clearly be happy to use it on her husband. Peter caved in, but within days had been murdered by his wife’s supporters. She claimed he had died of one of “his habitual haemorrhoidal attacks, together with a violent colic”. The Guardian

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Detail of Eriksen’s portrait of Catherine II of Russia.

The lady who wore that uniform, sword drawn and “happy to use it on her husband”, intended it to indicate to all of Russia that a more dynamic and stronger sort of ruler was about to take power. Catherine the Great was a supremely successful leader, subject to the same trappings of power as male leaders (opulence, sex, etc.). Autocrats and despots are hardly loveable. But this ruthless lady was very charismatic, with personal qualities and achievements that were extremely impressive. What’s more, she looks splendid in a Guards uniform to boot!

And with that grey horse, Brilliante, it’s time for me to get painting horses again.



For more info on #FEMbruary, visit:

Also, for some good female gamers and hobby blogs check out: