I bought this photograph from a dealer in Finland, who told me it had come from the estate of a Jewish family. Finland was part of the Russian Empire from 1809 until December 6, 1917, when it declared independence from the new Soviet government in Petrograd (Saint Petersburg).
A note about dates: the Julian calendar was used in the Russian Empire. It was 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar used in the West. Julian calendar dates are traditionally referred to as Old Style (O.S.) and Gregorian dates as New Style (N.S.).
The first Russian Revolution of 1917 resulted in the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II on March 2 (O.S.) and the formation of a weak and fractious Provisional Government. The most unpopular decision made by the new government was to continue Russian participation in the First World War, despite food shortages, low troop morale, and a high rate of desertion by soldiers at the front as they heard of hardships and chaos back home.
The above photo has a dedication on the back and a date of April 14, 1917, which is likely Old Style. That would make it little more than a month after the abdication of the Tsar. Were these men on their way to the front, or had they just returned from it? If they had just returned, was the photo taken in 1916, before they deployed? How did they feel about the Revolution? (Update: See comments at the bottom of the page for a partial translation of the dedication.)
I’m most intrigued by two men at the center of the group. One is wearing a medal on his breast pocket in the shape of a cross which I haven’t been able to identify. The other man is the only member of the group wearing an overcoat, possibly a military greatcoat. (Another man at far left in the same row is wearing civilian clothes.)
Update: After I published this post, there was some interest in the young man to the right of the two men above, and in the ribbon he’s wearing. Here he is:
A few men in the group are wearing black ribbons.
So many questions.