Saturday, 23 June 2018

Matilda Kshesinskaya’s Mansion in St. Petersburg

A newspaper correspondent informed his readers in 1906 that ‘all those who go and come from the Neva towards Kamennoostrovsky Avenue, admiring the elegant facade of the prima ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya’s mansion, is in one of the most picturesque corners of the capital’.
The Art Nouveau mansion was built in 1905-06 by the architect Alexander von Gauguin and interiors by Alexander Dmitriev. The archives have twenty design drawings of the interior.

Aerial view (below) of the Kshesinskaya Mansion
Photograph and Facades (below) of the Kshesinskaya Mansion

Plan of the 1st floor (below)
1 Lobby; 2 Hall; 3 Winter Garden; 4 Large Drawing Room; 5 Dining Room; 6 Study; 7 Billiard; 8 Anteroom; 9 Small Drawing room

Plan of the 2nd floor (below)
Plan of the Lower floor (below)

Rare photographs of the interiors were presented at the Tsarskoe Selo Conference on Art Nouveau in 2017 []

Photograph (below) of the Drawing Room
Photographs (below) of the Bathroom
Photograph (below) of the Nursery

Photograph (below) of the Kshesinskaya Mansion today

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Panorama of the Emperor’s Hidden Toilet in the Winter Palace

After the 1837 fire, Nicholas I suite of rooms were reconstructed on the 3rd floor of the Winter Palace. Next to the Study (390) with windows facing the Admiralty was the Dressing Room (389). The walls were painted blue. The ceiling decoration has been preserved.

Photographs (below) of the former Dressing Room and ceiling

Opposite the window on the other side of the room is the alcove. On the right is the hidden door to the toilet (below).

Photograph (below) of the toilet in the Farm Palace, Peterhof

In 1841 Nicholas ordered that in his dressing room ‘a painting of a grenadier be inserted in the frame of the mahogany door’.

Panorama (link below) of the former Dressing Room restored by the Hermitage Museum

Monday, 18 June 2018

A Century of History in the Tauride Palace

During the reign of Emperor Paul, the Tauride Palace was turned into a regimental barracks and its furnishings used to decorate the new Mikhailovsky Castle. In 1802 Alexander I had the palace restored stating that ‘everything will be the same at the time of my grandmother [Empress Catherine II]’.

Aerial view (below) of the Tauride Palace
The palace faced the Neva River, connected by a canal with a small harbor, until 1863 when the Water Tower and other structures were built.
B. Petersen’s Paintings c1797 (below) of the Tauride Palace from the Neva and garden sides
Empress Elizabeth sent her mother Amalia of Baden the plan of her apartment on Friday November 7th 1805. ‘The furnishing is not excessive luxury, there are even people who think there are too few. What I like by this drawing is to tell the story of these three years; the first we mourned the death of Grand Duchess Elena, the second the marriage and departure of Grand Duchess Maria [to Weimar] and this year the Emperor’s’.

Plan (below) of the Tauride Palace: Entrance Hall #1, Domed Hall #2, Hall of Columns #3, Winter Garden #4
During her visit to St. Petersburg, Princess Volkonskaya toured the palace on July 30th 1810. ‘The main hall is beautiful. We also went through the rooms of the imperial family. The Dowager Empress are extremely gorgeous but Empress Elizabeth’s are distinguished by their simplicity. They showed us the front room of her daughter who died [Elizabeth 2/11/1806-30/4/1808]. Her bed, the table on which she was dressed, everything is left as it was. Then we went to walk in the garden’. Later Alexander II ordered the garden opened to the public on July 24th 1861 with the entrance through the Sovereign Courtyard.

With the deaths of Empress Elizabeth in 1826 and the Dowager Empress Maria in 1828, the ladies-in-waiting corridor on the 3rd floor of the Winter Palace was overcrowded. Nicholas I decided to move the retired ladies to apartments in the Tauride Palace. Alexander II transferred ownership of the palace to his son Alexei in 1880, reverting back to state property a few years later when the grand duke bought another property.

On December 10th 1899 Grand Duke Konstantin noted that ‘at the request of the young Empress a large Christmas Fair was organized in the halls of the Tauride Palace with society ladies agreeing to be saleswomen’. Nicholas wrote that ‘with Ella and Sergei we went after lunch to the city to the Tauride Palace for the opening. A mass of items had been set up. There were four or five lady-sellers at each table’. On Saturday December 18tharriving at the Winter Palace Alix went to receive a heap of ladies who had taken part in the bazaar’.

From March 6th to September 26th 1905 Sergei Diaghilev, under the patronage of Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich, held a Historical Exhibition of 2,286 Russian portraits in the Tauride Palace. The halls were decorated with old furniture and objects stored in the Tauride and huge warehouses. ‘From Catherinehof palace, we found magnificent furniture of Elizabethan time, black and gold Chinese design, which was in very bad condition. From Yelagin, fine Karelian birch furniture of Pavlovian time and from Princess Altenburg’s Kamennoostrovsky palace, white and gold empire furniture made according to Rossi’s drawings’.

While installing the portrait of Alexander I a ‘worker fell off the ladder, through the canvas. He was unhurt but there was a huge hole in the belly of the emperor. There was incredible turmoil. After the Hermitage restorer Sidorov stretched the canvas on a marble table and ironed out the scars, everyone was amazed. There were no traces left’.

Photograph (below) of Alexander I’s portrait in the Tauride Exhibition
The exhibition closed early to complete the reconstruction of the palace for 1906. The winter garden was dismantled to erect the Duma’s hall.

Photographs (below) of the interiors today

Friday, 15 June 2018

Nicholas II in the Winter Palace Drawing Room

The architect Nikolai Nabokov designed the furniture and other fixtures for Empress Alexandra’s Silver Drawing Room (186) on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace in 1895.

Photograph c1900 (below) of the Silver Drawing Room

Nabokov interspersed in the drawing room 18th century pieces of furniture from the Winter Palace collection that survived the 1837 fire. One is the secrétaire en armoire [writing desk] by the French master Jean Henri Riesener (below).

With the limited number of interior images, I am continuously awed when I stumble upon Winter Palace photographs!

Rare photograph (below) of Nicholas II sitting next to the secrétaire

Photograph c1917 (below) of the Silver Drawing Room [Secrétaire en armoire is exhibited today in room 296 of the Hermitage Museum]

Monday, 11 June 2018

Children Playing in Empress Alexandra’s Winter Palace Rooms

After Nicholas II recovered at Livadia from typhus, Alexandra’s brother Ernest and his wife Ducky boarded their train on Friday January 12th 1901. They arrived at the Winter Palace the following morning. At 12:30 a prayer service was held in the Small Church.

Photograph (below) of Alexandra’s Silver Drawing Room (186) with Ducky, her daughter Elizabeth, Olga, Tatiana and Maria

On Tuesday January 16that 11pm we took Misha and Erni to the station who are leaving for England to attend Granny’s [Queen Victoria] funeral’, returning on February 1st.  The next day Nicholas ‘had quite a head cold on the left side of my face. At 10am Erni came with his daughter who is also staying upstairs [3rd floor]. The hurly-burly with our children was terrible!

Photograph (below) of the children in the Silver Drawing Room

Photograph (below) of the children in Alexandra’s Study (185)

Photograph (below) of the children in Alexandra’s Bedroom (184)

The photograph of the children (below) was a mystery. Was it a room on the 3rd floor? Then I remembered that the doors in the bedroom were paneled with the same dark wood as the lower walls.

Contrast with the white door in the Study (below) into the Bedroom

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Toothaches of the Emperors and Empress

In 1791 after fourteen-year-old Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich patiently endured a toothache for a long time, the ‘decision was made to pull out the tooth with the permission of Empress Catherine II and his parents. It was safely done by a dentist. The grand duke suffered this action without uttering a small complaint although he felt pain’. There was no anesthetic.

Portrait c1792 (below) of Alexander Pavlovich
Archival documents reveal that during the reign of Alexander I, the court dentist purchased monthly bottles of dental rinses and boxes of tooth powder. From June 7th to December 24th 1816 four hundred and sixteen bottles and twenty-two boxes were bought for 4,070 rubles. In April 1823 Dr. Fonzi who had developed in Paris the technique for fixing artificial porcelain teeth with platinum rods, visited St. Petersburg to make dentures for the emperor.

Portrait c1808 (below) of Emperor Alexander I
Until 1800 artists were forbidden to portray members of the imperial family smiling. Although Madame Vigée Le Brun’s portraits started the trend of women ‘showing their teeth’, men still ‘pressed their lips tightly’.

On Monday December 22nd 1886 Vladimir Lamsdorf with other members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and their wives left St. Petersburg for Gatchina at 7:30pm. ‘The palace illuminated with electricity presents a grand though somewhat gloomy and severe sight. Since the train was a bit late, we were immediately invited to go to the theatre. During the interval, Emperor Alexander III and the grand dukes were smoking in the next room. The ladies stayed in the hall. Empress Maria Feodorovna and Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna are very elegant in light blue dresses. The play ends about midnight and after descending the stairs we enter the hall for supper. After dinner at the door to the large drawing room we find ourselves in a mousetrap. Their Majesties must go through this door; they talk and in the meantime we stand pressed to each other like herring in a barrel, not being able to move forward and not daring at the same time to block the passage too much. The Empress is very close to us. I ascertain that her teeth are even more spoiled, black dots are everywhere. Her Majesty probably knows this because she smiles a little unnaturally but cannot hide her bad teeth. Immediately after the passage of Their Majesties, I hasten to the station arriving in Petersburg at 3:00am’.

Photograph c1880s (below) of Empress Maria Feodorovna
The American Henry Wollison, the personal dentist of Alexander III and Nicholas II, lived at 10 Admiralty Embankment near to the Winter Palace.

Court Medical Journal (below) from 1833 to 1918 including the dentisty unit
On Friday July 30th 1899 Dr. Wollison worked on Nicholas II’s teeth in Peterhof ‘from 2 to 4, thanks to Alix strong insistence’. The following Monday, ‘I again had my teeth taken care of from 2:30 until 4:45’. The emperor sympathized with others suffering toothache noting later in Wolfsgarten on Wednesday October 6th that ‘poor Erni’s teeth are in pain; he did not come to dinner and went to bed’.

Photograph (below) was taken by Alexandra in her Winter Palace Study. Although informal, Maria Feodorovna and Nicholas are not smiling.
From 2:30 until 4:15 the dentist Wollison was here to see me’. [Alexander Palace Friday March 26th 1910] ‘Wollison worked on me again’. [Sunday March 28th’] ‘Wollison worked on me from 2 to 4pm’. [Tuesday April 6th] ‘Wollison was with me from 5:30 until 7pm’. [Good Friday April 16th]

Rare photograph (below) of Nicholas II smiling  
My teeth ache in sympathy reading about imperial dentistry. Thankfully I have an appointment this week with the best dentist here in Belleville, Dr. David Kim of Quinte Smiles!

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Empress Alexandra in the Photographic Pavilion, Tsarskoe Selo

In the Alexander Palace on Wednesday May 20th 1898 Nicholas II noted that after ‘lunch with Uncle Misha [son of Nicholas I], we had photos taken in Hahn’s pavilion in the park’.

Photographs (below) of Empress Alexandra with Hahn’s backdrop

The Lamsky Pavilion in the Alexander Park of Tsarskoe Selo was built in the early 1820s as a stable for llamas from South America, a gift to Alexander I.

Painting c1850 (below) of the Lamsky Pavilion

In the early 1860s, the architect Monighetti restored the pavilion. A photography studio  was constructed above a shed and stairs led to its laboratory in the tower.

Photographs c1930s (below) of the Lamsky Pavilion

Map (below) of the Alexander Park [Lamsky Pavilion left of the Arsenal #12]

Aerial (below) of the Lamsky Pavilion and restoration work