Thursday, 30 June 2016

Film of the Costume Ball 1903

Nicholas II’s diary Friday, March 14th, 1903 - … After dinner Gan showed us a film in which we saw ourselves marching through the halls of the Hermitage in Russian costumes.

Has anyone seen this film?
Were two films made? The first costume ball was on February 11th and a second held on February 13th as Empress Marie and GD Mikhail A. ‘did not attend the first due to influenza’.

Costume Ball 1903

Nicholas II’s diary Monday, March 3rd, 1903 - … We got dressed in our period costumes and gave ourselves as victims to Levitsky for half an hour. He took our pictures in the Concert Hall …

I have a photo of Nicholas in his costume standing next to the chair with Levitsky’s elaborate backdrop.
It was never released for publication.

Levitsky’s faux pas - presentation plates and chairs of the Concert Hall are seen on the left side where the backdrop ends.

Why didn’t Emperor Alexander III live in the Winter Palace?

During the reign of Alexander III from 1881 to 1894, the Winter Palace was mothballed. The widely held view of historians for his living in the Anichkov Palace was for security protection.

I disagree.
In 1878 Grand Duke Vladimir was telling others about the ‘indifference of their parents’ to him. Alexander III standing nearby, agreed with him, calling his childhood ‘disgusting memory’.

Count Sheremetev wrote that Alexander III ‘… did not have good memories of adolescence. Staying in the Winter Palace for him has always been a dark time … and even annoyed to think about it. For him the happiest time began when he moved out of the Winter Palace to the Anichkov …’
Alexander III’s study was on the second floor of the Anichkov in a corner room with two windows that overlook the garden and two windows onto the Nevsky Prospekt. He loved to sit on the windowsill looking down on the Nevsky. A. Polovtsov’s diary expresses his concern of threats with the exposure of the Emperor as security was unable to protect him.

The antipathy of Alexander III to the Winter Palace is daily evident in his 1866-67 diaries. As Emperor, his decision overrode any opposition.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Yellow Dining Room #160

Many have speculated  on the location of the yellow dining room. It was generally thought to be #161 on the 2nd floor, part of the 3rd Spare.

Archival documents confirm it as #160. It’s easier now to identify when you look at E. Hau’s 1872 watercolor.


The Crimson drawing room #159 was next to the dining room and sustained parquet damage.

The guardroom #26 was under #160. It appears a small area on the plans. Mezzanines were constructed over #26 resulting in large number of guards stationed there (11 killed, 56 wounded on Feb 5th, 1880).

What If? Floorplan

Alexander II left the Crimea on November 17th, 1879. His second train was blown up on November 20th. Two people were arrested, one with a floorplan of the Winter Palace.
Alexander II’s diary entry for December 4th, 1879:
… one had a plan of the Winter Palace, the dining room marked with a cross which is surely not without significance. Below the dining room are my guards …

The Minister of the Court, Count Adlerberg, and the Palace Commandant failed to investigate, ignoring the threats.

On February 5th, 1880 there was an explosion under the yellow dining room.
What words were said later between Alexander and Adlerberg, friends since youth?

Intruder Jumped the Palace Fence

A familiar headline in today’s news. In July 1904 it was hushed up.
A 21 year old homeless man climbed over the 2 meter private garden fence. Later starving, he entered through an open window into Princess Galitzine’s apartment in the southwestern part. After 2 days and nights he left the garden.

He voluntarily returned 3 days later and told his story to the palace guard to their disbelief until shown the places he hid from the 9 gardeners.
The incident was never made public. A new guard post was added near the entrance gate on the neva side. [RSHA F.475]

Monday, 27 June 2016

Peterhof 1838

I have a binder of information on the construction of the winter palace garden with a listing of hundreds of trees, bushes, etc. I remember reading a story of a tree in Peterhof.
In the garden on Tsaritsyn Island an oak tree grew from an acorn taken from the grounds of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. A brass plate records the fact that the acorn was presented to Nicholas I in 1838 by Mr. George Sumner.

A simple gift to an Emperor that speaks of the character of the man who lived amongst splendor.

Winter Palace's Private Garden – 4 years to build; 1 day to demolish

Nicholas II had an enclosed private garden built from 1897 to 1901 on the northwest side of the palace facing the Admiralty.
February 6th, 1897 - … I looked over various models of future fencing for the garden …

His frustration on the slow construction: Jan 24th, 1899 – … I went for a walk in the garden. The grille work was not yet ready and the garden was still enclosed with this ugly wooden fence, which has been there now for two years…
On the eve of May 1st, 1920, 100 trolleys were brought on the narrow rails along the Admiralty. Early morning there were 150 carts and a huge crane on the waterfront and large water tanks for hot tea. Thousands of workers with shovels and crowbars dismantled the brick wall, the crane pulling off the stone plinths.
The fence disappeared in one day.

Eureka! Raphael’s Madonna

Eureka – Ancient Greek for  I have found it!
Raphael’s Madonna del Libra was known as the jewel of the Renaissance.

Prince G. Gagarin, Vice President of the Academy of Arts, advised Alexander II in 1870 that Count Conestabile was selling the Madonna in Florence. Stepan Gedeonov, Director of the Imperial Hermitage, purcheased the painting in April 1871.
Alexander II gave it to his wife for their 20th anniversary. The Empress kept the Madonna in her Crimson Cabinet (#305) in the Winter Palace.

A special committee of the Hermitage determined in 1872 that tow cracks in the wood-based layer were expanding. A decision was made to transfer the painting to the Hermitage to ensure its preservation.
Although exhibited there, the painting continued to be listed in the inventories as “Property of Her Majesty” and only changed its legal status after her death in 1880.
A few months ago checking the updated Royal Collection, I recognized this photo as the Empress’ cabinet.

A Eureka moment!
Photographic verification of Raphael’s Madonna described in the 1872 archival documents.
Other clues within the photo have added much to my research. Yet a conundrum … the easel.

My 20 year search to uncover daily life in the Winter Palace!

The Hermitage, world-renowned – the Winter Palace, sketchy.
How I knew in 1996 the location of Nicholas & Alexandra’s rooms on the 2nd floor is now lost in memory. I was oblivious of their namesakes use in the 1840s.

Serendipity when I later discovered my photo of Nicholas I’s small study on the 1st floor was identical to Konstantin Ukhtomsky’s watercolor c1850s.

One photo! How I regret not taking hundreds.
A slow progress with my research. English sources are minimal, replicating the same. The internet – a gradual growth.
The turning point was six years ago when I had access to the extraordinary work of Russian researchers. A tidal wave of primary sources.
Alexander Benois’ diary entry on editing Alexander Uspensky’s articles in the early 1900s prior to the publishing of his books on ‘The Imperial Palaces’: … Especially I had a lot of work on the texts of A. Uspensky, the participation of which I treasured because through him I got access to such an inexhaustible source of documentary information, as the archives of the Ministry of the Court …
A hundred and ten years plus separate us yet our thoughts are alike.


Irreverent yet apropos. Researchers are passionately curious, natural snoops. Nicholas revealed the same in his diaries.
July 2nd , 1894 (Cumberland Lodge)  - … Aunt Helena showed me her rooms upstairs! …

December 8th, 1894 (St. Petersburg) - … dinner at Uncle Alexei’s … We went around the entire house from the upstairs … right down to the basement …
September 26th, 1896 (Versailles) - … The halls and rooms of the Palace are ideal and interesting from a historical pint of view only – of course! …

November 11th, 1897 (Tsarskoe Selo) - … We went to … Boris’ new English home. We looked it over in all it’s details, as well as the stables! …
February 18th entry - an 'Are you kidding me moment'! 

My theme, my introduction.

Nicholas II’s Diary

In the Winter Palace, Nicholas II wrote in his diary on Wednesday February 18th, 1898:
"… Since the time that we have been living here in the ‘Winter’, I have been unintentionally continually trying to imagine my great-grandfather and great-grandmother living in their rooms! Especially today on the day of His death! – in the little corner room, exactly just below my study …"