Friday, 30 September 2016

Nicholas II Visits Mikhailovka Palace, Peterhof (1)

The Mikhailovka Palace on the Peterhof road was built for the youngest son of Nicholas I, Grand Duke Mikhail. The architects, J. Charlemagne, A. Stackenschneider and H. Bosse, left their imprint on the palace during different periods creating a mixture of Greek, Italian and English styles.

Aerial views (below) of the Mikhailovka estate today

Nicholas II as Grand Duke visited his Mikhailovich cousins often and continued after he became Emperor. By 1894, his great-uncle, Grand Duke Mikhail, was the last surviving child of Nicholas I. Uncle Misha was adamant that the family Sunday dinners continue with Nicholas.

Grand Duchess Xenia married Alexander Mikhailovich in 1894 and lived at Mikhailova Palace during the summer months.

On Monday, May 30th, 1895 Nicholas wrote “We rose very early and went to Mikhailovka after breakfast to see Uncle Misha and Xenia …”

Photographs (below) of the exterior of Mikhailovka Palace c1890s and today

On Friday, July 5th, 1896 Nicholas wrote “... with Alix went off in a two-wheeled cart to see Xenia at Mikhailovka. She was just still getting dressed and Irina was playing on the floor …”

Photographs (below) of the drawing room c1861 and today

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Unwanted Guests (creepy-crawlies) in the Winter Palace

When reading about the Winter Palace, we envision a magical world of Imperial balls and hundreds of servants. The reality of their domestic life in the palace, as revealed in the archive documents, is an eye-opener.

From Nicholas I to Nicholas II, the Winter Palace had problems with periodic invasions of fleas, bedbugs, mosquitoes, etc. in their private apartments.

In June 1839, Nicholas I’s valet Grimm was paid 50 rubles to buy a powder from Tiflis to exterminate bedbugs. In 1853, the valet had ordered five pounds of the powder.

In 1841, the rooms prepared for Marie Alexandrovna, the wife of Alexander II, had to be disinfected as fleas and bedbugs were brought in by the workmen completing the renovations. The Empress’ maid told Kleinmichel that they had ‘literally been eaten by them’.

In June 1850, there was a scandal when the Chamberlain of the Dutch Royals ‘could not sleep at all because of the bugs’. The Minister of the Court, Prince Volkonsky, ordered Prince Gagarin ‘to examine carefully the bed and all the furniture, as well as in other rooms of the Winter Palace’.

By the late 1800s, Vasily Lebedev had a permanent contract with the Court for the extermination of insects in the Winter Palace and Anichkov Palace.

In 1904, the Court spent 1,830 rubles for the extermination of insects in the Winter Palace.

Mosquitoes, mice and bats were also nuisances. To deal with mosquitoes, footmen would open the windows and light a juniper branch over a bowl of water to fill the room with smoke.

In Gatchina on December 21st, 1884 Nicholas II wrote “… While cleaning out the birds, we heard a noise in the next room so we went in with a candle and started to search about. Suddenly a mouse jumped out from under the cupboard and ran into a hole in the corner …”

Aerial (below) of Gatchina Palace

Arsenal wing of Gatchina Palace (below) c1890

In Gatchina on April 24th, 1884 Nicholas wrote to Alix “… sleep had been disturbed at 3 AM by an insolent bat. My man, my dog and myself hunted the beast for nearly half an hour before we at last managed to catch the brute in a corner …”

Bedroom of Nicholas and George in Gatchina Palace c1939 (below)

Study of Nicholas and George in Gatchina Palace c1939 (below)

I hesitated on how to illustrate this post. It was impossible to use pics of bugs. I would scare myself silly!

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Grand Dukes’ Nursery on the 1st Floor of the Winter Palace

The nursery, for the sons of Alexander II, was on the 1st floor on the southwestern side of the Winter Palace facing the Admiralty. It was called the 5th Spare. The rooms of their mother, Empress Marie, were directly above on the 2nd floor. A hidden staircase off her dressing room gave access to her children’s rooms.

Aerial (below) from the Admiralty to the Winter Palace c1880

Photo (below) of the southwestern side c1880 with the windows of the nursery on the 1st floor and the Empress’ balcony above

Photo (below) of a nursery in the late 1800s (note the playpen)

As the older sons reached ten years of age, they were moved to rooms on the 2nd floor. Grand Duke Sergei (1857) and Grand Duke Paul (1860) were the youngest sons of Alexander II. In 1867, Sergei moved to the rooms on the 2nd floor of Alexei who went to join Vladimir in the 2nd Spare. Paul remained in their former nursery until the late 1880s.

In February 1872, the Minister of the Court was informed of the theft of a painting by Johann Meyer from the room next to the corridor in Paul’s apartment. The painting was never recovered.

On December 9th, 1876 Sergei and Paul raced their new bicycles along the large corridor on the 1st floor. Sergei wrote ‘we rolled everywhere, even before the guard’ who were stationed at the Saltykov and Large Courtyard entrances.

In Peterhof on June 6th, 1884 Nicholas II wrote “… At a quarter past ten Uncle Pitz [Paul] came for me … We went to the Winter Palace to see Uncle Pitz’s rooms …”

The former rooms of Grand Duke Paul were later occupied by Grand Duke Alexander and Grand Duchess Xenia from 1894 until their house on the Moika was completed.

Two of the expenses listed in the archive documents for Xenia’s rooms were for a Bell telephone and an ice box, a prototype of a refrigerator.

In Tsarskoe Selo on Sunday, January 12th, 1897 Nicholas wrote “… At 12:55 AM Xenia gave birth to a son – Andrei! At 10 AM to St. Petersburg … after lunch in the Anichkov … I went with Mama to the Winter Palace to see Xenia and the newborn …”

Prince Andrei was the last baby born in the Winter Palace.

Photo (below) of rooms in the 5th Spare today

Friday, 23 September 2016

Nicholas II’s Curiosity – Sorgenfri Slot, Denmark

In the interest of full disclosure, I am in love with the beautiful Palaces and Mansions in Denmark.

On Wednesday, August 25th, 1899 while staying at Bernstorff in Denmark, Nicholas II wrote “… Six of us went to Adini and Christian’s at Sorgenfri. We had tea with them and looked over their whole house, where the Dowager Amalia had lived before …”

Aerial of Sorgenfri Palace (below)

The future King Christian X was the son of Empress Marie’s brother Crown Prince Frederick. Adini was the former Princess Alexandrine of Mecklenburg-Schwerin whose mother was the Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna.

Photo (below) of Christian X at Sorgenfri c1900s

Photo (below) of Sorgenfrei’s Entrance today

Photo (below) of Christian, Alexandrine and their sons Frederick and Knud, 1907

Sorgenfri Palace today

I have found little information on Sorgenfri and was dismayed to read that the palace is used by the Royal Court for storage. It is sad it is not open to the public; a lost opportunity of revenue for the Court with many who would love to know the fascinating history of this beautiful palace.  

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Winter Palace to Grand Duchess Olga’s Palace on Sergievskaya Ulitza

On Wednesday, February 22nd, 1912 Nicholas II wrote “… I went to the city to a big reception in the Winter Palace. Had lunch at Olga’s with Misha. Returned to Tsarskoe Selo at 3 PM …”

Aerial (below) looking east from the Winter Palace to the Summer Garden and beyond to Sergievskaya Ulitza

Aerial (below) looking further east from the Summer Garden to the district of Sergievskaya Ulitza

Grand Duchess Olga’s Palace on Sergievskaya Ul (below) c1900

Nicholas II’s diaries were never intended as aides-mémoire to preserve experiences and emotions but rather records of his daily routines.

What did Nicholas, Olga and Misha talk about during lunch? Was it a reconciliation between Olga and Misha? Why didn’t Empress Marie or Alexandra attend? Grand Duchess Olga and Grand Duke Mikhail’s 1912 diaries, if extant, may reveal more than a terse line.

Their future is known to us; it is consoling to know they had been once again together as brothers and sister.

Interiors of Grand Duchess Olga’s Palace today – Monogram of Olga (below)

Main Staircase

Oak Drawing Room

Dining Room


Gothic Drawing Room

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Silver Drawing Room in the Winter Palace

In an article last year, The Economist wrote of the demise of the antiques market ‘..buyers are much less interested in antiques than they were even a decade ago.'

The article went on to say that ‘..the desire to live in the presence of history has ebbed and flowed.' For a moment dismay; hoping my research on the furniture in the Winter Palace is part of the flow.

In 1784, Paul I and Marie Feodorovna traveled through Europe as Comte and Comtesse du Nord. They went on a shopping spree in Paris with the furniture merchant D. Daguerre, returning to St. Petersburg with 'secretaires' and commodes with Wedgwood and Sèvres porcelain panels.

In the Silver Drawing Room on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace a few pieces from 1784 were placed among the furniture designed by N. Nabokov in 1896 for Nicholas II and Alexandra.

Photograph of the Silver Drawing Room in 1899 (below) showing on the right the commode with panels of Wedgwood

Photograph of the commode (below) that can be seen now in the former 1st Spare Room 296

Photograph of the Silver Drawing Room today (below) with the beautifully restored ceiling (silver is retained around the door frames) 

Panorama of Alexandra's former Empire Drawing Room, Silver Drawing Room and Study

Monday, 19 September 2016

Nicholas I's Cabinet on the 3rd Floor of the Winter Palace

Nicholas I’s large cabinet was on the 3rd floor of the northwest corner of the Winter Palace from 1840 until 1850 when he moved to his small cabinet on the 1st floor.

Hau’s watercolor (below) of the Large Cabinet c1860

On the right wall is Franz Kruger’s painting ‘Parade on the Opernplatz in Berlin’ that was commissioned by Nicholas I in 1824. It depicts the Brandenburg Cuirassiers whose command Nicholas had been given by his father-in-law, King Frederick Wilhelm III.

Kruger’s painting was returned to Berlin by Nicholas’ namesake.

The Imperial yacht Standart sailed into Revel on Wednesday, June 20th, 1912 and Kaiser Wilhelm’s yacht, the Hohenzollern, arrived the next day.

On Thursday, June 21st, 1912 Nicholas II wrote “… At 8 PM we had a big dinner on our yacht, after which we talked and smoked on the quarterdeck, turned into a salon …”

Kruger’s ‘Parade on the Opernplatz’ was among the gifts Nicholas presented to Wilhelm before the dinner.

Kruger’s ‘Parade on the Opernplatz’ (below) now in Berlin’s National Gallery

Nicholas I’s large cabinet today (below) that has been stunningly restored in the last three years along with other former rooms of the Emperor on the 3rd floor  (note the incredible ceiling details).

Friday, 16 September 2016

Nicholas II’s Curiosity - Fredensborg Palace, Denmark (4)

On Tuesday, September 7th, 1899 while on a visit to Denmark, Nicholas II wrote “… Today, at last, my longstanding desire to visit dear Fredensborg was realized … We looked over my well-known house, I all the smallest things, each corner brought to mind the good old days of long ago … I was so glad to show Fredensborg to Alix …”

Aerial View below of Fredensborg Slot

Nicholas and Prince Nicholas of Greece (below) visiting Fredensborg on September 7th, 1899

Nicholas and Princess Victoria – September 7th, 1899

Was Nicholas ‘well-known house’ the Kancellihuset (photo below)?

Or is Nicholas referring to Alexander III’s Kejserens Villa (photo below)?

The Villa in the park of Bernstorff Palace by Copenhagen (see below Jens Christian Eldal  comment on the identification of the above villa).

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Grand Duchess Marie’s Curiosity – Schloss Friedenstein, Gotha (1)

Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, the daughter of Alexander II, was as curious as Nicholas II (and I) looking through different homes.

After the death of Grand Duke Ernest of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in August 1893, Marie’s husband Prince Alfred inherited the dukedom.

In Diana Mandache’s ‘Dearest Missy’, Grand Duchess Marie wrote on August 15th, 1893 “… I also want to see Gotha again and its enormous Schloss [Friedenstein] which I have quite forgotten …”

Aerial view of Schloss Friedenstein (below)

Schloss Friedenstein c1900 (below)

On February 4th, 1894 she wrote “… Our great amusement here now is to walk all over the castle [Friedenstein] and to poke into every corner. Ernie [Grand Duke of Hess] was delighted with it and we bundled various old things from garrets and servants rooms. The castle is so enormous that in two hours we could only do half of it … It is a blessing it is not cold, as the corridors and passages are icy and as the castle lies so high there seems to be always wind here …”

The above quote on the icy corridors reminded me of the diaries and letters I read on Belvoir Castle and the need to wear a fur coat when leaving your bedroom to walk down the icy halls to breakfast. To quote Prus, ‘small and simple’ is more comfortable for daily living!

In Schloss Friedenstein on January 19th, 1898 Marie wrote “… I have always plenty to do in arranging and improving the various rooms and have now got the keys of all the apartments, so that I can circulate by myself, without being accompanied by a whole retinue opening every door before me …”

It is a shame as there are very few photographs of the interiors of Grand Duchess Marie’s homes in England, Coburg and Gotha. It was thrilling to discover an 1899 photograph of  Schloss Friedenstein’s Festsaal.

In the Alexander Palace on Friday, January 9th, 1899 Nicholas II wrote “… Uncle Sergei and Ella were leaving in the evening for Gotha with Uncle Alexei for the silver wedding of Aunt Mari and Uncle Alfred …”

The Festsaal on January 23rd, 1899 for the Silver Wedding Anniversary

Menu for January 23rd, 1899 (Winter Palace painting represents location of their wedding)

The Festsaal (below) beautifully restored today