Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The Marble Palace in St. Petersburg

The Marble Palace in St. Petersburg is located on the Palace Embankment [Дворцовая набережная] with the north side facing the Neva and the south on Millionnaya Ulitsa.

It was built the architect Antonio Rinaldi in 1768-1785 as a gift by Catherine the Great for her lover Count Gregory Orlov. He died two years before its completion and the Empress later gave the palace to her grandson Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich when he married in 1796. After his death in 1831, Emperor Nicholas I designated the palace as the future home for his second son Konstantin and his descendants.

Aerial photograph (below) of the Marble Palace in the lower left. The palace is to the right of the inner courtyard, and the servants/stables building on the left.

An 1849 guidebook described the Marble Palace’s “long façade, stretching by the river side, denotes that it must have been at one time a handsome pile of building. Without doubt everyone on hearing this name will picture to himself an elegant, white, gay-looking palace, shining from afar like a temple of Solomon, on the banks of the Neva, and will be not a little astonished to find it a dark fortress-looking building. Such at least is its appearance amongst the cheerful shining palaces of St. Petersburg, though it might not be so striking in gloomier cities. It ought more properly to have been called the Granite Palace, for much more granite and iron have been employed upon it than marble. The extraordinary massive walls are built of blocks of granite; the supports of the roof are iron beams,; the roof itself sheet copper; the window frames gilded copper”.

Photograph (below) of the Marble Palace c1870s from Millionnaya Ulitsa

In current guidebooks, the Marble Palace has been described as a masterpiece of Neoclassicism and one of the loveliest buildings in the city. The handsome exterior comprises a rather subtle, harmonized combination of different marbles and granite”.

Photograph (below) of the Marble Palace from the Neva

Am I influenced by knowing the tragedy of the Grand Dukes’ family life behind the dark granite walls?

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Empress Alexandra’s Library on the 3rd Floor of the Winter Palace

In the 1840s-1850s, Empress Alexandra had two rooms on the 3rd floor the Winter Palace that were part of the apartment of Nicholas I.

Alexandra’s library 387 was a corner room located between Nicholas’ valet and bathroom and was decorated in purple.

The only known photograph (below) of the Library on the 3rd Floor taken at the time of the 1917 revolution.

Alexandra hung two paintings presented to her by Karl Briullov, the brother of Alexander Briullov, the Winter Palace architect: ‘Italian Morning’ and ‘Italian Midday’. Briullov completed both paintings in Italy in 1823.

‘Italian Morning’ received rave reviews in1823 from the Italian public, followed by members of the Society for the Encouragement of Artists in St. Petersburg. ‘Italian Midday’ was shown later in 1827 and received a lot of unflattering reviews. Critics felt that the model was not elegant and did not match the ‘classical ideals of’ beauty.

Karl Briullov’s ‘Italian Morning’ (below)

Karl Briullov’s ‘Italian Midday’ (below)

It is unknown why Nicholas decided to place Alexandra’s library in the pass-through room of his suite.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Chandeliers in Nicholas II’s Gothic Library

In 1895, the architect Krasovsky redesigned the former dining room on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace into a library for Nicholas II in the gothic style. Walnut was used throughout: ceilings, upper gallery, walls with dark red embossed leather and gilt wallpaper, and furniture.

There were two ‘Gothic’ chandeliers adorning the library. It is unknown if they were specifically designed for the room or purchased from a company. By the 1930s, they were lost and no record has been found if they were dismantled or sold.

Photograph (below) of the Gothic Library c1917

From 1840s until 1917, chandeliers were encased in special woven covers and uncovered and lit only when the Emperor was in residence. They were hung low to be seen whereas today the remaining original chandeliers are near the ceiling.

After the loss of the original chandeliers in the Gothic library, staff placed old stained glass ones that disintegrated after time and then used modern globes.

Recently, the Hermitage unveiled replicas of the Gothic chandeliers by the architect Tatiana Kargina.

Photographs (below) of the Gothic Chandeliers today

Sales of Imperial property from the palaces took place during the 1920s-1930s of which the most well-known were Fabergé pieces and paintings. Chandeliers were also sold.

In 1937, Marjorie Merriweather Post’s husband Joseph Davies was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Russia. The couple went on a buying spree in Moscow and Leningrad collecting Imperial treasures.

There are today two chandeliers in Hillwood Museum, Post’s former home in Washington, that are identified as Imperial Russian with unconfirmed provenances.

Photograph (below) of the Chandelier in Hillwood’s Hall possibly from Gatchina 

Photograph (below) of the Chandelier in Hillwood’s Breakfast Room 

Were the chandeliers in Nicholas II’s Gothic Library sold during the 1930s and the current owners unaware of its provenance?


Monday, 20 March 2017

Court Photographer in Coburg Germany

On April 8th, 1894 Nicholas II became engaged to Alix while in Coburg to attend the wedding of Grand Duke Ernest and Victoria Melita.

On Thursday, April 14th, 1894 Nicholas wrote “… At 11:15 I went with Alix and all her sisters to the local photographer, where we had our pictures taken in various poses, each one alone and in pairs. The stuffiness in his studio was hellish …”

Photograph (below) of Nicholas & Alix taken on April 14th

Photographs (below) of Professor Eduard Uhlenhuth, the Court Photographer, and his former studio in Coburg

On Wednesday, April 20th, 1894 Nicholas wrote “… Alix and I … have our picture taken at Uhlenhuth’s. He brought photo proofs of us together; she is in an open-neck dress and I in my Hussar’s fur-trimmed jacket …”

Photograph (below) of Nicholas & Alix taken on April 20th

Eduard Uhlenhuth, born in 1853, opened his first studio in Coburg in 1880. By 1898, he had expanded his photography business to Rudolfstadt and Schweinfurt. His descendants continue the tradition today in Schweinfurt.

Photograph (below) of Uhlenhuth company in Schweinfurt today 

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Queen Victoria’s Forgotten Osborne & Albert Cottages

For half a century, Osborne and Albert Cottages, located outside the gates of Queen Victoria’s Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, were important Court residences. They were used by the Queen’s Private Secretary and other Household Officials, and for the overflow of guests from the Russian Imperial family to the Duke of Edinburgh’s, when the Queen was in residence at Osborne.

Photographs (below) of Osborne Cottage

On January 14th , 1878 Queen Victoria wrote in her journal “… After dinner we went to the Council Room and saw the Telephone. A Professor [Alexander Graham] Bell explained the whole process, which is most extraordinary. It had been put in communication with Osborne Cottage and we talked with Sir Thomas and Mary Biddulph, also heard some singing quite plainly. But it is rather faint and one must hold the tube close to one’s ear … The man, who was very pompous, kept calling Arthur Lord Connaught! which amused us very much …” [A.N. Wilson ‘Victoria – A Life’]

Correspondence (below) of the Queen’s Purchase of Telephones for Osborne House

On Saturday, July 9th, 1894 Nicholas II wrote in his diary “… I rode with Alix to the Swiss Cottage, where we ate fruit; then we looked over Osborne and Albert Cottage. I remember nothing of our coming here in 1873 …”

Photographs (below) of Albert Cottage

Albert Cottage is next to the ceremonial entrance ‘Sovereign Gate’ to Osborne House, used exclusively by the Queen and Royal family then and today.

Photographs & Plan (below) of  the Sovereign Gate

On Wednesday, July 22nd, 1909 Nicholas II wrote “… At 3PM we went ashore and rode off in automobiles to Osborne. We looked over … the palace of the deceased Queen where I had stayed 15 years ago … We visited Uncle Bertie’s three sisters at Osborne Cottage …”

Princess Beatrice’s 1901 Osborne Cottage Menu (below) 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Lost Painting in the Empress’ Bedroom in the Winter Palace

Grand Duchess Marie, the daughter of Alexander II and Empress Marie, was with her mother in the Winter Palace in April 1880.

On April 8th, she wrote “… Missy’s [Princess Marie of Edinburgh] picture reached us quite safely, except that the frame was broken. Mama had it always on her bed or on a chair in front of her sofa …” Missy’s portrait was a gift from Queen Victoria to the Empress Marie. [Diana Mandache ‘Dearest Missy’]

Photograph c1917 (below) of the Bedroom of Empress Marie in the Winter Palace

Two years later, another portrait of Princess Marie of Edinburgh was commissioned. 

Beatrix Potter wrote in her journal on Sunday, February 5th, 1882 “… Mr. [John] Millais is going to paint the portrait of one of the Duchess of Edinburgh’s children. The duchess is staying with Princess Mary, Kensington Palace. Mr. Millais went to see her yesterday, doubtless very shy. She offended him greatly. She enquired where his ‘rooms’ were, evidently doubtful whether a Princess might condescend to come to them. ‘My rooms m’am are in Palace Gate’ … He says she speaks English without the slightest accent, the Russians are wonderful at languages…

Saw the Duchess’ little girl come out of Mr. Millais’ about quarter past twelve – brown bonnet, sealskin jacket, long yellow hair to the waist. Mr. Millais got a matting and an extra butler for the occasion, he’s telling them, see what his rooms are like! …”

Millais exhibited ‘H.R.H. The Princess Marie’ (below) at the Summer Exhibition in the Royal Academy of Arts in June 1882.

The portrait given by Queen Victoria to Empress Marie has been lost. There are no photographs and the artist is unknown. In the 1920 inventory of the historical rooms of the Winter Palace, the paintings listed in Empress Marie’s bedroom are ‘The Virgin’, ‘Madeleine’, ‘Angel of Prayer’ and ‘ Holy Alexander Nevsky’.

Although the portrait (above) has been identified as Grand Duchess Marie by K. Makovsky in 1905, is it the lost portrait of Marie of Edinburgh? There is no signature visible. In the turmoil after 1917, had it been labeled Marie, unsold during the 1920s-1930s, and then transferred to a museum until acquired by the Hermitage in 1946?

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Archduchess Stephanie in Peterhof & Wolfsgarten

In the Hofburg, Vienna on August 15th, 1896 Empress Alexandra wrote her brother Ernest “… Stephanie [widow of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria] was directly charming – she must be coming now in a minute, as she wanted to see me a little quietly …” [Petra Kleinpenning ‘Correspondence of Empress Alexandra of Russia with Ernst Ludwig’]

On Saturday, July 12th, 1897 Nicholas II wrote “… Before lunch Stephanie arrived from Moscow, whom we met at the station and took to the Farm [Peterhof]. We settled her downstairs, where Alix had just been staying …” and on Sunday, July 13th “… After Mass we had lunch with Stephanie and her suite …”

On Saturday, July 19th, 1897 Nicholas wrote “… lunch which we had at Mama’s [Cottage Peterhof]. We all had our pictures taken there, vying with each other, we jumped on the net with Stephanie …” and on Sunday July 20th “… At 2PM we took Stephanie to the dock; Stephanie went off to Piter and then to Finland and to Valaam. We became so accustomed to her; she is completely warm and smart! …”

Aerials Photographs (below) of Peterhof and the Cottage

On September 6th, 1897 Grand Duchess Marie wrote her daughter Missy from Coburg “… Ducky wrote today that this tiresome Sephanie has announced herself, therefore she will hardly have time to come here. I am going to try to persuade Ducky to put her off. And then come Nicky & Alix & Henry & Irene, all with their children …” and on September 25th  “… Ducky wrote that Stephanies séjour was quite pleasant this time …” [Diana Mandache 'Dearest Missy']

Photograph (below) of Archduchess Stephanie and her daughter Elizabeth

On Saturday, September 11th, 1899 Nicholas and Alix arrived in Wolfsgarten “… We were put with children in Alix’ little house in very pretty rooms …” and on Sunday, September 12th Nicholas wrote “… At 12 Archduchess Stephanie arrived with her daughter and Niki from Friedrichshof …”

On September 19th, 1899 Grand Duchess Marie in Illinskoe wrote her daughter Missy “… Poor Ducky, do you know, I think it quite dreadful, those constant guests and so tiring. I believe the Majesties are going to stay an eternity, as Ella tells me, that Nicky particularly enjoyed the idea of a stay at Wolfsgarten. I cannot imagine that Stephanie ould wish such a very bad marriage for her only daughter. Nicky of Greece is a very nice boy, but now I consider him extremely cunning to have hit upon a very rich princess! …”

Aerial Photograph & Plan (below) of Wolfsgarten north of Darmstadt

On Sunday, October 10th, 1899 Nicholas wrote “… At 10:20 we went with Niki [of Greece] to Mass in Darmstadt and returned at 12:30. Max [of Baden] came to lunch and played tennis with us …” Later, Max was the former fiancé of Grand Duchess Helen, daughter of Vladimir and Maria Pavlovna, who then married Niki.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Nicholas II’s Divan in His Private Study in the Winter Palace

In 1895, the architect Krasovsky designed Nicholas II’s private study on the 2nd floor in the Gothic style. He combined the former boudoir (182) and winter garden (181) rooms, retaining two of the open arches and enclosing the middle arch with a ceramic fireplace in 181. The room 182 contained a piano, bookcases and a large Ottoman divan.

Photograph c1917 (below) of room 182 showing the divan in the far corner

On Sunday March 3rd, 1896 Nicholas wrote “… Tea in our rooms. After baby’s bath I read. Then I slept for a while on my divan. At 8PM we all had dinner together at Xenia’s and Sandro’s [1st floor of the Winter Palace] …”

On Tuesday, March 19th, 1896 he wrote “… I woke with a headache, not knowing where it came from … After tea I read and then fell asleep [on divan] for half an hour … This picked me up somewhat …”

In February 1898, Empress Alexandra was ill for weeks with measles.

On Tuesday, March 17th, 1898 Nicholas wrote “… We slept in my Study on the corner ottoman-divan, since the bedroom was being disinfected …” and on March 18th “…the bedroom has been cleaned and put in order …”

Photograph (below) of Princess Alexandra of Hohenlohe-Langenburg in Nicholas’ Private Study (182) during her visit to the Winter Palace from January 5th to February 21st, 1900 with the divan in the background

Photograph (below) of the Private Study (182) today with only two arches remaining and the oak panelling and ceiling removed
Photograph (below) of the Private Study (181) today showing the three arches with the middle where the fireplace stood

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

An Important Day for Nicholas II, Xenia & Olga

On Thursday, April 9th, 1915 Nicholas II wrote “… An important day for me arriving in Galicia! At 10 AM came to Brody station … and then rode to Lvov…I visited Olga’s infirmary, where I saw Xenia. At 6:30 arrived at the Viceroy’s Palace…”

The rare photo (below) is of Nicholas meeting Xenia and Olga, at the entrance to the Garrison Church in Lvov that was published in the magazine «Лѣтопись войны 1914-1915» №40, май 1915. Is this the last photo of brother and sisters together?
Photographs (below) of Nicholas visit to Lvov and the Viceroy’s Palace



Monday, 6 March 2017

The Footsteps of Prince Albert in Italy

In October 1837, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg und Gotha wrote to his father Ernest I from Italy “… Milan, and still more, heavenly Venice contain treasures of art that astonish me …”

After arriving home in Coburg, Albert sent Queen Victoria a small album of scenes he had drawn on the journey. Victoria wrote “… I fear now I shall never do so [travel to Italy] …”

On December 29th, 1839 Albert arrived in ‘the far-famed Florence’. On February 25th, 1839 he wrote to his friend Lowenstein “… Oh! Florence, where I have been for two months, has gathered to herself noble treasures of art. I am quite often intoxicated with delight when I come out of one of the galleries …”

A half-century later in the spring of 1893, Queen Victoria did visit Florence. I was not aware of the visit until reading Petra Kleinpenning’s new book ‘Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig and Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine in Italy – 1893’ []

Petra has written a fascinating ‘day-to-day summary’ of their stay in Florence from Friday April 14th to Thursday April 27th, visiting their grandmother Queen Victoria at her Villa Palmieri while they stayed at the Hotel de la Ville and then leaving for Venice.

Prince Albert’s favorite building in Florence was the Palazzo Pitti, the ‘beauty of the external architecture and the magnificence of the apartments’. It was also a favorite for Ernest and Alix, visiting the Palazzo three times during their busy two week stay.

Photograph (below) of the Palazzo Pitti c1875
I am curious if Queen Victoria remembered and visited Casa Cerini or had time abated her obsession of all relating to Albert.

Prince Albert and his granddaughter Alix never returned to Italy but both were inspired by the architecture: Albert and Osborne, Alix and Livadia. 

In her book, Petra reveals that Alix bought two frames for her friend Toni Becker. There is no documentation for other purchases but I wonder if the two paintings next to the fireplace in her study in the Winter Palace were brought from Italy. In the picture below there are 2 photographs, one is of an Italian style garden and the other is of the Madonna. Can anyone identify the artists?

Friday, 3 March 2017

Imperial Balls in the White Hall

Imperial balls, dinners and dances were held in the White Hall on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace facing Palace Square during the reign of Alexander II.

In a letter to her brother Karl of Hesse-Darmstadt in 1842, Empress Marie wrote “… the big white ballroom with statues brought by Sasha from Italy [in 1838, now in the Hermitage] …”

The White Hall was also used for exhibitions. In 1861, Petr Sevastyano’s 5,000 photographs of Byzantine objects and manuscripts, drawings and copies of works of art from his trip to Mount Athos in 1857-1858 were displayed for Alexander II and his guests.

Nicholas II continued both traditions.

On Monday, January 19th, 1904 Nicholas wrote “… At 9:30 the Grand Ball began. There were so many people as never before and there were enough places for people at dinner. I went around the tables in all the halls …”

The January 19th diagram I have of the 2nd floor indicates the position of the tables in the Halls for the 2360 guests. There were 18 oval tables (standard 14) set up in the White Hall.

On Wednesday, February 7th, 1896 Nicholas wrote “… We looked over Aivazovsky’s paintings, which he had set up in the White Hall by our wish …” and on Monday, February 12th late evening “… we walked around to see all three interior guard-posts … It was quite a special thing to do this in half-lit halls… We took another look at Aivazovsky’s works …”

Photographs (below) of the White Hall from Alexander Uspansky’s ‘The Imperial Palaces’ Vol 1. 1913

On Monday, March 4th, 1896 Nicholas wrote “… At 2PM we went to the White Hall, where Dr. Pyasetsky showed us an excellently done unfolding panorama of his trip last year … Caspian See to Teheran …”
On Wednesday, March 1st, 1900 Nicholas wrote “… Mama, Misha and Olga had dinner at our place. In the White Hall Lt. Botkin gave us an interest talk on his expedition to Baikal and showed us many photographs on a magical light machine.

On Friday, March 22nd, 1902 Nicholas wrote “… Then we went to the White Hall, where the ladies had been invited. Makarov was to give us a lecture on his northern sailing on the ‘Ermak’. But this did not happen, since Makarov turned out to be sick in Kronstadt and no one informed us about this. Quite a stupid occurrence!…”

Photographs (below) of the White Hall – Uspansky 1913

Photographs (below) of the White Hall today