Friday, 28 April 2017

From the Winter Palace to Racing Ferraris

On March 2nd, 1881 the day after the death of Alexander II, the Imperial ceremonial progression from the Malachite Hall to the Cathedral in the Winter Palace began at 1:00 PM for the new Emperor Alexander III to take his oath.

In the Cathedral, the Minister of Justice Dmitri N. Nabokov, the grandfather of Vladimir Nabokov, read the manifesto and the text of the oath.

Painting (below) of Alexander III on horseback in the Winter Palace's Square

Alexander III’s son Nicholas and Dmitri’s son Vladimir, although on opposing sides on the need of a Duma in 1905, were intrigued with the new automobile age.

A century later his great-grandson Dmitri, the son of Vladimir Nabokov, was an opera singer living in Monza near Milan’s La Scala, a racing car driver and owner of multiple Ferraris. 

Photograph (below) of Dmitri’s mother Vera Nabokov with his Ferrari

Dmitri sold the Nabokov archive to the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library in 1992. He kept, until his death in 2012, his father’s diaries, letters and other material and permitted access to researchers. He allowed Brian Boyd, the editor of ‘Letters to Vera’, to “rummage through every shelf, drawer and cupboard in the apartment and basement”. A Renaissance man who believed in ‘New World openness’.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Hermitage North of Copenhagen

In Denmark, there is another Hermitage (Eremitageslottet), a former hunting lodge, located north of Copenhagen in Dyrehaven (Deer Park).

Aerial View (below) of the Hermitage

Photograph (below) of the Hermitage c1890s

Map (below) of Dyrehaven and the Eremitage (note Bernstorff Slot to the southwest and Charlottenlund Slot to the southeast)

In 1736, the hunting lodge’s architect, Lauritz de Thurah, built an elevator device to hoist the tables  up through a hatch in the floor of the kitchen to the dining room, allowing the company to eat without waiters ”en ermitage”. However, the hoist was plagued by many technical problems and removed completely in the late 18th century. Was this the prototype for Catherine the Great’s dining table in the Small Hermitage in 1766?

The hunting lodge was renovated in the 1890s. On Thursday, September 2nd, 1899 while staying at Bernstorff, Nicholas II wrote “… We had a good walk to Dyrehaven …”

Photographs (below) of the Hermitage interior c1919 and today

On Saturday, September 20th, 1919 Empress Marie wrote “…  At 3 Elena and I went out for a little ride to the formerly closed section of Dyrehaven, where the road was impassable due to wetness and we were forced to go part of the way on foot to the Hermitage, where a downpour had just started. We walked around the palace and looked over Erslev’s charming apartment, appointed with beautiful, antique furniture, which, according to his words, he had inherited from his aunt…”

The Hermitage was restored in 2013 (below).

Monday, 24 April 2017

Pasetti in the Malachite Hall of the Winter Palace

During the reign of Nicholas II, luncheons, musical concerts, military and Historical Society meetings were held in the Malachite Hall on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace.

On Wednesday, March 22nd, 1900 Nicholas wrote “… From 9:15 PM until 12:15 AM we sat in the Malachite Hall and looked at a panorama viewing of the whole Siberian Railroad from the Amur River … to Vladivostok – all of this was amazingly pictured by Pasetti on 1056 pieces of paper. Original, beautiful and curiously interesting…”

Alfred Pasetti, the photographer of the Russian Imperial Court had a studio on the Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg (below).

Photographs (below) of the Malachite Hall c1917 and today.


The location of Pasetti’s historical chronicle of the railroad, shown to the Imperial family in 1900, is unknown. A Guide to the Great Siberian Railroad was published by the Ministry of Ways of Communication in 1900 with 360 photographs (below).

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Incorrect Date of Birth of Grand Duke Alexei A.

Grand Duke Alexei, the fourth son of Alexander II and Empress Marie, is relatively unknown in the midst of authors’ preferences for the more popular Romanov subjects.

A younger, middle child, Alexei has been sidelined to brief references in memoirs and biographies that are generally negative on his naval career and love affairs. A Russian monograph in 1997 on his palace in St. Petersburg challenged the predominant view of Alexei’s life and Nicholas II’s diaries reveal fresh insights into his ‘beloved uncle’.

The original published sources, quoting January 14th, 1850 (New Style) as the date of birth of Grand Duke Alexei, is lost in time. It has been replicated since, with variations on the month and date but the year 1850 remaining constant: January 2nd, 1850 (Old Style), February 1st, 1850 or February 2nd, 1850.

Sergei S. Tatischev prepared the first volume of ‘Emperor Alexander III – His Life and Reign” for publication in 1904. The historian was given permission to conduct research in His Majesty’s Own Library in the Winter Palace, the archives of the Ministry of the Imperial Court, etc.

Tatischev wrote that Grand Duke Alexei was born on January 2nd, 1849 (Old Style) in the Winter Palace. He quotes Alexander II’s letter to the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow on the same date “… The Lord gave me a son, full of reverence for the first Metropolitan of Moscow St. Alexei, of the Russian land, in whose house I was born [Kremlin] and received Holy Baptism, we called him Alexei …”

The manuscript had been read by Count Sheremetev, Nicholas II and Empress Marie. There was no disagreement with the date of birth of Alexei or Alexander II’s letter.

F. Chevlier’s engraving (below) of Vladimir Hau’s 1850 painting of the four eldest sons of Alexander II shows Alexei as a toddler sitting next to his brother Vladimir.

Grand Duke Alexei, who was born and lived thirty-seven years of his life in the Winter Palace, is emerging from the shadows.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Fabergé’s 1896 Imperial Easter Egg in Alexandra’s Study in the Winter Palace

The 1896 Fabergé Imperial Easter Egg was on the top shelf of the vitrine in Empress Alexandra’s study on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace.

Fabergé’s April 12th, 1896 invoice describes a ‘Rock Crystal Egg … with 12 miniatures’.  It is listed as #192   'Egg made of white rock crystal … the frames contain different miniature landscapes on both sides' on N. Dementiev’s April 10th,, 1909 inventory.

The Provisional Government directed F. Golovin on May 10th, 1917  to prepare an inventory of ‘items of great value’ in their Majesties Winter Palace rooms. Karl Fabergé, a member of the commission compiling the numbered list, handled the Imperial Eggs as a former court supplier.

Fabergé described the vitrine's four Eggs on the top shelf: 1900, 1898, 1902 and ‘An egg white rock crystal’. It is a mystery why Fabergé did not date the egg as he did with all the others in the vitrine.

After Hammer Galleries acquired the egg, it became widely known as the 1896 Egg With Revolving Miniatures. An undated letter from Hammer to Lillian Pratt describes the egg with “… twelve handpainted miniatrues on ivory, signed, by Zehngraf …” Attached with it is a note 'See photographs of miniatures in inside of crystal ball of Russin Imperial Easter Egg. The writing on the back of the photographs which gives location of the residences is said to be the handwriting of Queen Mary'.  []

There is no artist signature visible on the Winter Palace miniature (below). On the upper right, there is a gap. It appears the miniature had been pried out, revealing the handwriting noted above, causing damage when replaced.

The miniature is a replica of the photograph (below) of the Winter Palace c1890 with the three figures on the quay! The Danish artist, Johannes Zehngraf, eliminated the fence and added the ventilation tower built in 1895.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Easter (Пасха) in the Cathedral of the Winter Palace

The celebration of Easter (Пасха), the holiest day in the Russian Orthodox calendar, was held in the Cathedral of the Winter Palace. Although officially known as the Cathedral of the Holy Savior, the Imperial family and court documents referred to it as the Great Church.

On Easter Sunday March 25th, 1839 the spiritual head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, in the presence of the Nicholas I and the Imperial Family and Court, blessed the rebuilt Cathedral after the fire in December 1837.

On Palm Sunday 1865 in St. Petersburg, Alexander II sent a courier to Nice with Easter gifts for his wife Empress Marie.  Early Easter Sunday morning, he attended Mass in the Cathedral with three of his sons and then broke their fast in the Gold Room. Alexander wrote in his dairy “ ... returned to my study tired from triple kissing 416 persons and felt dizzy...”.

On Easter Sunday, April 17th, 1894 in the early morning hour as Alexander III and Empress Marie were starting the procession from the Malachite Hall to the Cathedral, there was a power outage throughout the Winter Palace. The Imperial family continued to proceed through the halls by the light of kerosene lamps and candles, hurriedly found by servants. After some time, they were able to restore power to a few rooms. Some have since written that it was a bad omen yet, prior to the installation in 1888 of electricity in the Winter Palace, the rooms were lit with lamps and candles!

On Holy Saturday, April 4th, 1898 Nicholas II wrote that he “… went through porcelain eggs … I worked by myself [in my study] until 11:15 PM. Before the 3rd cannon shot the procession had begun …” and continued the next day, Easter Sunday morning, “… I triple-kissed 280 people in church. The Mass continued until 2:30 AM. We broke our fasting according to tradition in the Malachite room … We were up at 9:45 AM …”

Photographs (below) of the Hermitage's recent exquisite restoration of the Cathedral in the Winter Palace

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Nicholas & Alix Engagement in Schloss Ehrenburg, Coburg

On Monday, April 4th, 1894 Nicholas wrote in his diary of arriving in Coburg with Mikhen, Vladimir, Sergei, Ella and Pavel and then “… rode to the Schloss  [Ehrenburg] where we were quartered side by side in superb apartments …”

On Tuesday, April 5th he wrote “… At 4:30 Queen Victoria arrived very ceremoniously … All of us, in full dress uniform, watched all this from the windows her rooms. Having presented ourselves, we went downstairs to have tea in our rooms…” and on Wednesday, April 6th “… we went off to meet [Kaiser] Wilhelm at the station. He arrived at 6PM and also was put in our Schloss …”

On Friday, April 8th Nicholas wrote “…the day of my engagement … Wilhelm sat in the next room …”

The colored glass stereofotografie (below) of the interiors of Schloss Ehrenburg give a rare glimpse of the rooms at the time of Nicholas and Alix’ engagement.

Arbeits Zimmer (Study)

Audienz Zimmer (Audience Room)

Das Sepise Zimmer (Dining Room)

Familiensaal (Family Room)

Gemalde Galleries (Painting Gallery)

Gobelin Zimmer (Gobelin Room)

Kaiser Freidrich Zimmer (Kaiser Freidrich Room)

Kleine Bildergallerie (Small Picture Gallery)

Konigen Zimmer (King’s Room)

Roter Saal (Red Room)

Rotes Zimmer (Red Room)


Thronsaal (Throne Room)

Duchess Boudoir

Duchess Salon


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

A Solomko Painting in Empress Alexandra’s Boudoir

The artist Sergei Solomko (1867-1928) grew up in the Konstantinovich Palace in Strelna where his father was in the service of Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich.

Solomko was a prolific artist and famous for his historical watercolors, book graphics, jewellery and costumes. He created models for the Imperial Porcelain Factory, Fabergé, and sketches of Old Russian costumes for the 1903 Winter Palace Ball.

In December 1908, Empress Alexandra sent her brother, Grand Duke Ernst of Hesse-Darmstadt, a postcard of Solomko’s painting ‘Rencontre’ (below).

On July 23rd, 1913 Alexandra sent another postcard to Ernst of Solomko’s painting ‘Une femme assyrienne en trassant d’un tapis’ (below). [Petra Kleinpenning’s ‘Correspondence of the Empress Alexandra of Russia with Ernst Ludwig]

Empress Alexandra hung a large number of paintings in her apartment on the 2nd floor in the Winter Palace, many purchased by her and Nicholas at art exhibitions.

In the photograph (below) of Alexandra’s boudoir in July 1917, I believe the painting of a man in an old Russian costume, visible on the left above the lamp, is by Solomko. There are no archival inventories discovered as yet to confirm my identification of the artist, the date of purchase, nor where the painting is now. Can you help to prove the photo shows a Solomko painting and its location today?

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Franz Josef in 1843 Visits Munich & Possenhofen

A legend has grown around the 1853 engagement in Bad Ischl of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria and Empress Elisabeth (Sisi). Their meeting ten years before in Possenhofen, revealed in Franz Josef diaries, is little known nor is the name he called Elisabeth.

On Saturday, September 2nd, 1843 Franz Josef wrote “ … From Wasserburg, we traveled to Munich, the lovely dear Munich, where we saw the splendid Festbau, the Basilica, the Ludwigskirche, … We dined at the Palais Leuchtenberg at half past five o'clock. … I got to know the Crown Prince and the Crown Princess of Sweden. At seven o'clock we drove away from Munich and arrived at Possenhofen at quarter past ten. We found Duke Max and all his children, except for Louis, who is in Switzerland.

Aerial View (below) of Possenhofen on the Starnberger See, the summer home of Elisabeth, south of Munich

On Sunday, September 3rd, he wrote “… We had breakfast with Aunt Louise, Helene, Elise, and the very kind but almost distorted Kakl. At ten o'clock we went into the chapel to hear the mass where I was sick, so that I had to be carried from the chapel to an open window … At 12 o'clock I fished with Grf. Bombelles and Duke Max ... In the afternoon, we all, even the little Kakl, went to a castle on the opposite bank of the lake …” and on Monday, September 4th, “ … When we returned to Possenhofen, we went into the forest behind the castle, where we all had breakfast. We stayed there until half past twelve…  At two o'clock we dined, all the inhabitants of the castle, in the dining-room on the ground floor …”

Photograph c1854 (below) of Possenhofen

On Wednesday, September 6th, Franz Josef wrote “… At six o'clock I woke, and after breakfast, I went with Grf. Bombelles to Munich in two and a half hours, where we were staying at the Palais Max. From there we went to the painter Kaulbach, where we saw the painting of the destruction of Jerusalem and many other paintings. Then we drove over the bridge of the Isar … We dined at Palais Max, and when Mama arrived at the Palais Leuchtenberg from Possenhofen at half-past four , we went there, and from there we traveled with the Mama at half past five in the afternoon to Wasserburg, where we arrived at nine o'clock…”

Photographs c1854 (below) of the Salon and Nursery in Possenhofen

Wilhelm von Kaulbach was the great-uncle of Friedrich August von Kaulbach who painted the children of Nicholas II and Alexandra.

The Palais Leuchtenberg in Munich was built in 1821 by the architect Leo von Klenze for  Eugène de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg whose son Maximilian married Emperor Nicholas I’s daughter, Marie. Nicholas also commissioned Leo von Klenze to build the New Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

Painting and Photograph (below) of the Palais Leuchtenberg