Wednesday, 30 August 2017

An 1892 Children’s Book

The grand dukes and duchesses (surrounded since birth with nannies, tutors and servants) never learned to understand the world outside. In 1861, when Alexander III was sixteen and his brother fourteen, their tutor stayed in the bedroom until they fell asleep. A valet then replaced him for the night while the tutor went to his own apartment in the Winter Palace.
The future Nicholas II was twenty-five years old in 1894 when he wrote the following in his diary:

‘In the [Anichkov] garden all is as before: the skating rink and the snow mounds were ready, even a little square made out of snow in order to look out through the fence at the Nevsky’.  ‘Around 3:30 I went with Xenia to Aunt Mikhen’s. We found Mama and Papa there. For the first time I began to walk freely around the embankment [near the Winter Palace] with Xenia,  where we met a number of people we knew’ and ‘I went into the garden with Sergei. We looked more at the Nevsky through the railing’ .[Thursday January 6th, Friday January 7th, and Tuesday January 25th].

The imperial children shielded in their youth later expressed in their diaries and letters a curiosity of others’ lives, loving to poke around in the rooms on visits to their homes.

The 1892 children’s book (below) would have fascinated any child but for an imperial child, behind a palace fence, it was a revelation.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Cracks in the Alexander Column on Palace Square

Count Georg von Cancrin, the elderly and influential Minister of Finance, enjoyed evening walks. Crossing palace square in 1841, he noticed a vertical crack in the granite of the Alexander Column that had been erected on August 30th 1834.

Grigory Chernetsov’s painting (below) of Palace Square on August 30th 1834

With his knowledge of mineralogy, he understood the danger of water seeping through the cracks and mixing with granite. Although stringent in controlling the state budgets, Cancrin proposed to cover the column with copper and was willing to fund the project.

Alphonse Bichebois’s painting (below) of Palace Square on August 30th 1834

Court officials were reluctant to acknowledge that there were any defects in the recently installed monument. To avoid a scandal as the minister was respected by the Emperor Nicholas I, a committee of the original builders was formed.

They concluded ‘after a most thorough examination that the column was found to be in perfect order. Some granite crystals had crumbled and formed small rough depressions that were not glossed. These hollows appear to be cracks’. It was an ‘optical illusion’. It is unknown if Nicholas was deliberately deceived by the builders hiding the flaws with their work.

Twenty years later the problem became dire. Alexander II established another committee in1861 of experts including engineers, scientists, professors and architects to inspect the column. They agreed that ‘cracks appeared even before the column was put in place and were skillfully filled with mastic [resin from the mastic tree used as putty-like filler and sealant] that later fell out’.

Photograph c1870s (below) of the Alexander Column with the wooden gates to the Winter Palace’s large inner courtyard

The column was repaired using a solution of Portland cement mixed with liquid glass and then polishing the surface. As it was necessary to annually inspect the column to seal up any damage, four copper chains with rings at the end were attached at the top for lifting and lowering a worker.

Photograph (below) of the Angel representing Alexander I at the top of the column

Monday, 21 August 2017

Aerials of the Winter Palace or ….?

Palace Square side (below) 

Admiralty side (below)

Neva side (below)

East side with St. George’s Hall (below)

It is always exciting to discover new aerial photographs of the Winter Palace. But … seconds pass.  I was looking at an artist’s exquisitely detailed 3D model of the Winter Palace.

Andrey Padenkov’s fascinating project with various designs of the Winter Palace:

Friday, 18 August 2017

Aerial Views of the Catherine and Alexander Palaces in Tsarskoe Selo

Catherine Palace and the Zubov Wing (below) where Alexander II lived
Catherine Palace and Park

Alexander Palace

Feodorovsky Cathedral

White Tower and Bastion

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

A Mysterious Object in Alexandra’s Bedroom

Hau’s 1870 watercolor (below) of Empress Alexandra’s bedroom in the Winter Palace
Do you know what the object is in front of the cabinet by the fireplace in the lower right of the watercolor above?

Throughout the 1800’s lung diseases affected all classes of the population including the imperial family. Tuberculosis, known as consumption, claimed many lives. A devastating loss was the death of Nicholas I’s daughter Alexandra in 1844 a few hours after the birth of her premature baby.

A spittoon, as the name implies, was a metal pot used for spitting into. It became an indispensable object in aristocratic and palace rooms. There were various designs of spittoons.

The spittoon in Alexandra’s bedroom matched Gambs furniture. Another spittoon was Bosse’s in Empress Marie Alexandrovna’s boudoir (below).

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Parades and Picnics at Gatchina Palace 1898

Nicholas II and Alexandra left Tsarskoe Selo at 11:00 am on Saturday May 9th 1898 for Gatchina Palace. Nicholas wrote that at ‘noon there was a Cuirassier parade on the palace square. Before drinking toasts, Misha [brother] was counted in the regiment’s list. We had lunch with the officers in the White Hall’.

Photographs (below) of Regimental Parades in Gatchina

Photograph (below) of the White Hall in Gatchina Palace

The following month on Monday June 1st at ‘2:00 pm we went to Gatchina to celebrate Olga’s birthday. She is now sixteen years old. At 3:30 we went off in a big group in three carriages to a picnic beyond the Pedlinsky forest to a small Finnish house. Of course we made the food ourselves with our own hands. The best chef turned out to be Count Golenischev-Kutuzov. We had a very merry time and returned to the palace at 10:00 where we watched fireworks at the lake. We were home at 12:00 am in Tsarskoe Selo’.

On Saturday June 13th at ‘2:00 pm we went to Gatchina. Around 4:00 we went off with almost the same group as the last time to a picnic in the tea house at the Lis Knolls. The weather remained excellent. The fare this time turned out very successfully, simply delicious! We stayed until 9:30 and returned home at 11:00’.

Photograph (below) of Nicholas II and group at the picnic in 1898

Five years later on Sunday May 11th 1903 they ‘went off to Gatchina. We went quickly upon arrival to the picnic in the Finnish house. Misha, Petya and I rode on horseback. The air was wonderful, the mood the very best, but the mosquitoes were such a pain!’

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Nicholas II’s State Visit to France in 1901

Empress Alexandra hung one of Francois Flameng’s Napoleonic theme paintings ‘Reception Compiègne in 1810’ in her Empire Drawing Room (187) in the Winter Palace in 1896.

Nicholas II and Alexandra had sailed on the Standart to Dunkirk on Wednesday September 5th 1901 for a three-day state visit to France. At 4:00 pm they boarded Loubert’s presidential train, arriving at 8:00 pm in Compiègne. Nicholas wrote that ‘along the entire railroad line people from the surrounding towns stood and touchingly greeted our train. Madame Loubert met us in the palace. We stayed in the beautiful rooms of Napoleon I and Marie Louise. We had dinner fortunately by ourselves’.

Aerials, photographs and plans (below) of Compiègne Palace


Photographs (below) of Compiegne

The next day they attended maneuvers near Rheims and visited the cathedral. Returning to Compiègne, they had dinner together again.

On Friday, the troops had the day off according to the program. Nicholas wrote it ‘was a peaceful day for us as well. In the morning we walked to the nearby sections of the park. We were walking the entire time in front of the guards and a string of watchmen. It is unimaginable what precautions they took everywhere here. At 11:00 am ‘our friend’ [Philippe] showed up. At 7:00 pm there was a big dinner with educated people of lesser birth and a show. Everything was over at 11:00’.

The doctor and artist Pavel Piasetsky, a friend of Nicholas, accompanied them on their visit to France.

Piastsky’s painting (below) of the imperial couple in the Compiègne Park

Dinner menu (below) on September 7th (OS) / 20th (NS) by the artist from l’Ecole des Arts Deoratifs in Paris

They left Compiègne to return to Kiel at 4:00 pm on Saturday September 8th after a review of four divisions of 10,000 troops and lunch.

The diarist Alexandra Bodganovich held a salon in her mansion on St. Isaac’s Square where opinions, criticisms, secrets and rumors spread among Saint Petersburg Society. She wrote on September 10th that the day before there were interesting talks with the Russian naval agent Yepanchin who had been in Dunkirk. He found there was little enthusiasm and warmth of feeling for the state visit. All the festivities were colorless. During dinner in Compiègne chaos reigned. When presenting, Mme. Deshanell kissed the Empress’ hand while all the other ladies and men shook her hand. Near the end, the Empress only bowed as she had lost feeling in her hand, leaving the impression of coldness and haughtiness among the guests.