Friday, 29 June 2018

Nicholas II at the Grotto in the Alexander Park, Tsarskoe Selo

A baroque hunting pavilion called Monbijou [My Jewel] was built in 1749 for Empress Elizabeth west of the Grand Palace in Tsarskoe Selo. By the 1780s hunting was transferred to Gatchina and the forested area gradually transformed into a landscape park. In 1819 Monbijou was dismantled and the following year architect A. Menelaus began construction of a Gothic pavilion. It was only in the late 1830s that the interiors were completed and became known as the Arsenal with its collection of weapons.

A short distance from the southwest tower of the Arsenal is a grotto with cold spring water.

Photographs (below) of the Arsenal and Grotto

Map (below) with the Arsenal #10 and Grotto

During his walks through the Alexander Park, Nicholas often took the route past the Arsenal. On Saturday May 12th 1907 he ‘looked over the Arsenal in the park’.

Photographs (below) of Nicholas II in the Grotto

A new book on the Arsenal by G. Arlyuk and V. Vekshin was published last year.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Emperors of Austria and Russia at Schloss Rohrbach

 Surrounded by the expanding city of Heidelberg is the former village of Rohrbach with a hunting lodge built in 1700 to the southwest. The schloss was inherited in 1795 by the future King Max of Bavaria where the family took refuge during the Napoleonic wars. After his first wife died there in 1796, he married a year later Princess Caroline of Baden, sister of the Russian Empress Elizabeth. In 1803 Max gave the estate to his mother-in-law the Margravine Amalia of Baden for her summer home. His son Ludwig’s poem remembers his childhood: ‘Peacefully you lie in serene peace, my rural Rohrbach at the foot of the mountain, my ancerstors seat!’

Painting c1800s (below) of Schloss Rohrbach

With the escape of Napoleon from Elba in the spring of 1815, the Congress in Vienna hurriedly assembled their army on the Rhine. The two most powerful men Emperor Franz of Austria and Alexander of Russia were lodged in Heidelberg. In June they accepted Margravine Amalia’s invitation to attend an evening soiree at the Schloss. The Austrian emperor entered the grand salon on the arm of his hostess. Alexander had politely given him the lead as he believed he was a ‘child of the house’, calling the Margravine ‘mama’.

Drawing c1810s (below) of Schloss Rohrbach and interior

After the death of the Margravine in 1832, the Schloss was sold to the family of her former lady-in-waiting. Later at the turn of the century it became a tuberculosis hospital.

Photographs (below) of Schloss Rohrbach today

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Matilda Kshesinskaya’s Mansion in St. Petersburg

A newspaper correspondent informed his readers in 1906 that ‘all those who go and come from the Neva towards Kamennoostrovsky Avenue, admiring the elegant facade of the prima ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya’s mansion, is in one of the most picturesque corners of the capital’.
The Art Nouveau mansion was built in 1905-06 by the architect Alexander von Gauguin and interiors by Alexander Dmitriev. The archives have twenty design drawings of the interior.

Aerial view (below) of the Kshesinskaya Mansion
Photograph and Facades (below) of the Kshesinskaya Mansion

Plan of the 1st floor (below)
1 Lobby; 2 Hall; 3 Winter Garden; 4 Large Drawing Room; 5 Dining Room; 6 Study; 7 Billiard; 8 Anteroom; 9 Small Drawing room

Plan of the 2nd floor (below)
Plan of the Lower floor (below)

Rare photographs of the interiors were presented at the Tsarskoe Selo Conference on Art Nouveau in 2017 []

Photograph (below) of the Drawing Room
Photographs (below) of the Bathroom
Photograph (below) of the Nursery

Photograph (below) of the Kshesinskaya Mansion today

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Panorama of the Emperor’s Hidden Toilet in the Winter Palace

After the 1837 fire, Nicholas I suite of rooms were reconstructed on the 3rd floor of the Winter Palace. Next to the Study (390) with windows facing the Admiralty was the Dressing Room (389). The walls were painted blue. The ceiling decoration has been preserved.

Photographs (below) of the former Dressing Room and ceiling

Opposite the window on the other side of the room is the alcove. On the right is the hidden door to the toilet (below).

Photograph (below) of the toilet in the Farm Palace, Peterhof

In 1841 Nicholas ordered that in his dressing room ‘a painting of a grenadier be inserted in the frame of the mahogany door’.

Panorama (link below) of the former Dressing Room restored by the Hermitage Museum

Monday, 18 June 2018

A Century of History in the Tauride Palace

During the reign of Emperor Paul, the Tauride Palace was turned into a regimental barracks and its furnishings used to decorate the new Mikhailovsky Castle. In 1802 Alexander I had the palace restored stating that ‘everything will be the same at the time of my grandmother [Empress Catherine II]’.

Aerial view (below) of the Tauride Palace
The palace faced the Neva River, connected by a canal with a small harbor, until 1863 when the Water Tower and other structures were built.
B. Petersen’s Paintings c1797 (below) of the Tauride Palace from the Neva and garden sides
Empress Elizabeth sent her mother Amalia of Baden the plan of her apartment on Friday November 7th 1805. ‘The furnishing is not excessive luxury, there are even people who think there are too few. What I like by this drawing is to tell the story of these three years; the first we mourned the death of Grand Duchess Elena, the second the marriage and departure of Grand Duchess Maria [to Weimar] and this year the Emperor’s’.

Plan (below) of the Tauride Palace: Entrance Hall #1, Domed Hall #2, Hall of Columns #3, Winter Garden #4
During her visit to St. Petersburg, Princess Volkonskaya toured the palace on July 30th 1810. ‘The main hall is beautiful. We also went through the rooms of the imperial family. The Dowager Empress are extremely gorgeous but Empress Elizabeth’s are distinguished by their simplicity. They showed us the front room of her daughter who died [Elizabeth 2/11/1806-30/4/1808]. Her bed, the table on which she was dressed, everything is left as it was. Then we went to walk in the garden’. Later Alexander II ordered the garden opened to the public on July 24th 1861 with the entrance through the Sovereign Courtyard.

With the deaths of Empress Elizabeth in 1826 and the Dowager Empress Maria in 1828, the ladies-in-waiting corridor on the 3rd floor of the Winter Palace was overcrowded. Nicholas I decided to move the retired ladies to apartments in the Tauride Palace. Alexander II transferred ownership of the palace to his son Alexei in 1880, reverting back to state property a few years later when the grand duke bought another property.

On December 10th 1899 Grand Duke Konstantin noted that ‘at the request of the young Empress a large Christmas Fair was organized in the halls of the Tauride Palace with society ladies agreeing to be saleswomen’. Nicholas wrote that ‘with Ella and Sergei we went after lunch to the city to the Tauride Palace for the opening. A mass of items had been set up. There were four or five lady-sellers at each table’. On Saturday December 18tharriving at the Winter Palace Alix went to receive a heap of ladies who had taken part in the bazaar’.

From March 6th to September 26th 1905 Sergei Diaghilev, under the patronage of Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich, held a Historical Exhibition of 2,286 Russian portraits in the Tauride Palace. The halls were decorated with old furniture and objects stored in the Tauride and huge warehouses. ‘From Catherinehof palace, we found magnificent furniture of Elizabethan time, black and gold Chinese design, which was in very bad condition. From Yelagin, fine Karelian birch furniture of Pavlovian time and from Princess Altenburg’s Kamennoostrovsky palace, white and gold empire furniture made according to Rossi’s drawings’.

While installing the portrait of Alexander I a ‘worker fell off the ladder, through the canvas. He was unhurt but there was a huge hole in the belly of the emperor. There was incredible turmoil. After the Hermitage restorer Sidorov stretched the canvas on a marble table and ironed out the scars, everyone was amazed. There were no traces left’.

Photograph (below) of Alexander I’s portrait in the Tauride Exhibition
The exhibition closed early to complete the reconstruction of the palace for 1906. The winter garden was dismantled to erect the Duma’s hall.

Photographs (below) of the interiors today

Friday, 15 June 2018

Nicholas II in the Winter Palace Drawing Room

The architect Nikolai Nabokov designed the furniture and other fixtures for Empress Alexandra’s Silver Drawing Room (186) on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace in 1895.

Photograph c1900 (below) of the Silver Drawing Room

Nabokov interspersed in the drawing room 18th century pieces of furniture from the Winter Palace collection that survived the 1837 fire. One is the secrétaire en armoire [writing desk] by the French master Jean Henri Riesener (below).

With the limited number of interior images, I am continuously awed when I stumble upon Winter Palace photographs!

Rare photograph (below) of Nicholas II sitting next to the secrétaire

Photograph c1917 (below) of the Silver Drawing Room [Secrétaire en armoire is exhibited today in room 296 of the Hermitage Museum]

Monday, 11 June 2018

Children Playing in Empress Alexandra’s Winter Palace Rooms

After Nicholas II recovered at Livadia from typhus, Alexandra’s brother Ernest and his wife Ducky boarded their train on Friday January 12th 1901. They arrived at the Winter Palace the following morning. At 12:30 a prayer service was held in the Small Church.

Photograph (below) of Alexandra’s Silver Drawing Room (186) with Ducky, her daughter Elizabeth, Olga, Tatiana and Maria

On Tuesday January 16that 11pm we took Misha and Erni to the station who are leaving for England to attend Granny’s [Queen Victoria] funeral’, returning on February 1st.  The next day Nicholas ‘had quite a head cold on the left side of my face. At 10am Erni came with his daughter who is also staying upstairs [3rd floor]. The hurly-burly with our children was terrible!

Photograph (below) of the children in the Silver Drawing Room

Photograph (below) of the children in Alexandra’s Study (185)

Photograph (below) of the children in Alexandra’s Bedroom (184)

The photograph of the children (below) was a mystery. Was it a room on the 3rd floor? Then I remembered that the doors in the bedroom were paneled with the same dark wood as the lower walls.

Contrast with the white door in the Study (below) into the Bedroom