Sunday, 28 October 2018

Album of Interiors of Grand Duke Sergei and Grand Duchess Elizabeth’s Mansion

The artist Ignatius Nivinsky created an album for Grand Duke Sergei and Grand Duchess Elizabeth of the interiors of their Moscow Mansion in the early 1900s.

Watercolors (below) of the Red Drawing Room with portraits of Emperor Alexander III and Empress Elizabeth Petrovna

Watercolor (below) of the view from the White Lounge towards the Ballroom
Watercolors (below) of Grand Duke Sergei’s Large Study, Study and Dressing Room
Watercolors (below) of Grand Duchess Elizabeth’s Drawing Room, Salon, Study, Boudoir and Bedroom

Watercolor (below) of the House Church
Photograph c1900 (below) of the Mansion

Friday, 26 October 2018

Grand Duke Konstantin’s Visit to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1847

On the morning of May 10th (OS) 1847 Grand Duke Konstantin, the nineteen-year-old son of Emperor Nicholas I and Alexandra Feodorovna, docked at Woolwich on the Thames. ‘Here we got into the royal carriages and went to this colossus, this miracle, called London. We entered Westminster Bridge and with it, London has opened to us all its glory. The first thing that struck my eyes was the new parliament, the most wonderful and magnificent building built in recent times’.

Photograph c1850 (below) of Westminster Parliament

We stopped in Brook Street at the Mivart hotel (lithograph below) where Sasha [his brother Alexander] also stayed’.

After lunch Konstantin and his adjutant Baron Sergei Fredericks walked around Bond Street, Piccadilly and Regents Street and stopped in the ‘Mortimer store in which there are wonderful things’. Later at five they went ‘riding in Hyde Park with Colonel Gray who was assigned to us. I myself was on Prince Albert’s horse. We met the Marquess of Anglesey and Prince George of Cambridge’.

Watercolor c1850s (below) of Hyde Park

The next morning the grand duke went to Regents Park and the Zoological gardens until five in the afternoon then walked around Kensington gardens and back around the Serpentine. ‘Returning barely alive, I stripped naked because it was incredibly hot and lay down on the bed before dinner’.

On May 12th they visited the Polytechnic Institution where there was ‘an incredible variety of models. We saw one crank get electricity from a steam boiler and then to the attic to see how daguerreotypes are made’.

At eight in the evening of the 14th Grand Duke Konstantin attended a ‘big dinner at Buckingham Palace and sat between Queen Victoria and Lady Canning’. The next day he was part of the military review celebrating the queen’s birthday and the Drawing-Room in St. James Palace. ‘The queen stood in front of her throne, we beside her to the left and the ladies and gentlemen passed by and bowed. In the evening I dined alone with the queen and there was nobody at the table except on-duty. I sat between the queen and the young maid of honor Miss Dawson. The queen was much more casual and talkative than before and all the time she spoke to me in such a way that I could not speak at all with my pretty neighbor’.
Joseph Nash’s Watercolor c1846 (below) of Buckingham Palace
© Royal Collection

After lunch on the 16th Konstantin went to the studio to have his daguerreotype (below) taken to send to his fiancée Princess Alexandra of Saxe-Altenburg.

From May 19th to the 23rd Konstantin and his Weimar cousins were guests at Windsor Castle. ‘Prince Albert and the queen met us at the bottom and led us inside to show the castle. The best of all is the Long Gallery, Reception, Waterloo and St. George’s Halls. I live in the rooms win which Papa [Nicholas I] was’. On the 20th Prince Albert took them on a tour to the large tower and around the castle to the Adelaide Cottage. During the races at Ascot ‘the heat was terrible’. The next morning during tea ‘the queen gave me wonderful little buttons for a shirt, blue ones with diamonds. We later walked on foot to the farm, barnyard and the queen’s garden. Everything is extremely cute and smartly arranged. Then a visit to the Duchess of Kent at Frogmore’. After the gala dinner in St. George’s Hall, Konstantin and Karl Weimar walked ‘around the Windsor until 2 in the morning’. On the 22nd Prince Albert showed them the ‘lower floor of the castle and the kitchens. Everything is beautiful and restrained and very cleverly arranged’.

Joseph Nash’s Watercolor c1847 (below) of Windsor Castle
© Royal Collection 
On June 4th the grand duke attended the Duchess of Sutherland’s ball. It was ‘huge, gorgeous and fun. We danced the mazurka. I stayed until half past two and finished with a waltz with Lady Emily de Burgh’.

Joseph Nash’s Watercolor c1847 (below) of the Duchess of Sutherland’s Ball with Queen Victoria and Grand Duke Konstantin on the staircase

© Royal Collection

The grand duke departed London on June 7th for a tour of England, Wales and Scotland. On the 13th they departed Aberystwyth in Wales and set off north arriving at the foot of the mountain Kader-Idris. ‘We changed horses and I went forward along the road that went uphill through a wild gorge. It was so hot that I took off my jacket and carried it on a stick over my shoulder. I will never forget this lonely walk. I was alone among the most gorgeous nature and my thoughts involuntarily sought heaven and my Guardian Angel Adini’. Konstantin grieved the death of his sister Alexandra in 1844 and had written in his will that he wanted to be buried next to her.

Photograph c1800s (below) of Kader-Idris

Travelling north Konstantin arrived at Blair Castle in Scotland on July 9th. The Duke of Atholl ‘hoped that I would put on the Scottish dress but Feodor Litke [his tutor] would not allow it’. The next evening he did put on the kilt. ‘I find it to be extremely pleasant and not at all cold although I was dressed according to all the rules, that is, completely without pantaloons’. In Edinburgh on July 15th he toured the castle and Holyroodhouse and after ‘went to the studio of Sir William Allan whom Papa loves’. The next day they stopped at Walter Scott’s [beloved author of the imperial family] cottage in Abbotsford and arrived back in London on the 19th.

Lithograph c1840s (below) of Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford

Monday, 22 October 2018

Imperial Porcelain Egg of the Children’s Island near the Alexander Palace

The inventor Dmitry Vinogradov experimenting with recipes from Meissen in Saxony produced the first samples of hard porcelain at the end of 1748 in Saint Petersburg. In March 1749 he noted in his diary that ‘eggs were ground and molded’. Porcelain as a precious material then became traditional for the Imperial Easter Eggs.

Imperial Porcelain Egg c1870 (below) with a view of the Children’s Island in the Alexander Park, Tsarskoe Selo

Lithograph (below) by Karl Kolman of the Children’s Island used for the porcelain egg

Artists from the Imperial Porcelain Factory were given permission from Emperor Nicholas I in the 1840s to reproduce paintings in the Imperial Hermitage. The traditional Easter eggs became works of art ranging from religious themes, landscapes, flowers, views of Saint Petersburg and the imperial palaces.

Imperial Porcelain Egg c1840s (below) of Saint Mary Magdalene from the painting by Guido Reni

Friday, 19 October 2018

The Jewel Album of Grand Duchess Olga Feodorovna

In 1857 Princess Cecile of Baden, the sister of Alexandrina of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha [Prince Albert's sister-in-law], arrived in Saint Petersburg to marry Grand Duke Mikhail, the youngest child of Nicholas I and Alexandra Feodorovna. The princess came with only a few jewels i.e. a gold bracelet with blue enamel and a medallion of her mother from her brother Wilhelm and a gold bracelet from Princess Louise of the Netherlands.

Winterhalter Portrait (below) of Grand Duchess Olga Feodorovna

Photograph c1850s (below) of Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolaevich

On August 3rd Cecile converted to Orthodoxy taking the name Grand Duchess Olga Feodorovna. The dowager empress gave her a diamond bracelet with rubies and another bracelet with four threads of diamonds. Mikhail’s brother Emperor Alexander II presented Olga with a diamond tiara with seven emeralds and a diamond bracelet with nine emeralds.

Grand Duke Mikhail’s wedding gift to his wife on August 16th was a ‘wide gold bracelet with small diamonds and sapphires and four large diamonds’.

Lithograph (below) of their wedding in the Winter Palace 

Illustrations (below) from the Jewel Album

Alexander Polovtsov’s diary reveals rare glimpses into the private life of the couple. Olga was angry when  Alexander III changed the imperial family laws and complained about lack of money. Yet their eldest son, the historian Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich, was the wealthiest of all the grand dukes. 

Grand Duchess Olga had  traded her necklace, a wedding gift from her brother Frederick, in the English Shop in Saint Petersburg for one large pearl. She donated a number of her jewels to the Church i.e. a gold bracelet from Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna. Her emerald tiara from Alexander II was given to their only daughter Anastasia Mikhailovna.

Monday, 15 October 2018

The Story of the Imperial Black Ball in the Anichkov Palace, January 26th 1889

The seasonal imperial balls in the Winter Palace proceeded on schedule in January 1889 when the Foreign Ministry received a telegram from Vienna at 9:00 am on Wednesday January 18th (OS) – 30th (NS) about the death of Archduke Rudolf of Austria. Emperor Alexander III forwarded to the Foreign Minister Girs the telegram he received at 4:45 pm from Emperor Franz Josef adding a handwritten note on it: ‘What a terrible misfortune’.

M. Zichy’s Watercolor (below) of the Imperial Black Ball in the Anichkov Palace on Thursday January 26th 1889
During lunch on Friday January 20th in the Anichkov Palace, Alexander III said to Minister Girs that he was ‘convinced the Archduke’s death was the result of a duel and not suicide’. When Girs mentioned his concern about the decision made by the Imperial Court to go ahead with the imperial ball next Thursday two days after the burial with the ladies in black, Alexander replied ‘there have been examples’. Later that day Grand Duke Ludwig of Hesse-Darmstadt with his daughter Alix and son Ernest arrived in Saint Petersburg staying at Grand Duke Sergei and Elizabeth’s palace in the apartments on the ground floor to the left of the main staircase.

Photograph c1880s (below) of Grand Duke Sergei’s Palace on the Nevsky Prospekt opposite the Anichkov Palace
By Saturday January 21st mourning for the death of Archduke Rudolf had yet to be declared in Saint Petersburg. Minister Girs telephoned the Minister of the Court to relay his concern that they still have not published the decree.

The Marshal of the Court was in great difficulty over the uncertainty about the ball on Thursday; ‘it is appointed, then cancelled and, with preparations already completed, offered the alternative of a dinner’.

The decision about the imperial ball was finally settled on Monday January 23rd. ‘It will be held on Thursday, not in the Concert Hall of the Winter Palace but in the Anichkov Palace. Those present will be in mourning and the diplomatic corps will not receive invitations’.

At the request of Emperor Franz Josef, the trip of Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich and a military deputation to the funeral in Vienna on Tuesday January 24th had been cancelled. A solemn funeral mass was held in the Catholic Church in Saint Petersburg attended by all the grand dukes representing the emperor, ministers and court officials. Late on the previous Monday night Minister Girs had received a note from Alexander III: ‘Would you please convey to the Austrian Ambassador that I very much regret that I cannot come tomorrow to the service in the Catholic Church since we are called to our daughter at 11:00  and a reception’. Grand Duchess Xenia had been ill with typhus, her rooms were dismantled in the Anichkov and all her things (furniture, toys, etc.) burned.

Photograph c1880s (below) of Anichkov Palace
At the ball on Thursday January 26th Empress Maria Feodorovna wore a ‘black tulle gown strewn in front with diamonds. The ladies all wore black dresses of satin, silk or tulle, sparkling with diamonds and pearls, black fans, black elbow gloves, black shoes and black stockings. Grand Duchess Elizabeth told Minister Girs that her sister Princess Alix was unable to attend as she was ill. Girs noted that her father danced a lot. The precious stones with ribbons distributed during the cotillion were beautiful against the backdrop of black gowns’. Empress Maria’s valet noted the orchestra played only Viennese music.

Photograph (below) of the Ballroom in the Anichkov Palace today
On Sunday evening February 5th the courier arrived in Saint Petersburg with reports from the ambassador in Vienna. He was ‘unable to say anything new on the tragic event in Mayerling. Protocols on the investigation, by order of Emperor Franz Josef, are buried in the secret archive of the imperial family and no official exact information is expected’.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

A 1927 Film Crew in Nicholas II’s Gothic Library in the Winter Palace

The director Sergei Eisenstein filmed interior scenes in the Winter Palace in 1927 for his movie ‘October’ about the 1917 revolution.

Photograph c1927 (below) of Sergei Eisenstein sitting in Nicholas II’s chair with the film crew in the Gothic Library #178 on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace
The architect Alexander Krasovsky’s sketch of his design for the Gothic Library fireplace in 1895 shows a brick background for its interior. The detail above is the first photograph allowing a close-up view of Krasovsky’s final version with the intricate carved bas-relief. The fireplace was covered up in the 1930s.

Photograph c1927 (below) of Sergei Eisenstein in front of the fireplace with the two elephant tusks that were originally in Nicholas II’s Reception Room #176 - see my article on ‘The Odyssey of the Elephant Tusks’ on July 15th 2016:
Photograph (below) of the Gothic Library today
Photograph c1927 (below) of Sergei Eisenstein and the film crew in the Rotunda #156 on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace – note the original chandelier, lost today
E. Hau’s c1862 Watercolor (below) of the Rotunda

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Nicholas II Youth in the Potato and Gatchina Societies

In the late 1880s a group of friends including the heir Grand Duke Nicholas, his brother George and sister Xenia, Grand Dukes Alexander and Sergei Mikhailovich, Counts Ivan and Roman Vorontsov-Dashkov and their sister Alexandra and Counts Dmitri and Pavel Sheremetev would meet weekly in the afternoon for tea in Xenia’s rooms in the Anichkov Palace.

Photograph c1874 (below) of Anichkov Palace with the garden on the right

They called themselves ‘The Potato Society’. It originated from the Paper Chase game in the Novo-Tomnikova estate where players pretended to be foxes that leave a paper trail and others hunters. One day Dmitry Sheremetev and Alexandra Vorontsov-Dashkov asked the servants if they had seen a fox and were told ‘we hit the potato’. All the members of the society had Fabergé gold keyrings in the form of a potato.

Photograph (below) of Novo-Tomnikova with Grand Duke Sergei, Grand Duchess Elizabeth, Countess Elizabeth Vorontsova-Dashkova and the Vorontsov-Dashkov children September 19, 1886
Photograph c1889 (below) of the Vorontsov-Dashkov sisters: Alexandra, Sofia, Maria, Irina and wife of their brother Ivan
Photograph c1880s (below) of Alexander III in the Anichkov Palace garden (front: Alexander III, Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich, Irina and Alexandra Vorontsov-Dashkov, Grand Duchess Xenia, Sofia Vorontsov-Dashkov and back: Tsarevich Nicholas, Grand Dukes Sergei and Mikhail Alexandrovich, Count D. Sheremetev)
Every Sunday the above-named group plus the younger Vorontsov-Dashkov sisters, Princes Alexander, Anatoly and Vladimir Baryatinsky, Kiril Naryshkin and Boris Sheremetev would take the train from St. Petersburg to Gatchina Palace. The girls would gather in Grand Duchess Xenia’s rooms and the boys with Nicholas. The two younger Vorontsov-Dashkov brothers and Grand Dukes Kiril, Boris and Andrei Vladimirovich went to play with Grand Duke Mikhail. They called themselves ‘The Gatchina Society’. On the day of his majority in 1885, Nicholas gave to each member a Fabergé gold triangle token with his portrait and engraved on the back ‘Anichkov and Gatchina 1881-1885’ and their name.

Photograph (below) of Gatchina Palace with the Arsenal on the right where the Imperial lived on the mezzanine floor
Photograph c1888 (below) Alexander III and family at Gatchina Palace
Photographs c1930s and today (below) of Grand Duchess Xenia’s rooms in Gatchina Palace


Photographs (below) of Grand Duke Nicholas’s rooms in Gatchina Palace today