Wednesday, 29 May 2019

The Nursery for the Grand Duchesses in the Winter Palace

The architect Krasovsky redesigned in 1895 the former rooms of Nicholas I’s daughters for the children of Nicholas II and Alexandra on the 1st floor of the Winter Palace.
Photographs (below) of the Cupids Drawing Room today
In the 1840s the room shown above [#13 on the 1st floor plan] was Olga and Alexandra’s turquoise library. The architect Stakenschneider renovated the apartment for the third son of Nicholas I after his wedding in 1856 until his palace was completed. The library was transformed into the rococo Cupids Drawing Room.

Watercolors c1860s (below) of the Cupids Drawing Room
For the nursery Krasovsky retained the original vaulted ceiling decoration. He dismantled the gilding, cupids and mirrors and covered the walls and columns in yellow-flowered brocade. The furniture was designed by N. Nabokov and S. Danini and manufactured by the Svirsky firm. Some pieces were upholstered in the same material including the fireplace screen.

Thursday March 7th 1896 ‘Passetti took photographs of the three of us – Alix, our little daughter and me – downstairs in the children’s quarters’.

Photograph (below) of Nicholas & Alexandra with Olga in the Cupids Drawing Room
A rare photograph (below) of the Cupids Drawing Room showing Krasovsky’s brocade walls and the original fireplace from the 1850s that was taken in November 1917. The 1st floor children’s quarters had been used as offices since the February revolution.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Rare Watercolor of Nicholas II’s Billiard Room in the Winter Palace

A week after Nicholas II and Alexandra had moved into their new apartments in the Winter Palace, the emperor wrote on Wednesday January 3rd that he ‘held a reception in the still empty Billiard room’. Finally on Wednesday February 22nd he ‘played two rounds with Obolensky [adjutant] for the inauguration of the Billiard Room’.

Photograph c1899 (below) of the Billiard Room [177] on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace

Photograph c1917 (below) of the Billiard Room

After October 1917 the rooms of Nicholas and Alexandra ‘were sealed and remained untouched for several years’. In April 1922 preparations began to open the historical rooms as part of the museum tour. The rooms were closed and dismantled in 1926.

The watercolors by Ukhtomsky, Premazzi, Hau and other artists reveal incredible details of the Winter Palace interiors in the 1800s. With the increasing use of photography, inventories and the few remaining architectural drawings are the main source of understanding the range of colors of the interiors. Until recently, the only known images of Nicholas and Alexandra’s rooms were photographs.

Watercolor c1914 (below) of Nicholas II’s Billiard Room [note the floor that the architect Krasovsky had reinstalled for Nicholas from the Pompeiian Dining Room]

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Rare Photograph of the Gonzaga Gallery in Pavlovsk Palace c1850s

On January 10th 1803 a devastating fire raged for three days in Pavlovsk Palace. The architect Andrei Voronikhin restored the palace by 1805. The following year Vincenzo Gonzaga painted the frescoes in the gallery that was then known as the ‘Open Dining Room’ by the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna.

Photograph (below) of the Gonzaga Gallery today with the 1822 Rossi Library located above

Rare Photograph c1850s (below) of the Gonzaga Gallery

The figure in the center by the stairs is Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich, the son of Nicholas I and Empress Alexandra. In 1849 he inherited the Pavlovsk estate at the age of twenty-two after the death of his uncle Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich.

Aerial views (below) of Pavlovsk Palace from the front and back [Gonzaga Gallery left of the center building]

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Paintings and Photographs of changes to Empress Maria’s Study in the Winter Palace - 1840 to 1940

The future Empress Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Alexander II, described her Crimson Study [#305] on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace in a letter to her brother Prince Karl of Hesse-Darmstadt in 1842.

K. Ukhtomsky Watercolor c1840s (below) of the Crimson Study
‘…The walls are almost entirely hung with paintings… In the corner a lovely head of an angel in white marble which Sasha [Alexander II] imported from Italy…
E. Hau Watercolor c1850 (below) of the Crimson Study
‘…In the corner between two windows is a marble statue surrounded by flowers and a screen covered with ivy. On the large desk are your portraits and a miniature of Kruger’s painting of Nicholas I, Sasha and Uncle Mikhail [Nicholas I’s brother]. We usually have lunch in this room when we are three [husband and brother Prince Alexander]…’

In 1858 the architect A. Stakenschneider was commissioned to redesign the interiors. The work started in 1863 and the Crimson Study was completed in 1866.

L. Premazzi Watercolor c1869 (below) of the Crimson Study
Photograph c1872 (below) of the Crimson Study
After the death of Empress Maria in 1880 and Alexander II in 1881, their apartments were designated as ‘memorial’ and in the following year tour groups were given permission to visit the rooms.

Photograph c1910s (below) of the Crimson Study
Photograph (below) of the Crimson Study in November 1917 after the revolution
Photograph c1940 (below) of the Crimson Study
Photograph (below) of the Crimson Study today

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Empress Maria & the Telephone Line between Gatchina Palace and Mariinsky Theatre

The imperial family enjoyed attending the opera, ballet and theatre. In 1882 Emperor Alexander III approved a telephone line between Gatchina Palace and the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg.

Aerial view and model (below) of Gatchina Palace - the Arsenal with apartments of the imperial family on the right

The future Nicholas II wrote on December 4th 1882 that ‘since the telephone from the theatre was connected, we have listened to the opera after dinner with Papa and Mama. We talked also with the caretaker of the phone and others’.

The imperfections with the sound improved in 1895 with the transfer of the network from Bell to Erickson telephones. Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich noted in his diary on November 13th 1896 that ‘after lunch I wrote a letter to Baby [sister Olga]. Then we [four regimental commanders]] spoke to the phonograph that repeated everything to us. After that we went downstairs and listened to the opera Eugene Onegin on the phone’.

Photograph c1890s (below) of the Mariinsky Theatre
There were frequent complaints on the quality of the telephone. In Gatchina a telephone switchboard was installed with two lines of wire. A lever allowed a switch from telephone conversations on the left and the theatre to the right.

On December 12th 1896 Empress Maria wished to listen to the opera in her apartment but was refused as the new bronze wires did not fit the connectors to the Mariinsky. A memo to the chief of the Main Post & Telegraph Administration reported that ‘the next evening after returning from the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo at 10:30pm the Empress, Adjutant General Prince Baryatinsky and lady-in-waiting Kutuzov listened to the last act of the opera. All were very pleased and thanked that it was much more clearly audible’.

Telephones c1890s-1900s (below) displayed in the St. Petersburg Museum
After the death of Alexander III in 1894, it was considered unprofitable to keep the line open all the time since tariffs for using the networks were quite high. Nevertheless the telephone was switched daily to broadcasts of performances whether Empress Maria was staying in Gatchina or not.

In a letter to his mother on November 2nd 1906 Grand Duke Mikhail ‘after dinner went with friends to listen to the opera. It was quite comical to see our society which sat in the bathroom along the walls and listened to the telephone’.

Photographs c1938 (below) of Grand Duke Mikhail’s Bedroom and Bathroom in Gatchina Palace

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and sister-in-law Duchess Alexandrine of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha

Princess Alexandrine, the twenty-one year old daughter of Grand Duke Leopold of Baden, married Prince Albert’s brother Ernest of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha on May 3rd 1842.

Winterhalter’s Portrait c1842 (below) of Princess Alexandrine
Photograph c1860 (below) of Queen Victoria, Duke Ernest, Prince Albert and Duchess Alexandrine in Coburg
The artist Marie Ellenrieder, who had been appointed by Grand Duke Leopold to the Baden court in 1828, completed a portrait of his wife Grand Duchess Sophie and children in 1834 (below). After leaving the palace in Karlsruhe and returning home to Konstanz, Marie and Princess Alexandrine corresponded and remained close until the artist’s death in 1863.
In her letter to the princess on July 13th 1839 Marie described two visitors to her studio in Rome. ‘I forgot to say that the amiable Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg was also with me. He seemed to me quite happy about his stay here and was very excited. King Ludwig I of Bavaria also came to surprise me at work!

During their visit to Coburg in 1845 Duchess Alexandrine showed a few of Marie’s religious paintings to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The queen commissioned a piece and on November 2nd 1846 Marie finished her painting ‘St. Felicitas and her Seven Sons’ (below © Royal Collection).
It wasn’t until June 1848 that the artist ‘shipped the painting to England through the post office’. Duchess Alexandrine soon after wrote to Marie that ‘it was opened in the queen’s rooms at Osborne House’.

Then on August 7th 1848 Marie excitedly wrote back to the duchess that ‘now I have received the dear-dear news from London I can really paint for the Queen and Prince Albert another picture!’

Marie Ellenrieder’s Painting ‘Christ in the Temple’ c1849 (below © Royal Collection)