Monday, 30 September 2019

Rare Photograph of Emperor Nicholas II’s Private Staircase in the Winter Palace

The architect Krasovsky redesigned the rooms on the 2nd floor northwest section of the Winter Palace for Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra in 1895. On the 1st floor below Nicholas’ private study (181) was the memorial small study (17)  and adjutant's office of his great-grandfather Nicholas I.

Photograph (below) of the on-duty adjutant’s office with a spiral cast-iron staircase

In the 1930s the architect Sivkov reconstructed Nicholas I’s small study with the window facing the admiralty and on-duty adjutant’s office, dismantling the staircase and fireplaces, to create the long narrow vaulted room (17) seen today.

V. Sadovnikov’s Watercolor c1855 (below) of Nicholas I’s Small Study

Photographs today (below) of the former small study and adjutant’s office (the staircase was on the left by the door)

Nicholas II would come down another staircase that was in his valet’s room (180) on the 2nd floor to room #18 on the 1st floor and then went through the door to the former adjutant’s office #17. He then descended the spiral staircase (photo above) to the basement that led to the small entrance to the private garden. A footman would be waiting there with the dogs and shovels for the emperor to clear the snow on the paths – a favorite exercise Nicholas noted daily in his diaries.

Photograph (below) prior to the creation of the private garden showing on the left the two small entrances under the rooms of Nicholas II [note the balcony from Nicholas’ private study on the 2nd floor]

Friday, 13 September 2019

An Odd Object in a Painting of Emperor Paul with his Family

In Pavlovsk Palace there is a large painting by the artist Gerhard von K├╝gelgen in 1800 of Emperor Paul and Empress Maria Fedorovna surrounded by their nine children outdoors in the palace garden (below).

From the left are their eldest sons Alexander and Konstantin standing by the bust of Peter the Great, Empress Maria with her daughters Maria, Catherine and son Nicholas, Emperor Paul holding his daughter Anna and youngest son Mikhail with on the right standing daughters Alexandra and Elena. The bust in the middle was their daughter Grand Duchess Olga who died in 1795 at the age of three.

The odd object in the bucolic family setting is the artist’s placement of a hunting rifle partially hidden in the grass at the feet of Empress Maria pointing to the emperor - a foreshadow of Paul’s death the following year

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Nicholas II & Empress Alexandra’s Bedroom in the Winter Palace

In an 1899 album of Nicholas and Alexandra’s rooms on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace there is a photograph that had been difficult to identify until a recent Eureka moment.

Photograph c1899-1900 (below) of Nicholas & Alexandra’s Bedroom
What appeared to be a dressing table was confusing as Alexandra had one in her boudoir (183) next to the bedroom (184). Was this an interior room facing the small inner courtyard?

I have found the architect Krasovsky’s 1895 drawing of the bedroom’s western wall. A wallpapered panel above the wood wainscoting was between two windows. The curtains and chair with fringe match the bedroom’s decoration. This was Alexandra’s writing table [note the blotting tablet] with the door to her boudoir on the left. The desk in her study (185) was used for meetings with her secretary and others.

A part of the bedroom’s inventory I have seen includes a list of seventeen gold and silver cups from various jewellers. The full inventory may reveal if that is a Faberge vase and flower (possibly two) on the writing table.

Photograph (below) of the Bedroom today

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

A Grand Duchess’ Brief Summer of Happiness at Schloss Biebrich

With the death of Duke Wilhelm of Nassau in 1839, his second wife Duchess Pauline gave Schloss Biebrich to her twenty-two year old stepson Duke Adolph. With the completion of the city palace in Wiesbaden early in Adolph’s reign, Schloss Biebrich on the Rhine south of Wiesbaden became their summer residence.

Aerial views (below) of the baroque Schloss Biebrich

In the summer of 1840 Emperor Nicholas, Empress Alexandra and their daughter Olga, his sister-in-law Grand Duchess Elena and her daughters, Elena’s younger sister Duchess Pauline and Duke Adolph stayed at Bad Ems northeast of Wiesbaden. Before returning to St. Petersburg, Nicholas and Alexandra visited Duke Adolph at Schloss Biebrich.

Friedrich von Foltz engraving c1885 (below) of Schloss Biebrich

During a visit to St. Petersburg in July 1843 Duke Adolph and Grand Duchess Elizabeth Mikhailovna became engaged and were married in the Winter Palace the following January. Emperor Nicholas ensured his beloved niece received the same dowry as his daughters including one million rubles with a yearly income of forty thousand.

Vladimir Hau’s Portrait c1840s (below) of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Mikhailovna

Photograph c1800s (below) of Schloss Biebrich

After arriving in the duchy in the spring of 1844 the young couple lived at Schloss Biebrich. The summer began with the happy announcement of eighteen-year old Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Then in August she received the devastating news of her cousin Grand Duchess Alexandra’s death in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo. The girls had married in the same month and both were pregnant. Five months later after a stillbirth Elizabeth died from tuberculosis, the same as Alexandra.

Photographs c1900 (below) of Schloss Biebrich and today

Grand Duchess Elizabeth had a small Orthodox Chapel in Schloss Biebrich. In 1847 Duke Adolph and his mother-in-law Grand Duchess Elena approved architect Philipp Hoffman’s drawings for a Russian Orthodox Church in Wiesbaden. Fifty years later on Sunday October 6th 1896 Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra ‘departed Darmstadt at 9:20 for Wiesbaden to attend our church’.

Photographs (below) of the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Elizabeth c1853 and the tomb of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Mikhailovna