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

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Schloss Still-im-Land – The Tranquil Royal Estate of Paretz near Potsdam

On March 10th 1795 the Prussian King Frederick Wilhelm II gave the baroque summer palace in Oranienburg north of Berlin to his daughter-in-law Luise, the mother of the future Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, for her nineteenth birthday. The impassive Frederick Wilhelm III who would ascend the throne in November 1797 and the lively Luise had very different personalities yet craved a quiet family rural retreat away from court etiquette. In January 1797 the crown prince purchased the estate of Paretz twenty kilometers northwest of Potsdam for 85,000 thalers paid by his father.

Franz Hillner’s Painting c1800 (below) of Schloss Paretz

Frederick Wilhelm warned his architect David Gilly to ‘only always think that you are building for a poor landlord’. Gilly erected a long narrow two-storey manor with an austere classical façade.

Plans (below) of Schloss Paretz

Although the interior was simply furnished, the wallpaper was spectacular: plant and animal illustrations imported from China and others from Berlin manufacturers. The main entrance hall was painted in a blue Silesian marble style. To the left was the billiards room, Luise’s drawing room with a sofa, desk and piano, the smaller staircase, king’s study, a bathroom and dressing room and the couple’s bedroom.

Photographs c1800s and today (below) of the Bedroom and restored wallpaper

Photograph c1800s (below) of the Dressing Room

The king and queen with their seven children spent their last summer at Paretz in 1805 staying until October 15th, the tenth birthday of their eldest son.

Hand-colored Woodcut (below) of views of Paretz

In 1806 during the Napoleonic wars and threat of occupation, the royal family fled the capital for three years. Two months after giving birth to their tenth child, they returned to Berlin on December 23rd 1809. The couple moved to Potsdam in early spring on April 10th 1810. A few weeks later on May 5th an inventory was completed on Schloss Paretz and on May 20th Frederick Wilhelm and Luise rode over to see their beloved Paretz. A month later Luise went to Neustrelitz to visit her father and within days was seriously ill, dying on July 19th at Schloss Hohenzieritz.

A year later in May 1811 King Frederick Wilhelm commissioned Martin Friedrich Rabe to design a lattice gate to commemorate their last day at Paretz. It was made at the Royal Iron Foundry in Berlin and inaugurated on September 16th at the entrance to the path where their carriage had stopped.  The gate was dismantled in 1920 and then stored. By 1950, its location had been lost.

Photograph c1910 (below) of the Gothic Gate in Paretz

After the death of King Frederick Wilhelm III in 1840, the seven surviving children decreed that Schloss Paretz would remain unused as a memorial to their parents. This order was respected by later Hohenzollern generations. Theodor Fontane in Hiking through the Mark Brandenburg walked from the Havel to Paretz on a summer afternoon in the 1870s. The rare visit attracted the curiosity of the attendant who showed him the interiors. Fontane notes there were about 1,000 paintings, engravings and sculptures. One was exceptional: the original Dähling gouache painting of ‘The Meeting of the Prussian King and Queen and Emperor of Russia in Memel, 1802’. It had been purchased by King Frederick Wilhelm IV who gave it to Schloss Paretz.

The original interiors of Schloss Paretz were preserved until expropriation in 1945. The historical wallpapers that were partially saved in 1947 by Potsdam staff and stored in the Neues Palais are used today in its restoration.

Photograph (below) of Schloss Paretz today

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Rare Interior Photograph of Ropsha Palace c1900

On June 12th 1785 Ivan Lazarev, one of the wealthiest men and court advisor to Catherine II and Paul I, purchased the Ropsha estate from the heirs of Prince Gregory Orlov. The architect Antonio de la Porta reconstructed the manor in the Italian Palladian classic style in 1794.

Photographs c1900 (below) of Ropsha Palace

A group of fourteen friends including Count Komarovsky, Alexander and Sergei Golitsyn and the princesses Shakovskaya left a handwritten manuscript of their two-day trip from Peterhof to Ropsha in the summer of 1796. Disembarking at noon from the carriages, they entered the ‘manor vestibule, passing through a beautiful suite of apartments marveling at the fact we met no one. Then the sixty-year-old Lazarev approached, kindly assuring he was glad to see us in his home’. As it was late evening when they returned to the manor after looking around the estate, Ivan and his wife Ekaterina invited the group to stay the night. ‘They led us through the winter garden that was lit by several chandeliers to our rooms in the western wing. There were beds with canopies and satin bedspreads, chairs and tables. The maids with peignoirs over their arms were surprised the princesses undressed themselves even to pulling off the stockings while the men served themselves. There was only one chamber pot in a small room so a rivalry arose!’

Photograph c1900 (below) of Ropsha Palace

An inventory of the property was completed in 1801 when the imperial treasury purchased the estate after the death of Lazarev. The manor was officially designated a palace. Although Alexander I preferred Tsarskoe Selo, the court architect Luigi Rusca compiled an estimate for maintaining the buildings in 1802. After ascending the throne, Nicholas I gave the estate to his wife Empress Alexandra.

Archival documents and inventories of 1833 and 1850 reveal decorative details of the interiors. The ceremonial rooms were located in the central section; the Picture Hall on the 1st floor and on the 2nd the Dance Hall and drawing rooms. The main staircase was illuminated by two windows on the lower floor and three at the top with a green carpet on the steps.

Drawing c1836 (below) of the Dance Hall by Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna

There were spacious apartments on the 1st floor; a drawing room and study for men and a bedroom and dressing room for ladies. The rooms were decorated with different colorful wallpapers; blue with pink flowers, gold striped lilac, light gray floral with golden stars, silver and lilac with blue flowers. Parquet flooring of oak, birch and mahogany was laid in the Dance Hall and adjoining drawing rooms. The 1st floor was simpler with planked flooring except for the parquet in Empress Alexandra’s bedroom and two corner rooms that overlooked the garden. Crimson or green taffeta and blue velvet curtains were lined with white silk in order to create uniformity on the exterior façade.

Photograph c1900 (below) of a 1st floor room showing the stove tiled with scenes and figures from mythology listed in the 1833 inventory

The imperial family used the palace for temporary visits: military reviews, hunting, picnics. In 1848 the Hofmarshal had delivered from the storerooms the following ‘to be left at Ropsha for permanent use’: eleven curtains, thirty-six mattresses, thirteen beds, fifty pillows, three mahogany night [toilet] chairs, seven birch night chairs, six washbasin cabinets, six mahogany screens, five small mirrors, crystal inkwells, forty muslin curtains.

Projected plan (below) for the restoration of Ropsha Palace

Aerial and interior photographs (below) today