Thursday, 1 September 2016

Billiards in the Winter Palace

Members of the Imperial family from Nicholas I to Nicholas II loved to play billiards.

The archives contain numerous documents relating to the firm of A. Freiberg, the famous St. Petersburg billiard manufacturer, who supplied and repaired the pool tables and accessories in the Imperial palaces.

Hau’s watercolor (below) of Alexander II’s Billiard Room shows the Freiberg pool table on the right. Note the door to the Saltykov staircase in the upper right that is blocked by a cabinet.


On February 28th, 1876 Arnold I. Freiberg petitioned the Minister of the Court, Count Adlerberg, to obtain the coveted title of ‘Supplier to the Imperial Court’.

A classic case of bureaucracy’s red tape delayed his request for several years. It is amusing and sad to read the correspondence between the Court officials in dealing with just this ‘one’ case amongst thousands of petitions. The absurdity of the Ministry having ‘forgotten’ the request; the blatant jealousy and lies among men in these high positions are incredible to observe. In the end, A. Freiberg was denied the title.

The billiard room could also have been named the ‘Armor Room’. What do you think of the two huge gold plated stands for Alexander II’s collection of arms in Hau’s painting (above)? It took me some time to identify what they were when I first saw them!

The photos below of the former billiard room show the excellent restoration work by the Hermitage.


Note on the far right, the door to the Saltykov in the photo below.

Nicholas I’s billiard room was on the 3rd floor of the Winter Palace, facing the inner courtyard, in the northwest corner.

Alexander III lived in the Anichkov but retained the former suite of his grandfather on the 3rd floor when he occasionally stayed in the Winter Palace. A March 1894 inventory lists the pool table and various accessories, tables, chairs, sofa, etc.

In 1903, Nicholas II ordered a number of renovations on the 3rd floor. The billiard room was demolished and made into servants’ apartments.

The photo below is Nicholas II's billiard room on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace which was next to his Gothic Library.

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