Monday, 7 November 2016

Sergey Prokofiev’s Visit to the Winter Palace in 1927

The decision by Nicholas II to have the Winter Palace façade painted red was controversial then with contemporaries and today with historians. I reveal in my forthcoming book the timeline and why Nicholas remained adamant when confronted by deep dissatisfaction with the red façade.

On February 9th, 1927 Sergey Prokofiev arrived in Leningrad, the city where he had studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire and left in 1918.

Sergey wrote in his diary "... in the afternoon … We arrived at the Winter Palace, where I found some changes. The wrought iron railings round the garden had been taken away and the garden itself opened to the public. This removal of the railings, however, has not spoiled the beautiful overall effect; on the contrary, the square now seems more spacious … The General Staff Headquarters has been painted bright yellow with the columns picked out in white, whereas before it was dark red, like the Palace. The latter has retained its deep tint, but also has been scheduled for repainting. Is this a good thing? I love that dark red color …”

Photograph (below) of the garden side of the Winter Palace with its red façade

Aerial (below) of the Winter Palace garden with only the former gates remaining c1920s

During a return visit to Leningrad on November 6th, 1929 Sergey wrote “… the Palace green but discolored …”

Photographs (below) of the southwest side of the Winter Palace with the green color and the gates still there c1920s

On February 10th, 1927 Sergey wrote “… and here at last was the Mariinsky, which has been repainted in a dark red shade like the Winter Palace was before. And although I used to love the Winter Palace in dark red, I am a little sad that the Mariinsky is no longer yellow …”

A nostalgia for the familiar past for Sergey Prokofiev, yet I cannot imagine the Winter Palace painted red today.


  1. Fascinating! Although I love the palace in the beautiful green it is now, it's interesting to see it in the red it once was. So bold! Thanks for the post Joanna!

  2. I'm surprised they would paint stone (I assume it's natural stone?).

    Is it possible for visitors to the Hermitage to take their time? I so want to see it.

  3. I adore the palace's color today. The red is brilliant but many photos I have tend to be more of a monotone dull red. Of course, black/white photos had been tinted.

    I tell the story of the façades in my forthcoming book - the 'stone' or 'brick' etc.

    Visitors to the Hermitage are free to wander about on their own for however long they wish to linger in a room.