Monday, 5 December 2016

Unwanted Guests (Creepy-Crawlies) in Empress Marie’s Dressing Room

After arriving in St. Petersburg from Darmstadt in the fall of 1840 for her marriage to Alexander II, Marie Alexandrovna lived, during the months of her engagement, on the 1st floor of the Winter Palace in rooms facing the Neva to the right of Nicholas I’s daughters

Prior to the wedding in April 1841, the architect Briullov reconstructed her apartment on the 2nd floor in the southwestern corner. Briullov decorated the dressing room all in pink; draped walls in pink fabric, curtains, upholstery, bed covers. The door on the left of Marie’s dressing room led to Alexander’s library and on the right to her bathroom and bedroom.

When the chamber maids were transferring Marie’s clothes to the closets and cabinets in the new dressing room on the wedding day, Earl Kleinmikhel ‘rushed in to inform them that the bugs [creepy-crawlies] were brought in by workmen, who were hired to finish the project in time, and palace staff were now treating the infestation’.

In 1845, Briullov redecorated the dressing room in light purple using silk damask on the walls. He added the frieze along the top of the walls that incorporated Drollinger’s paintings of Peterhof, i.e. the Farm Palace, Gothic Chapel, etc., that are still to be seen today.

In the 1850’s, the room again was changed to the blue seen below in Premazzi’s 1857 watercolor. A small door hidden behind the screen on the right led to the staircase to the 1st floor children’s nurseries.

Photograph (below) of Empress Marie’s desk in the Dressing Room c1860s

Photographs (below) of the Hermitage’s beautiful restoration of the Dressing Room (note the magnificent ceiling/frieze)


  1. Interesting to see, in the photograph of Empress Marie’s desk in the Dressing Room that, comparing it with Premazzi's watercolor, in addition to new wall coverings, the oval portrait of her husband and the lithograph of her father-in-law remain on the wall, but are joined by Winterhalter's portrait of her daughter, Grand Duchess Marie, and another of her sister-in-law Queen Olga of Württemberg (?). (The latter painting looks to be by Winterhalter as well, but the only other reproduction I've seen of this is actually only of a very poor copy - so very poor!)

  2. Joanna,
    Loved this post! Thanks for doing it. I'm going to add the picture of the dressing room to my collection ( hope you don't mind? ) I only managed to find one picture of it as it is today and that was from a website that I can no longer find ( I should've booked marked it!). You said that the dressing room was decorated in pink at one stage, would've it looked anything like Konstantin Ukhtomsky's The Fourth Reserved Apartment. The Dressing Room on the 1st floor ( I still haven't found that room yet on the plans!).
    I don't like any creepy crawlies of any kind, fleas, bed bug's, ticks or mozzies! Don't like earwigs or maggots either for that matter ugh!
    I don't know how it got in but I had a grasshopper in my bathroom the other week, I think it might have wanted to stay, but I chucked it outside where it belonged!

  3. Thank you very much for your help. I did not know GD Marie A.'s portrait was by Winterhalter. I had thought Queen Olga may have been GD Alexandra Iosifovna. Now I will search for both portraits.

    The lithograph of Nicholas I is a daguerreotype, the only known photograph of Nicholas. Notice that it is framed behind glass. A smaller copy was kept in Empress Alexandra's diary. I also have the series of daguerreotypes of the family taken at the same time.

    A great observation on the different wallpaper design from Premazzi's. I have more photos of the whole room. The Makarov portrait of GD Marie on the screen on the right has been moved to the left screen and replaced with GD Nicholas A.'s portrait. It appears late 1860's or early 1870s, but I don't know if the color had changed from the blue.

    On the opposite wall of the desk is Neff's 'Madonna and Child'. I have it listed in the inventory of GD Alexis Alexandrovich's palace, inherited from his mother.

    The Dressing Room on the 1st floor is #16 (Boudoir). Empress Marie's pink in 1840 may have been similar - walls draped in pink fabric, the tables etc draped in pink and Brussels lace - all very fussy!

  4. If you mean the the image of Nicholas I that is present in both of the first two images, it couldn't actually - be - a daguerreotype. Daguerreotypes were never anything like that large. And unlike some other later techniques, they couldn't be enlarged by reprinting. The fading of the image's edges, the matted and glassed framing are totally consistent with framed engravings of the time. And, actually, this image looks to be taken from a well-known, widely reproduced portrait by Franz Krüger. I - have - seen online an actual daguerreotype taken of the painting (or a reproduction of the painting) as well as other images of the same portrait produced with other photographic techniques. But they're all definitely taken from a portrait rather than from life. I think I've only seen a daguerreotype of the Emperor's daughter, GD Maria Nikolaevna; I'd love to see other daguerreotypes of the family!

  5. Yes, yes yes! Thank you, thank you! (Dances around merrily) You're superb!
    After looking at the paintings for so long, I realised that Konstantin Ukhtomsky's The Fourth Reserved Apartment. The Dressing Room, done all in pink, was changed to The Fourth Reserved Apartment. The Dressing Room, done all in purple and painted by Edward Hau in 1868.
    Someone must have really loved the colour pink!
    Looking forward to the next post.
    Ghostie x.