Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Empress Marie’s Hidden Tears – Hidden Longing

Alexander III lived in the Winter Palace from his birth in 1845 until his marriage in 1866 when he moved to the Anichkov Palace. I had written of his ‘disgusting memory’ of his childhood. Alexander’s diaries, during the 1860s-1870s, contain his discontent with having to attend daily ‘useless’ functions at the Winter Palace.

The Kamer-furersky journals for February and March 1881 reveal extensive details about the death of Alexander II and its aftermath. On March 1st, 1881 Alexander III and Empress Marie returned to the Anichkov. On March 4th, they moved into the Winter Palace, living in the rooms of his grandmother Empress Alexandra on the 2nd floor. After the funeral, they left for Gatchina Palace on March 27th.

Of all the large, opulent rooms in Gatchina Palace, Alexander III chose the mezzanine floor of the Arsenal Wing for his family with its low ceilings and small rooms.

Empress Marie wrote to her mother Queen Louise in Denmark that Gatchina was ‘cold, disgusting and full of workmen. This uninhabited, big empty castle in the middle of winter cost me many tears, hidden tears, for Sasha is happy to leave the city”.

Photographs (below) of the Alexander and Marie’s bedroom in Gatchina Palace c1938

It is well-known that Empress Marie excelled in public ceremonial events. How did the second-tier living arrangements – Anichkov, Gatchina, Peterhof Cottage – impact her temperament within the family jealousy dynamics?

I discovered a hint of the Empress’ hidden longing in the diary of her son Mikhail. He wrote on Tuesday, January 6th, 1915 “… we all went to Gatchina palace; at first we were in the Arsenal and in Mama’s rooms down below …”’ On Wednesday, February 3rd, 1916 Mikhail wrote “… arrived at the palace … First, we showed our guests the church … the arsenal, from  there to Mama’s lower rooms, then my rooms, Xenia’s and Olga’s …”

After the death of her husband, Empress Marie had the opportunity to move from the mezzanine floor to the larger apartments of the former Empresses on the 1st floor of the Arsenal.

Watercolor (below) of the bedroom on the 1st floor of the Arsenal Wing

In 2008, I was incredibly fortunate to meet two Gatchina Museum curators who opened the Arsenal mezzanine floor for me. I am in awe of their kindness to take time out of their work to speak for hours with me, of the depth of historical information they shared and the expertise of the museum staff’s restoration of the palace.

A selection (below) of my photographs of the mezzanine in 2008

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