Thursday, 15 June 2017

Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt – Windsor Castle 1881

Count Harry Kessler, art connoisseur/diarist was born in Paris on May 23rd 1868, five days after Nicholas II on May 6th (OS) / 18th (NS).

In 1881 Kessler was attending the prep school St. George’s in Ascot near Windsor. On Saturday July 9th he “… went to a review of 62,000 volunteers but the most interesting thing was the Queen’s procession. In the first carriage was the Queen in black the Princess of Wales in dark blue and the Crown Princess of Germany in white … Then followed some huntsmen next came another carriage with the duchesses of Teck and Connaught and two other ladies then some more huntsmen and the princesses of Hesse-Darmstadt in blue then the officers of police and last but not least the King of Sandwich Islands in another carriage. After these carriages came a royal huntsman in gold and dark crimson then came the Prince of Wales in some dark color … riding next to the Crown Prince of Germany in a white uniform, then came the dukes of Teck, Connaught and Cambridge and the Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt the husband of the late unfortunate Princess Alice …”

Illustration (below) of the Review on July 9th 1881 at Windsor Castle and aerials today


Alix, the daughter of Grand Duke Ludwig and Grand Duchess Alice of Hesse-Darmstadt, married Nicholas II on November 14th 1894 becoming Empress Alexandra. Count Kessler’s life intersected in later years with Nicholas and Alexandra.

On Saturday August 31st and Sunday September 1st 1901 Count Kessler and Henry van de Velde visited Darmstadt’s artist’s colony under the patronage of Grand Duke Ernest. They were contemplating a similar enterprise in Weimar. The exhibition ‘A Document of German Art’ had opened on May 1st to immediate controversy.

Kessler returned to Darmstadt on Friday January 3rd 1908 and visited Grand Duke Ernest in his Neues Palais to discuss a forthcoming exhibition in Paris. At the conclusion of their discussion, Kessler wrote in his diary that Ernest ‘sprang up and reached for some glass vessels that were standing on the mantelpiece. I thought they were Tiffany’s. He contradicted me very forcefully: no that is done locally, by me here in the palace with Schneckenburg. Tiffany wants to get the secret from them’.

The Count further wrote that Ernest wanted to educate the people not to buy overstuffed decorations for their rooms. Kessler looked around the room in the Neues Palace and thought it ‘the most clumsy, over decorated room, stuffed full of inferior modern bronze and knickknacks … The music room next door is an orgy of material and affectation. Between two mosaic walls, a colossal six-or-eight cornered blue grand piano surrounded everywhere by tall thin columns, like sharp icicles, impaled with naked boys and men. In between hovering from above, rings of blue glass that spread a blue light’.

On Wednesday October 27th 1910 Nicholas and Alix left Wolfsgarten at 3:00 pm and went to the Neues Palais. He wrote that ‘we had been there for a long time. I looked over with Erni [Ernest] several new rooms in the palace’. Nicholas did not comment on what he thought of the rooms. On a previous visit on Saturday September 27th 1903 they looked ‘over an exhibition of various items, furniture and room arrangement in the new style of Mathildenhohe. It was disgusting to look at in my opinion’.

Photographs (below) of the Neues Palais and Grand Duke Ernest's interiors






On Thursday October 22nd 1914 Count Kessler was stationed in Cieblovice [Poland] in the Imperial Forest three kilometers from the imperial hunting palace Spala and “drove out to the palace, which is a small one-story, very simple structure looking like the outbuilding of a Swiss inn. Inside it is simply but decently decorated in the English fashion with many bathrooms and other comforts. The princesses slept each two to a room; the tsarevich had on the other hand a room for himself. The tsar and tsarina had a common, very simple bedroom with a large, covered veranda with a pretty view of the park and the Pilica River. The only object of luxury is the very beautiful, enormously large chandelier of silver and antlers …”


Aerial View and Photographs (below) of Spala c1930s




17 comments:

  1. A lot of heartbreak here with Alexei's crisis.

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  3. All very interesting. Yes, that sitting room in the Neues Palais looks a bit much, but it isn't without charm. I wonder how much coordination there was to the color scheme; I hope it wasn't too much of a jumble. : )

    The destruction of the Neues Palais was such a great loss....

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    1. Yes, the loss of the Neues Palais would have kept Darmstadt on the map for royal watchers and tourists. I think it survived the first war but was destroyed in the 30's in a fire?

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    2. Wasn't it destroyed in the bombing of Darmstadt by the British in September 1944?

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    3. Destroyed in World War II, yes. : (

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    4. The Neues Palais' walls etc did survive. Other parts of Darmstadt were in the same state and they restored the buildings i.e. Schloss, Alte Palais etc. They decided not to with the Neues Palais.

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  4. LOL! These descriptions by Count Kessler and Tsar Nicholas II are wonderful. :-)

    Although Nicholas' full 1903 comment about the imagination and fancy of the artists was perhaps a bit harsh, he liked the sculpture works.

    Petra Tücks' PhD thesis on the Neues Palais and its interiors includes several pictures of rooms and pieces of furniture. The ones in colour give me the impression that it was a relatively dark colour scheme, with very dark wooden furniture and some dark blue walls.

    The 'colossal six-or-eight cornered blue grand piano' was apparently designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich. It looked rather inelegant with its heavy legs. I think he was more succesful with some of his other desgins, for example, the Hochzeitsturm in Darmstadt and the lovely Prinzessinnenhaus in the park of Schloss Wolfsgarten.

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  5. I have seen some of the paintings of GD Ernest rooms, especially the blue one. I am curious though of the muzikzimmer if similar to Behrens:

    http://www.besbrodepianos.com/video/behrens-house-2.jpg

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    1. Olbrich created a very different atmosphere for the Musikzimmer (1902/1903) in the New Palace. Petra Tücks' book includes an entire chapter on various design details of this room, with pictures of corners, pieces of furniture etc. - difficult to describe in a few sentences.

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    2. What a pity that the Neues Palais was destroyed during the Allied Bombings... :'( at least it could had been preserved the facade after the war. Tücks' book includes floor plans? I've collected several interior pics of the palace but I have no idea of the building's inner layout...

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    3. Yes, it includes floor plans.

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    4. You can inquire with the Hesse Archives for copies of the floor plans.

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    5. Thanks for the answers !! Some weeks ago I already found the floor plans and many interior pics in the Darmstadt Archives ;)

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  6. I have been reading your amazing site

    http://nuitsblanchesasaintpetersbourg.blogspot.ca/

    Will you be doing a post on the Neues Palais and uploading the plans?

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    1. Thanks for your kind words Joanna!!

      For the moment I don't expect to write anything about the Grand Duke Ernst, but you can easily found the floor plans here:

      https://arcinsys.hessen.de/arcinsys/detailAction.action?detailid=v356706

      The plans are dated 1902, I think that some new rooms (the Konzertsaal) were added/changed around 1914. There are no names on the maps but match the old photographs with the plans is relatively easy. If you need some help, let me know ;)

      Enric.

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    2. Thank you very much for the link. I also love the plans for the Altes Palais!

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