Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Wooden Palace in Tsarskoe Selo or Pavlovsk?

Empress Alexandra gave birth to a stillborn son on July 10th 1820. She spent six weeks recovering that summer in the two-storey wooden Konstantinovsky Palace in the vast gardens of Pavlovsk.

Photograph (below) of the Konstantinovsky Palace in Pavlovsk c1867

For a long time this wooden palace was a mystery. Historians had described it in Tsarskoe Selo although we never could find its location when walking around the Catherine Park. Others, including Alexandra’s memoir, wrote of it in Pavlovsk.

At the same time Catherine the Great was constructing the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo for Alexander I, she began a wooden palace for her second grandson Konstantin Pavlovich in November 1792. It was in the meadow behind the Kagul Obelisk in front of the Zubov Wing side of the Catherine Palace. The exterior was painted yellow with a green roof. There were twenty-two rooms on the 1st floor and eight on the 2nd with a large bright corridor.

Painting (below) of Quarenghi’s Konstantinovsky Palace in Tsarskoe Selo

With the ascension of Paul I in 1796 and his hatred of his mother, he signed a decree on August 19th 1797 to disassemble and reassemble the wooden palace in Pavlovsk. It was completed in the summer of 1798.

Paintings, Map and Floor Plans (below) of the Konstantinovsky Palace in Pavlovsk

Photographs (below) of the Konstantinovsky Palace c1800s

Photographs (below) of the Konstantinovsky Palace c1920-1930

The wooden palace has not been preserved.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Aerial Views of Pavlovsk Palace

A breathtaking aerial view (below) of Pavlovsk Palace!

The palace was the creation of Paul I and Marie Feodorovna. After the death of Paul in 1801, the dowager empress lived here until her death in 1828. She bequeathed it to her youngest son Mikhail Pavlovich. On his death in 1849 the palace passed to Konstantin, the second son of Nicholas I and Alexandra.

Photograph c1900 (below) of the courtyard of Pavlovsk with the statue of Paul I
 Another aerial view (below) of Pavlovsk Palace

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Grand Duchess Study/Bedroom in the Winter Palace

In 1834 at the age of fifteen Grand Duchess Maria, the eldest daughter of Nicholas I and Alexandra, was given her own apartment in the Winter Palace. Her rooms were next to her brother Alexander in the west section, facing the Admiralty.

Konstantin Ukhtomsky’s watercolor c1837 (below) of Maria’s Study/Bedroom

There are twenty-two drawings in a dark lilac leather album of interiors of various palaces, among others, sketched by Maria.

She completed two pencil drawings of her study/bedroom. The sketch (below) of her desk and the door to her drawing room was signed February 5th 1837.
 The other drawing (below) of the far corner with her bed behind the curtains was done on February 21st.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Fire at Marly Palace in Peterhof

The Marly Palace in Peterhof, designed by the architect Johann-Friedrich Braunstein for Peter the Great, was completed after his death in 1725. The small sixteen room palace was based on the French royal hunting lodge in Marly-le-Roi.

Aerial views (below) of Marly Palace

Original plan (below) of the layout of Marly Palace and in 1944

The architect A. Semenov had restored the Marly Palace in 1898. In the late afternoon of Monday June 4th 1901, Nicholas II wrote that ‘there was a fire in Peter the Great’s house at Marly in the bedroom. Unfortunately the furniture and part of the old furnishings, preserved from that time, burned up. The cause of the fire, as it often happens, is unknown’.

Photographs (below) of Marly’s exterior and interiors: bedroom, dressing room and washbasin

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Rare View of a 3rd Floor Room in the Winter Palace

From the beginning of his reign as emperor in 1826, Nicholas I had arranged a suite of rooms next to his own on the 3rd floor of the Winter Palace for his brother Mikhail Pavlovich. Although married with his home at the Mikhailovsky Palace, the brothers retained a close relationship from their shared traumatic childhood.

In the 1880s, Grand Duke Alexei, the fourth son of Alexander II, lived in the former apartment of Mikhail until his own palace was completed in 1886.

During the years of Nicholas II, the rooms were used by visiting relatives.

Rare photograph (below) of the Drawing Room (395) of the former apartment

It was taken in November 1917 during the commission’s listing of the damage to the rooms in the palace. The drawing room has two windows facing the Neva River. The door in the photo leads to the former corner study with the window facing the Jordan entrance to the palace. The rooms have been beautifully restored by the Hermitage Museum.

Friday, 1 September 2017

A Palace on the Embankment near the Winter Palace

We are reading Helen Rappaport’s extremely interesting book ‘Caught in the Revolution’ in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) in 1917, with outstanding new research material from my favorite original sources: diaries and letters.

A note in the book states the location of the National City Bank was at 8 Palace Embankment. It was the former Kantemirovsky Palace, an unfamiliar name. We were curious as we had walked by it many times. It was prime real estate near the Winter Palace with owners requiring approval from the imperial court. Why didn't a member of the imperial family buy it?

Alexander Polovtsov discloses an amusing incident in his diary of the jealousy between the grand dukes when one bought a palace on the English embankment (that I relate in my book).

Photograph c1910 (below) of the former Kantemirovsky Palace

The history of the palace is fascinating, the family names recognizable. It was built by Rastrelli in the early 1700s for Dmitri Kantemir. During the following two hundred years, it changed ownership: Litta, Milyutin, etc. In 1875 it was reconstructed for Ilya Gromov. After Gromov's death in September 1882, it was bought by the former administrator of the affairs of the Gromov family, Vladimir Ratkov-Rozhnov. He sold the Palace Embankment side to the Ministry of Finance. It became the Turkish embassy until 1914 and then the Bank. The Ratkov-Rozhnov family lived in the part facing  the Millionnaya Ulitsa side until 1917.

Photographs (below) of the palace today

Cover (below) of Helen Rappaport’s ‘Caught in the Revolution’

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

An 1892 Children’s Book

The grand dukes and duchesses (surrounded since birth with nannies, tutors and servants) never learned to understand the world outside. In 1861, when Alexander III was sixteen and his brother fourteen, their tutor stayed in the bedroom until they fell asleep. A valet then replaced him for the night while the tutor went to his own apartment in the Winter Palace.
The future Nicholas II was twenty-five years old in 1894 when he wrote the following in his diary:

‘In the [Anichkov] garden all is as before: the skating rink and the snow mounds were ready, even a little square made out of snow in order to look out through the fence at the Nevsky’.  ‘Around 3:30 I went with Xenia to Aunt Mikhen’s. We found Mama and Papa there. For the first time I began to walk freely around the embankment [near the Winter Palace] with Xenia,  where we met a number of people we knew’ and ‘I went into the garden with Sergei. We looked more at the Nevsky through the railing’ .[Thursday January 6th, Friday January 7th, and Tuesday January 25th].

The imperial children shielded in their youth later expressed in their diaries and letters a curiosity of others’ lives, loving to poke around in the rooms on visits to their homes.

The 1892 children’s book (below) would have fascinated any child but for an imperial child, behind a palace fence, it was a revelation.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Cracks in the Alexander Column on Palace Square

Count Georg von Cancrin, the elderly and influential Minister of Finance, enjoyed evening walks. Crossing palace square in 1841, he noticed a vertical crack in the granite of the Alexander Column that had been erected on August 30th 1834.

Grigory Chernetsov’s painting (below) of Palace Square on August 30th 1834

With his knowledge of mineralogy, he understood the danger of water seeping through the cracks and mixing with granite. Although stringent in controlling the state budgets, Cancrin proposed to cover the column with copper and was willing to fund the project.

Alphonse Bichebois’s painting (below) of Palace Square on August 30th 1834

Court officials were reluctant to acknowledge that there were any defects in the recently installed monument. To avoid a scandal as the minister was respected by the Emperor Nicholas I, a committee of the original builders was formed.

They concluded ‘after a most thorough examination that the column was found to be in perfect order. Some granite crystals had crumbled and formed small rough depressions that were not glossed. These hollows appear to be cracks’. It was an ‘optical illusion’. It is unknown if Nicholas was deliberately deceived by the builders hiding the flaws with their work.

Twenty years later the problem became dire. Alexander II established another committee in1861 of experts including engineers, scientists, professors and architects to inspect the column. They agreed that ‘cracks appeared even before the column was put in place and were skillfully filled with mastic [resin from the mastic tree used as putty-like filler and sealant] that later fell out’.

Photograph c1870s (below) of the Alexander Column with the wooden gates to the Winter Palace’s large inner courtyard

The column was repaired using a solution of Portland cement mixed with liquid glass and then polishing the surface. As it was necessary to annually inspect the column to seal up any damage, four copper chains with rings at the end were attached at the top for lifting and lowering a worker.

Photograph (below) of the Angel representing Alexander I at the top of the column

Monday, 21 August 2017

Aerials of the Winter Palace or ….?

Palace Square side (below) 

Admiralty side (below)

Neva side (below)

East side with St. George’s Hall (below)

It is always exciting to discover new aerial photographs of the Winter Palace. But … seconds pass.  I was looking at an artist’s exquisitely detailed 3D model of the Winter Palace.

Andrey Padenkov’s fascinating project with various designs of the Winter Palace: