Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Exterior Colors of the Winter Palace 1760s-1950s

On May 22nd 1888 in the 3rd Spare's former ‘Ship’ room on the 2nd floor facing the large inner courtyard, a display was arranged for Alexander III to choose a color to repaint the Winter Palace. It included models of different color tones, old paint samples and old paintings of the palace.  Archival documents reveal his decision was a denser shade of ocher than the previous decades.

In 1901, Nicholas II ordered the palace and the surrounding buildings including the General Staff on Palace Square painted red like the new fencing around the private garden. The controversial color among court officials and the public did not sway Nicholas to change his choice until 1911 when Baron Fredericks proposed a more realistic lighter pink to match the fence. It was never completed.

Samples (below) of the color scheme of the Winter Palace from the 1760s to 1950s (note the colors for the columns and the changes to the palace gates)

1770s-1790s


1790s-1830s


1840s-1850s


1860s-1870s


1880s-1890s


1900s-1930s


1940s-1950s



Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Grand Duchesses Doll and Wardrobe

Maria, Olga and Alexandra, the daughters of Nicholas I, had a playroom on the 2nd floor facing in the large inner courtyard of the Winter Palace before the 1837 fire.  One of their toys was a box containing an incredible array of eighty-seven pieces of historical clothes for a child to dress their doll.

Old toys were carefully preserved in the palace storerooms and taken out for future generations to play with. The children of Alexander II were thrilled to learn their beloved shabby horse was once ridden by their grandfather.

Photograph (below) of the box and wardrobe

There are undergarments, chemises, bloomers, corsets, petticoats and stockings. Completing the outfits are dresses, hats, shoes, and gloves. The ensemble includes handkerchiefs, purses, a fan and an umbrella. There is also a picnic blanket and hamper.

Ukhtomsky’s 1837 painting (below) of the playroom

Painting (below) of Nicholas I and his daughter Maria walking along the Neva Embankment

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Nicholas l Breaks Collarbone on the Winter Palace Stairs

On the night of November 9th 1829 Nicholas rushed from his study on the 3rd floor of the Winter Palace when he heard a noise of breaking vases. He slipped on the floor and fell, hitting his head. He lay a long time unnoticed on the cold floor and was seriously ill for the next two weeks.

On August 26th 1836 at 8:00 pm, a medical bulletin was issued stating that Nicholas’ closed carriage had overturned after leaving the city of Penza in the early morning. He had fallen on his left shoulder and broke his collarbone.

In a letter to his friend Ivan Paskevich on August 30th, Nicholas wrote “… You have already learned the reason I am unable to complete my trip to you [Poland]. Assuming you worry about my situation, I hasten to assure you that my collarbone fracture does not produce any pain but am tormented by the tight bandaging and am starting to get used to it …”

On October 9th 1848 Nicholas slipped and fell on the ‘hard-waxed’ staircase in the Winter Palace while climbing to his 3rd floor study. He again broke his left collarbone and said the bruising and pain was much more sensitive at this time.

Photographs (below) of the Saltykov staircase (the last photo is the upper landing to 3rd floor corridor to Nicholas study) 




Photographs (below) of the Hermitage’s magnificent restoration of Nicholas’ study




Monday, 15 May 2017

Nicholas II’s Pool vs. Bathtub in the Palaces

There has been speculation on who influenced Nicholas II wish to install a pool of his own in place of a bathtub in the palaces.

The architect Maximilian Messmacher built a pool in Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich’s palace in St. Petersburg in 1886. The large bathroom was divided into two areas; a marble bathtub and a marble pool. The floor was marble and the walls were lined with plain blue tiles with panels of mythical marine scenes. Alexei was Nicholas’ favorite uncle and would have seen the palace.

Messmacher's Designs (below) of Alexei's Bathroom and photograph today




The first record of his own pool was Nicholas’ diary entry on Friday August 19th 1894 after arriving at the new Bialowieza hunting palace “… I have four charming rooms – even too luxurious … I joyfully crawled into the large, diving bathtub resembling a swimming pool …”

Photograph (below) of the Nicholas’ pool in Bialowieza


In March 1895 the architect Krasovsky designed a pool for Nicholas in the Winter Palace. The floor, ceiling, walls and pool were made of white marble. The panels on the walls imitated Alexei’s marine theme with seascape scenes.

Photograph c1900 (below) of Nicholas’ bathroom in the Winter Palace with steps (left) to the pool after its reconstruction in 1898

There were occasional problems with the pool that sound familiar to us today. On Saturday April 5th 1897 after arriving back in the Alexander Palace from a night of hunting in Gatchina, Nicholas wrote “… went to sleep at 6:30 am. Around this time there was very loud thunder-like noise – a pipe burst under tremendous pressure with scaling water pouring into the area below under my pool. Luckily it stopped and the pipe was fixed in the afternoon…”

In Tsarskoe Selo on Saturday December 29th 1912 Nicholas wrote “… I ordered a horizontal chin-up bar and set up in my bathroom and am now practicing on it little by little …”


Photograph (below) of the horizontal bar in Nicholas’ bathroom in the Alexander Palace

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Carnival Ice Slides on the Winter Palace’s Admiralty Square

In February during the last week of Maslenitsa (Pancake) before the Great Fast begins on Monday, traditional carnival festivities with ice slides and folk booths were held  on the Admiralty Square side of the Winter Palace.

Lithograph (below) of Charlemagne’s 1850 painting of Admiralty Square

Large crowd with the Grand Dukes incognito walked around and beneath the long icy slides and surrounding booths. A contemporary wrote ‘people normally walk in the mountains but on Shrovetide walk under the mountains’.

Watercolor from the Album of M. Taglioni in 1837 of Admiralty Square (below)

K.E. Makovsky’s 1869 painting (below) of the booths by the Winter Palace


Photographs (below) of the square in 1874 and a view of its size c1900



On the Tuesday, dances and dinners were held in the Winter Palace starting in the early afternoon until midnight. During the 1840s, a dance was held where the ladies sat on chairs and the gentlemen on the floor. A pair of dancers then circled and danced over the man. Nicholas I sat particularly low and when asked why, replied that once his toupee was knocked off.

Portrait (below) of Nicholas I


Monday, 8 May 2017

Ice Cream in the Winter Palace

The kitchens in the Winter Palace consisted of three main departments; cooking, wine and confectionery.

Painting (below) of a kitchen in the Winter Palace

A part of the confectionery was the making of ice cream, a favorite with the family and in great demand during the imperial balls.

Painting (below) of the Imperial Ball dinner in the Winter Palace

Catherine the Great’s Sevres service for sixty people included ten vases with handles in the form of a frozen fountain with sixteen bowls, twelve trays with seven bowls and eight trays with six cups for ice cream.

In the 1840s-50s, two plates of candy and two bowls of ice cream on ice were prepared daily for Empress Alexandra’s rooms.

During the Hermitage performance on February 7th 1851, thirty dishes of ice cream and sixty decanters of lemonade were placed in the theater. At the dinner later, there were two hundred and twenty plates of sweets and fifty-seven dishes of ice cream on tables for the 570 attendees.

There were occasional restrictions. In August 1848 during the cholera epidemic, Nicholas I ordered that no sturgeon, truffles or ice cream be served as a precaution.

In January 1874 during the marriage festivities of Alexander II’s daughter Marie, the confectionery department placed seven dishes of ice cream in the family rooms including the Duke of Edinburgh. Neither his reaction to the ice cream nor if it was common practice in the English court is known.

Court officials and the four chefs would investigate and test all new kitchen appliance designs. In the late 1840s, they bought American Nancy Johnson’s hand-held ice cream device.

Patented drawing of American Nancy Johnson’s ice cream device (below)

In 1853, the Dutch confectioner Meris -Meltzer’s ‘machine for easy and fast preparation of ice-cream’ was used in the palace kitchen.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Goethe and Empress Marie Echo Our Century

In the 19th century in Weimar, Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote to his friend Carl Fredrich Zelter in Berlin on June 6th, 1825:

 “… Everything nowadays … is ultra. Everybody keeps surpassing himself, in thinking as well as in action. People do not know themselves anymore, they do not understand the element they live and move in, nor the material they handle. There certainly is no pure simplicity, though there is simpleness enough.

Young people are stirred up far too soon and then whirled along with the times. Wealth and speed are what the world admires, and what all are bent on. Railways, express … and every possible means of communication – that’s what the civilised people of today strive for; so they grow over-civilised, but never get beyond mediocrity. And the general result is that a middling culture becomes universal…

This is the century in fact, for men of ability, quick, practical understanding, whose skill gives them a feeling of superiority to the masses, even though they themselves have no gift for higher things …”

Photograph c1900 (below) of Goethe’s garden in the Faurenplan, Weimar

Aerial views (below) of Weimar's Schloss and closeup of Goethe’s house and garden (lower left)


In the 20th century in London, Empress Marie was staying in Marlborough House and wrote in her dairy on Friday, March 23rd, 1923 “…Already at 7 AM, I was awakened by the noise of the lawnmower cutting the grass. This is a marvelous invention, of course, but not to start so early in the morning!…” On Saturday morning the Empress wrote “ … was up at 7:30 AM because that horrible machine with a motor, which cuts the grass, created an inconceivable noise right under my windows…”

Photograph c1900 (below) of Marlborough House

 Aerial view (below) of the Mall with Marlborough House on the left

Their 19th and 20th writings resonate with us in our 21st century. Yet Goethe’s is difficult to comprehend when reading about the small Duchy of Weimar and his peaceful garden. How did Goethe know about railways in 1825?

It seems unbelievable that the gardeners at Marlborough House would mow the lawns early in the morning when the Royal family was in residence. Our bane today but one we thought an Empress would be immune to!

Monday, 1 May 2017

Theft in Grand Duke Paul’s Apartment in the Winter Palace

In February 1872, there was a theft in the apartment of Grand Duke Paul, the youngest son of Alexander II, on the 1st floor of the southwest corner of the Winter Palace. After informing the Minister of the Court, the Marshall of the Court ordered an internal and external investigation by the City Police.

The theft was Johann Georg Meyer von Bremen's painting of ‘A girl and a boy by the garden wall being served a bunch of grapes by a passing girl’ in 1853.

The painting was stolen ‘from the room adjacent to two corridors: one leading to the Empress Marie’s private stairs and rooms of Countess Tolstoy and the other to the large hall and Her Majesty’s Own Entrance’. Children’s sleds with three horses were below the painting on which the thief stood to remove the frame.

Photograph (below) of the room on the 1st floor leading to the private stairs

Johann Meyer’s painting was never found. The on-duty valet responsible for the rooms of Grand Duke Paul was demoted for negligence.

An example (below) of Meyer’s style in his painting ‘At the Well’