Thursday, 7 December 2017
The Empress Marie Alexandrovna wrote her will disposing of her property in May 1868, twelve years before her death. The Illinskoe estate near Moscow was left to her daughter Maria but only on condition that with her marriage she lived in Russia. The will stipulated that in the event she moved abroad the estate passed to her son Sergei and, in case of his death without issue, then to her youngest son Paul. In January 1874 Grand Duchess Maria married the Duke of Edinburgh and left for England. Illinskoe then became the summer home for Sergei and Elizabeth (Ella) of Hesse-Darmstadt after their marriage on June 3rd 1884.
The two-story wooden manor house had a wide central balcony. It overlooked the Moskva River.
Photographs (below) of Illinskoe late 1800s and today
Lithograph c1867 (below) of Illinskoe
Plan (below) of the 1st floor of the manor house
Sergei’s future adjutant Vladimir Dzhunkovsky was invited to visit Illinskoe in the summer of 1886. Arriving on August 23rd he was shown to his rooms in one of the small dachas around the park. Sharing a drawing room he had his own study, bedroom and bathroom and was advised that he could order at any time coffee, tea, wine, etc. The routine for the day was as follows: mornings free, lunch at 1:00, afternoon walks, dinner at 7:30 all together, then reading or playing cards and tea at 11:00.
Photograph (below) of the small dacha today
When Sergei returned in the afternoon from picking mushrooms, he greeted Vladimir in his study. He showed him the room and said it was exactly as in the years of his mother.
K. Lemoch’s 1886 painting (below) of Sergei in his Study
The dinner guests that night included Sergei’s sister Maria, her lady-in-waiting Miss Johnson and Ober-Hofmeister Ozerov, his brother Paul, Count Stenbock who was in charge of the palace, Ella’s lady-in-waiting Maria Vasilchikova and her Russian teacher Ekaterina Schneider, a distant relative of Dzhunknovsky. The dinner started disastrously for Vladimir. He poured too much vodka in his glass, spilling it on the tablecloth.
After dinner they gathered in the drawing room. Other evenings they would walk around the park, laughingly playing tricks and frightening each other in the dark. Ekaterina Schneider, a quiet and innocent young woman, was surprising good at instigating jokes. One night she placed a peach under the sheet of Maria Vasilchikova, scaring her when she crushed it getting into bed. Maria and Ella retaliated the next evening with a watermelon as a head and a white sheet, frightening all who were not in on it. Another time Ella filled her glove with sand, extending it when greeting Schneider the next morning who then turned pale, totally confused.
Vladimir, appointed adjutant in 1891, was entrusted by Sergei with the care of his niece Maria and nephew Dmitry in Illinskoe when he was away. On July 22nd 1893 he wrote Sergei that he gave Maria his presents of a doll and watering can. ‘If you could have seen her delight when she saw the doll and its many clothes, which she immediately wanted to take everything off and dress her up.’
Later in November 1895 Valdimir’s sister Evdokia was appointed governess to the grand duchess.
Photograph (below) of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna and Evdokia Dzhunkovskaya in 1908
Photograph (below) of Evdokia’s room in Illinskoe
Monday, 4 December 2017
The toddlers, three year old Nikolai and one and half year old Mikhail, were the youngest sons of Nicholas I and Alexandra. They shared a bedroom (159) on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace facing the Large Inner Courtyard.
Photograph (below) of the former bedroom today
Panorama of the former bedroom (link below)
Friday, 1 December 2017
Wednesday, 29 November 2017
‘He kept a diary about us which was sent to Papa on a weekly basis. He answered with the next courier writing on the edges of the same sheet. I do not know if these letters with drawings and full of jokes have survived’. When writing her memoirs in the early 1880s, Grand Duchess Olga was unaware the letters between Prince Alexander Golitsyn and her father Nicholas I were preserved in the Winter Palace’s 2nd floor library.
Alexander Golitsyn (1773-1844) was a confident of Nicholas who entrusted him with the care of the children while absent from St. Petersburg. Beloved by the young grand dukes and duchesses, one of their nicknames for the prince was ‘dear papa’s papa’.
Golitsyn added at the end of his September 7th 1834 letter: ‘Having already written, I met Grand Duke Nikolai and asked him if he would bow to Papa. He answered ‘yes, yes’ and Mikhail said ‘and me please’. Nikolai was three years old and Mikhail a toddler of one and a half.
Painting (below) of Nikolai and Mikhail in the Dark Corridor at the door to the ship playroom in the Winter Palace
Copy (below) of Prince Golitsyn’s letter [on the right] dated September 9th 1834 Tsarskoe Selo with Nicholas I’s reply in pencil [on the left]n the above letter, the prince wrote that Grand Duke Konstantin was sick from the 7th during the night to the 8th where after dinner he was again healthy and merry. The doctor Arendt believed he was very upset by the departure of his parents. In his note in pencil, Nicholas added ‘I hug all the children’.
On September 12th Golitsyn related that when he told Nikolai he would write about him to his father, he hugged the prince and said to write ‘he kisses papa’. Mikhail, when he heard his brother, also hugged and kissed Golitsyn. Nicholas replied that he ‘kisses all the children’ and ends the note with a joking plea about himself to his friend ‘Do not forget the old man with the long nose and wig’.
Horace Vernet’s 1836 sketch (below) of Nicholas I with his youngest sons Nikolai [Nissi] and Mikhail [Missi]
Golitsyn was so trusted by Nicholas that he handled the emperor’s correspondence while he was away, sorting and forwarding letters and reports. In the Alexander Palace on October 4th 1834, the prince wrote that the day before when he entered the emperor’s study with the younger sons, the toddler Mikhail said ‘there is no papa’. Then both started beating on their drums and the three year old made the prince dance with their English nannies in the study. Nicholas replied that he hoped Golitsyn ‘did not get too tired from dancing to the drum’.
Hau’s watercolor c1860 (below) of Nicholas I’s Study in the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo
In 1842 Prince Golitsyn retired and moved to his estate in Crimea. Nicholas lamented the loss of his friend writing in 1843 ‘with heartfelt reverence we look at the chair where you sat and we still think of seeing you but you are no longer with us’.
Monday, 27 November 2017
The diaries from 1836 to 1890 of Grand Duke Konstantin, the second son of Nicholas I and Empress Alexandra, reveal rare insights of imperial sittings with the portrait painter Franz Xavier Winterhalter.
Konstantin, his wife Alexandra Iosifovna and their eight year old son Nikolai left St. Petersburg on October 8th 1858 for a long journey through Europe.
Sailing from Genoa they anchored in Villafranche on November 24th where his cousin Catherine, the daughter of Mikhail Pavlovich, had a villa. Four days later on the 28th Franz Winterhalter arrived at their villa in Nice.
The following day Konstantin wrote that ‘Winterhalter began the portrait of my wife and from the first strokes of the brush grabbed the resemblance. But for a long time they were busy choosing the place for the sitting and the lighting!’ After lunch on November 30th, Konstantin returned to their villa and found ‘Winterhalter continued to paint my wife’ and on the 1st of December ‘Winterhalter painted my wife’s portrait all day which comes out surprisingly similar’.
Winterhalter’s portrait (below) of Grand Duchess Alexandra Iosifovna
After the ceremony of the laying of the foundation of the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas and St. Alexandra and lunch with the dignitaries on December 2nd, Konstantin wrote ‘Winterhalter began to paint my portrait’.
Photograph (below) of Église Saint-Nicolas-et-Sainte-Alexandra in Nice
The next day the grand duke went to Villafranche in the morning and on returning to Nice ‘Winterhalter continued with my portrait. It seems it will also be good’. On December 4th Konstantin had to wait! ‘Winterhalter painted in the morning another client and after lunch me’.
Winterhalter’s painting of the grand duke is lost. A lithograph (below) of Konstantin in 1859 may be a copy of it.
Tuesday, 21 November 2017
There are thousands of historic paintings and photographs of the different styles of gowns worn by royal women over the last two hundred years to today. We all have our favorites. Some dresses though are exquisite in their simplicity and elegance.
During research on the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna c1800, I came across the portraits (below) of Madame Royale, the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1815. The ladies-in-waiting dresses are beautiful.
The portrait (below) of Grand Duchess Alexandra and her young children was painted by George Dawe in 1821. The future empress’ velvet gown with gold embroidery is stunning.
I was seventeen when I saw Winterhalter’s portrait (below) of Empress Elisabeth of Austria in Vienna. This ethereal painting does not represent the reality of women’s clothing during the victorian age although their delicate white lace summer dresses were lovely!
The brief empire style with its Greek influence, between the wide hooped side panniers of the 1780s and the crinolines of the 1840s, had been lost until our time, for example the beautiful gowns (below) of Crown Princess Mary of Denmark.
Friday, 17 November 2017
Grand Duchess Olga Konstantinova, the eldest daughter of Nicholas I’s son Konstantin, married, at the age of sixteen, the Greek King George I, in 1867.
Aerials (below) of the Royal Palace in 1868
Painting (below) of the Royal Palace in 1867
Her new home was the Royal Palace in Athens. It had been built in the 1830s by Bavarian architects for the deposed King Otto and is today the Greek Parliament. The immense building was comfortable in the spring and autumn, unbearably hot in the summer and very cold in the winter.
Aerial view (below) of the Royal Palace in Athens in the 1800s
Queen Olga’s mother Grand Duchess Alexandra Iosifovna and two brothers arrived in Greece for the birth of her first child Constantine during the summer of 1868. In her July 13th letter to her father, Olga wrote ‘My dear Papa. It struck me so strange to hear familiar voices and see familiar faces that it seemed to me it is like a dream’. The heat exhausted everyone.
Her father Konstantin finally visited Athens in March 1883. Olga had written him on February 10th that ‘I cannot tell you how happy I am that you will finally see my home and live under our roof. I’m just a little upset by the thought that you’ll live upstairs on the third floor and that the stairs will tire you out. However, if you want you can get up by the elevator. There is no place on all the other floors, unfortunately. I hope you will find our daily routine convenient. We drink coffee all together at 9:30, lunch at 1:00 and dinner at 7:00 with the court,then we are alone. Kostya [her brother] and I spend the whole morning in my cozy little library which I hope will please you and which I hope also you will site, drink tea and smoke a pipe’.
In another letter on October 10th 1889 to her brother, the queen describes the arrival of the future Nicholas II. ‘The people crowded around the palace, shouting greetings. Nicky spent the whole day with the children. Early in the morning he went swimming with Tino [Constantine]’. Later on November 29th ‘it was sad to part with our dear Nicky. When he left, I was touched as he told me that he was at home here’.
A year later Nicholas returned to Athens at the start of his trip to Asia. The author and artist E. Ukhtomsky who travelled with the Tsarevich praised the ‘simplicity and calmness of the royal residence. A massive white marble palace with columns rises above the main square bordered by the best hotels and coffee shops. Inside the palace the rooms are connected by long and very high corridors. The size of the rooms is huge everywhere. The silence in the palace is almost undisturbed’.
Photograhs (below) of the Palace Square with ‘hotels and coffee shops’ c1900
The Russian diplomat Y. Soloviev described his farewell audience with Queen Olga in 1905. ‘January was very cold and the palace’s large halls were not heated. In anticipation of the Queen’s reception, I had to run around in the hall to keep warm’.
Photographs (below) of the Royal Palace today