Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Aerial View of the Winter Palace c1924

The clarity of the aerial view below of the Winter Palace c1924, looking north from Palace Square, highlights fascinating details.

The atriums above the two porticos at HM Own and Commandant Entrances have been dismantled. On the left the fence to the private garden had been removed but the gates are still standing. The ventilation tower over the northwestern section that had been installed for Nicholas and Alexandra apartments remains, soon be taken down.

The tram tracks in front of the Admiralty are clearly visible.  Across the Neva is Vasilyevsky Island with the former Stock Exchange and Rostral Columns. The long building on the upper left is the Twelve Colleges where Dmitry Mendeleev, the creator of the periodic table of elements, had an apartment.

Aerial view (below) of the Winter Palace today

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Jasper Drawing Room / Malachite Hall

After Nicholas I ascended the throne in 1826, the architect Vasily Stasov redesigned the 2nd floor of the northwest section of the Winter Palace for Empress Alexandra.

Auguste de Montferrand redecorated Stasov’s First Drawing Room in the early 1830s with the blue quartz jasper on the columns.

Grigory Chernetsov’s 1833 watercolor (below) of the Jasper Drawing Room

After the 1837 fire, Alexander Briullov restored the drawing room with malachite, a rare green semi-precious stone that was recently discovered in the Urals.

Konstantin Ukhtomsky’s 1865 watercolor (below) of the Malachite Hall

I prefer jasper.  Although malachite is beautiful, by 1865 more gilding was added to Briullov’s original design of the ceiling etc. What is your favorite?

Photograph (below) of the Malachite Hall today

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

View of the Winter Palace in 1870

The clarity of the exterior details of the Winter Palace’s north side from the Neva embankment photograph below is unique for the year 1870.

I have discovered a balcony that has up to now been unknown and never written about.

Other interesting elements of the palace for you to spot in the photo are listed below that I expand upon further in my forthcoming book: 

  • on the right, 3 small entrances on the 1st floor northwest section in 1870, in 1896 only 2
  • basement entrance in the far corner
  • on the left, another small entrance
  • small stanchions
  • drainpipes from the roof and portico

Friday, 16 June 2017

Rare Photographs of the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo c1895

The archives hold incredible color stereoscopic images of the interiors of the Catherine Palace and Park in Tsarskoe Selo from 1895 (title and photo below):

Alexander II’s Study in the Zubov Wing of the Catherine Palace


Chinese Salon

 Grand Ballroom
Photos of the Arsenal

Catherine Palace Exterior

 Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna’s Children’s House near the Zubov Wing

Marble Bridge


Chinese Pavilion

Boat House Lake
Round Temple in the Park

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

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Nicholas II’s Name Day 1881

The year 1881 was traumatic for thirteen year old Nicholas. His grandfather Alexander II had been assassinated on March 1st. On inheriting the throne, his father Alexander III refused to move into the Winter Palace and decided to live in Gatchina Palace, choosing the former servants low mezzanine rooms in the Arsenal wing.

At the age of twelve, the grand dukes were transferred from the children’s rooms to a separate apartment with a drawing room, study and bedroom in accordance with their status. Nicholas, living in the smaller Anichkov Palace and Peterhof cottage, had remained in the rooms he shared with his brother George.

Although Gatchina Palace had 500 rooms and the 1st and 2nd floors of the Arsenal were unoccupied, Nicholas at thirteen was still treated as a child living in two rooms with George.

On Nicholas reaching maturity at the age of sixteen, a household of 85 persons should have been appointed. Yet the old arrangement continued in all the palaces until George left for treatment of his illness. Nicholas lived in his childhood rooms until his marriage at the age of twenty-six.

Aerial view (below) of Gatchina Palace c1900 and today

The archival expense account documents for 1881 list gifts and their costs. Nicholas received from his parents on his name day on December 6th the following presents:

  • From the supplier Shafa for 37 rubles, a range of accessories for fencing: pairs of rapiers, masks, bibs and gloves,
  • 10 volume collection of the works by Ivan Turgenev,
  • 8 volume collection of the works by Dmitry Grigorovich.
Photographs (below) of fencing gear c1880s

Photograph (below) of practice fencing in the gymnasium in Tsarskoe Selo c1890

To understand the attitude of Nicholas’ parents on keeping him from being independent, it is interesting to note his mother Empress Marie’s reaction thirty years later about her great-nephew David, the future Edward VIII. On Monday May 26th 1919 the Empress wrote ‘... At 11:30 we came to Buckingham Palace to congratulate May on her 52nd birthday. She looks excellent, and the gray hair suits her very much. There were also two of her brothers with their children, so a genuine festive lunch took place in the music drawing room. Later we admired the paintings hung in the halls. Having said goodbye to them, we still climbed upstairs to look over the boys’ room with a beautiful view from the window, where at one time my brothers Willy and Fredy stayed. Such silliness that David is intending these days to move from here to St. James Palace. It is not such a smart thing that his parents have permitted him to do this, even though both of them are against it…” David was twenty-five!

Friday, 9 June 2017

Children’s Island in Tsarskoe Selo

The children’s island is next to the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo and was designed by V. Stasov in 1827 and completed in 1830 for Nicholas I and Alexandra's children. Later generations played on the island; Alexander III's until 1880 and then Nicholas II's. The children of Alexander II had their own islands near the Zubov Wing of the Catherine Palace.

Aerial view (below) of the Alexander Palace with the pond of the children’s island in the upper right

The central door is in a wide semicircular niche and the facades were decorated with garlands.

Photographs (below) of the little house

It had a living room the length of the house and two chambers on the right for Alexander and Maria and two on the left for Olga and Alexandra. The rooms were decorated in the Empire style and the furniture upholstered in leather for the living room and Alexander’s, cretonne for the girls. Wooden partitions between the small rooms were moved by a special mechanism. A small wooden kitchen was next to the house.

Plan (below) of the little house

To the right of the house, on the headland called ‘Cape of Good Sasha’, is the granite dock for the ferry.