Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Unique Royal Fashions – Then and Now

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

Letters of Queen Olga from the Royal Palace in Athens

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 29thit 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

Monday, 13 November 2017

Why an Imperial Family Ban on Wearing Glasses

As the wife of Emperor Paul, Maria Feodorovna demanded that all follow the strict rules of court etiquette. Although short-sighted, she believed that wearing eyeglasses in public lowered the dignity of the imperial appearance. During the funeral of her son Alexander I in March 1826, she wrote that with her ‘very weak eyesight and not wanting to use a lorgnette, could not observe the expressions in the faces’.

Alexander I was also short-sighted. His vision was so weak that he kept a lorgnette hidden in the right sleeve, tied to its button.

Photograph and Painting (below) of Alexander I’s lorgnette and in his uniform

Nicholas I did not inherit the bad eyesight of his parents. From November 1852, there were yearly payments to opticians indicating deterioration due to age. Empress Alexandra had problems with her eyes since 1824. Nicholas wrote in his dairy that ‘Dr. Ruhl gave her drops’. In September while in Berlin he bought ‘two lorgnettes for six thalers’. After her death, her glasses with a gold frame in an enamel case were given to her daughter Maria.

Their second son Grand Duke Konstantin was the first of the imperial family to wear a pince-nez [glasses held in place by a clip on the nose] and eyeglasses in public in the 1860s.

Photographs (below) of Grand Duke Konstantin wearing a pince-nez and glasses while playing the cello

In later years, Alexander II wore glasses. With the death of Alexander III at the young age of 49 and Nicholas II at 50, their eyesight had not deteriorated. After the birth of Tatiana in 1897, Empress Alexandra was prescribed glasses. Her ophthalmologist also treated six year old Olga in early 1902, visiting the Winter Palace seventeen times.

Since glasses were banned and sunglasses had yet to be invented, ladies would use umbrellas to protect the eyes from spring to fall. The winter months had been solved by Madame Vigée Lebrun, the French artist. In Naples she had been ‘almost struck blind with the sun reflecting off the lustrous white houses’ while driving along the road facing the sea. To save her eyes, she ‘put on a green veil’ which she ‘had never seen anyone else do since only black and white veils were worn’. Arriving in Saint Petersburg in 1795, she ‘also found great comfort in my green veil where the snow was so dazzling that it might have killed my eyesight’. As in Italy, the ladies imitated her and green veils came into fashion.

Photograph (below) of Empress Alexandra and her sister Princess Irene of Prussia in the Alexander Park with the veils on their hats for ease to pull down to cover the eyes

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Bathroom & Floor Plans – Old Hermitage

Further to my posts last month on the suite of rooms on the 2nd floor of the Old Hermitage where the Prince of Wales stayed in 1866, the photograph (below) shows his bathroom today.

 Photograph (below) of the bedroom with the open door to the bathroom in 1866

In the photograph (below) of the same view today, the bathtub has been removed to allow for the flow of visitors touring the 2nd floor

The opposite view (below) from the former bathtub alcove into the bedroom

Plan (below) of the 2nd floor of the Old Hermitage showing the location of the former bedroom #219 and bathroom #218

Detail (below) of the 2nd floor indicating in the next photograph #218’s three small rooms and the doorway openings

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Hermitage’s Marble Vase in the Alexander Palace Garden

After the death of Nicholas I in 1855, the Ministry of the Imperial Court began to implement austerity savings. Funds to maintain the Alexander Palace’s park in Tsarskoe Selo were scarce. If any new project was proposed, officials would delay payment to a later year’s budget.

In 1858, Alexander II ordered a granite pedestal for a large bronze vase that was temporarily installed on the grass in the garden near the semi-circular hall of the Alexander Palace. The vase was a gift to Empress Alexandra from her brother the King of Prussia. The empress then approved the architect Monighetti’s design of the pedestal.

However, the question of where to permanently place the vase caused ministerial inertia in 1859. After the death of the dowager empress in 1860, the vase and granite pedestal was transferred to her youngest son Mikhail’s summer dacha near Peterhof.

Photographs c1880s (below) of the Mikhailovsky Dacha 

The idea for a vase in the Alexander Palace garden continued to be discussed. In September 1862 the Minister of the Imperial Court assigned the architect Vidov to transfer one of the large marble vases from the Imperial Hermitage to the garden of the Alexander Palace. The vase was installed in 1863, surviving until the 1940s.

Photograph (below) of the Hermitage’s large marble vase in the Alexander Palace garden

Map (below) of the Alexander Palace garden c1867

View (below) of the Semi-Circular Hall today

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Profile of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna

Maria, the eldest daughter of Nicholas I and Alexandra, was born on August 6th 1819. Short of stature, it was noticed how much she resembled her father. 

Photograph (below) of the profile of Grand Duchess Maria c1840s

With Nicholas’ classic Greek profile and tall figure, the emperor was considered one of the most handsome men in Europe.

Christian Daniel Rauch’s sculpture (below) of Nicholas I in the 1820s

Portrait (below) of Nicholas I c1840s

It is perplexing that Maria was called the most beautiful of the three daughters. The contemporary view may have been influenced by the esteem held for Catherine the Great that both Nicholas and Maria resembled.

V. Ericksen’s painting (below) of the profile of Catherine the Great

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Unidentified room is on the 3rd floor of the Winter Palace!

Nicholas II had arranged various pieces from his 1891 Asian trip including two elephant tucks in his Reception Room (176) on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace.

On November 9th 1917, the art commission under V. Vereschchagin started photographing the rooms of the Winter Palace. A photo published in the newspapers at the time and, replicated often later, shows the tusks through a door. The lack of clarity and cropping of this photo made it difficult to ascertain the location of the room.

The Hermitage Museum opened yesterday its latest exhibition ‘The Winter Palace and Hermitage in 1917’. It has released some of the original photos of the interiors. I am now able to confirm that the location of the room with the tusks was the Corner Study (396) (below) on the 3rd floor.

 Photograph (below) of the Salon (395) shown through the door on the right in the above photo.

See my previous post on ‘The Odyssey of the Elephant Tusks’:


Friday, 20 October 2017

Prince of Wales Bedroom in the Old Hermitage

During his visit to Saint Petersburg in October 1866 for the wedding of his sister-in-law to the future Alexander III, the Prince of Wales stayed on the 2nd floor of the Old Hermitage.

In my post on the prince’s bathtub, Stephilius wrote about the Van Loo painting above the bedroom door.

Photographs (below) of the 7th Spare Blue Bedroom today and in 1866

Carle Van Loo’s Madame Pompadour as a Sultana (below) is exhibited today in the Military Halls (283 à 288) on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace facing palace square (note the frame style).

Although not visible in the 1866 photograph, a painting above the door to the petit salon opposite was Van Loo’s Madame Pompadour Embroidering (below).

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Imperial Family Photograph Albums

Rare photograph of the Children’s Island, Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo

Rooms of the Grand Duchesses, Alexander Palace

Empress Alexandra’s Balcony, Alexander Palace


Nicholas II outside the Alexander Palace