Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Catherine the Great’s Wardrobe

How easy it is to repeat the foibles of historical figures with source(s) taken for granted as truth.

Prince Alexander Golitsyn was an old friend of Nicholas I and Alexandra and guardian of their children when they were away. He was a former page to Catherine the Great and they ‘never tired listening to his stories about the Empress’.

Painting  (below) of Catherine the Great c1779

On Thursday August 22nd 1835 Grand Duke Alexander, his sister Maria and their entourage made an expedition to Duderof, Krasnoe Selo. In the carriage with Prince Golitsyn was Maria Merder, the daughter of the grand duke’s tutor. She wrote the following story in her diary as told to her by the prince.

Catherine the Great never complained about her servants especially the females. While undressing one evening, the empress expressed her pleasure with the new gown to her wardrobe maid saying she wished always to be dressed the same way. The maid, hoping to please, immediately ordered twelve of the same outfit. When Catherine for the sixth time put on an identical gown, she asked with surprise what it meant. Upon hearing she was the unwitting cause, she good-naturedly laughed. ‘Let the people think it is my fantasy because you cannot throw money down the drain with the need to replace the dresses for me’.

Painting and photographs (below) of Catherine the Great's Dresses




There are a limited number of portraits of Catherine from the 1790s. Did she adopt the simple empire style of clothing originating in France? Or did the empress continue wearing the elaborate style of Marie Antoinette that we are familiar with?

My book will disclose what happened to Catherine’s wardrobe in the 1820s.


Thursday, 21 September 2017

The Winter Palace in 1860

Imagine Empress Marie, holding her last baby Paul born on September 21st, looking out of the window of the Gold Drawing Room on the 2nd floor, in this 1860 photograph below.


Does she perceive us, in the future, as we observe her, in the past?


Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Wooden Palace in Tsarskoe Selo or Pavlovsk?

Alexandra, before becoming Empress, 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’