At long last, the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve have broken their long silence on the re-opening of the Alexander Palace. On 24th October 2019, a press tour of the Alexander Palace was held, in which members of the media were given a first-hand look at the progress of the restoration of the former Imperial residence.
The Alexander Palace was closed to visitors in August 2015. Since that time, an army of craftsmen, artists, and other experts have been working diigently to recreate the historic interiors of the private apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, who made the palace their permanent residence from 1905
After numerous delays, the first eight interiors located on the first floor in the eastern wing of the palace, are now expected to open by the summer of 2020. The renovations have so far cost some 2 billion roubles ($42.7 million).
In 2011, specialists from the Studio 44 architectural studio, led by Nikita Yavein, developed a project for the reconstruction, restoration, technical re-equipment and adaptation of the Alexander Palace for museum use. According to the project, the palace will become a multi-functional museum complex, which will include: permanent exhibition halls, halls for temporary exhibitions, halls for scientific research and conferences, a library, a children’s center, and premises for administration. On the ground floor (basement) there will be a cafe, lobbies with ticket offices, a cloak room, a tour desk, a museum store, as well as technical and auxiliary rooms.
Work on the reconstruction, installation and restoration work was carried out in the basement of the building (basement deepening, reinforcement and waterproofing of foundations), most of the general construction work was performed in the above ground part of the building, as well as work on the installation of external and internal engineering networks, equipment and automation systems. Strengthening the supporting structure of the building. These works were carried out between 2012-2016.
The first visitors to discover the new historic interiors, in which the bulk of the work has already been completed, include the Reception, Working Study, Valet ‘s Room, and the Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, as well as the Suite, the Pallisandar (Rosewood) Room, the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, and the Imperial Bedroom of Alexandra Feodorovna.
In an effort to recreate the historic interiors, restorers have relied on amateur photographs of the rooms taken by members of the Imperial family, from the Russian state archives, and the 1917 auto-chromes, which provide them with the original colours of the interior elements and decoration. In addition, fabrics have been recreated for the decoration of the rooms, from original samples stored in the Tsarskoye Selo and Pavlovsk State Museum-Reserves. These include chintz (waxed cotton fabric with printed patterns) in the Imperial Bedroom, silk in the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, rep weaves (cotton and silk fabric) in the Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room.
During the restoration, original elements of the historical decoration of the interiors were preserved, including oak wall panels, coffered wooden plafonds, and ceramic tiles.
Work is being carried out at the expense of funds allocated by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation; the museum’s own funds, as well as charitable donations (the Transsoyuz Charitable Fund allocated 17 million rubles for the restoration of the Marble (Mountain) Hall with a slide). Funds from the federal budget were allocated for general construction work between 2012-2017. Since 2016, the museum has been additionally investing money that it has earned from admission ticket sales to the nearby Catherine Palace. The final completion of work on the Alexander Palace is planned no earlier than 2022.
With the opening of the eight historic interiors, visitors will also have the opportunity to visit the Emperor’s New Study, as well as the rooms of the Library, Empress Alexandra’s Formal Reception Room, and the Maple Drawing Room, the latter of which will be recreated with a historical spatial solution (after the Great Patriotic War, this hall was divided into two), the mezzanine and plaster molding, built-in furniture have been recreated.
The personal apartments for Emperor Nicholas II (then Tsesarevich and Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich) and his wife Alexandra Fedorovna were placed in the former “retinue” half of the Alexander Palace. Alterations began in 1894 under the leadership of Alexander Vidov and Alexander Bach. Then, after the death of Vidov, they were briefly led by Silvio Danini, who, in turn, was replaced by Roman Meltzer.
Reception of Nicholas II
From 1905, the Alexander Palace became the main imperial residence, and therefore the epicenter of the state, and the layout of the working premises strictly followed the court ceremonial. Officials who arrived for an audience with the tsar, arrived in the Reception Hall, where the adjutants were constantly on duty. The room was decorated by the company of the Meltzer brothers in 1899. The walls are surrounded by high massive oak panels with shelves; an oak coffered ceiling and a fireplace of dark green marble in an oak casing with a pyramidal finish in the corner of the interior complete its decoration. The reception has largely been preserved, the finish of which was completed after the German occupation of 1941-1944.
Work in the Reception Room of Nicholas II : restoration of oak panels, parquet, fireplace, ceiling and fabric, manufacturing of a built-in sofa.
The Working Study of Nicholas II
Decorated in the years 1896-1897, it was here that the emperor received his ministers daily, listened to reports, and reviewed documents. The decoration and furniture of the Study – panels, built-in wardrobes, as well as a desk and chairs – were made of walnut wood. Here was the personal library of Nicholas II , which totaled about 700 volumes of military, historical literature, books on state affairs, fiction and periodicals. The interior was destroyed during the Nazi occupation.
Work in the office of Nicholas II : recreation of curtains, fireplace, panels, walnut furniture, carpet.
Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II
Decorated in the Moorish style, the emperor’s bathroom was designed with a swimming pool with a capacity of more than a thousand buckets of water. The pool was filled with water of the right temperature in a few minutes. From the corridor, the pool was separated by an openwork partition made of maple, from which a ceiling was also made. On the site in front of the pool was a fireplace, tiled with oriental ornaments. The pool and the design of the bathroom were carried out according to the project and under the guidance of the architect and engineer Rochefort. In the apartments of Nicholas II, the Moorish was the only room for relaxation. The interior was lost during the Great Patriotic War.
Works in the Moorish restroom: during the cleaning of the room under the floor, fragments of the original ceramics were discovered, which allowed restorers to more fully and accurately recreate the pattern and determine the color of the tiles. Recreated: fireplace, pool, partition, fabrics, carpet.
Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room
This interior was designed by Roman Meltzer in 1896-1897. The architect chose rosewood as the main finishing material – an expensive wood, which was imported from abroad. High wall panels with a shelf, framing of a fireplace installed in a corner and furniture were made of rosewood. In the first years of their life in the palace, Nicholas II and Alexandra Fedorovna often spent time in this room, which also became a favourite place for breakfast and dinner of the Imperial family.
Works in the Rosewood living room : fabric patterns of walls, drapes, panels and a rosewood fireplace decorated with fabric inserts and facets with special facets were recreated according to historical samples .
Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir
Over the two decades of Alexandra Fedorovna’s life in Russia, the Mauve or Lilac Boudoir – her favorite room in the Alexander Palace, created by Roman Meltzer – has never been redesigned, despite the change in artistic fashion at the turn of the century. To decorate the interior, silk – mauve with a pattern of interwoven vertical threads – was ordered from the Parisian company Charles Bourget. The wood panels at the bottom of the walls and the furniture designed by Meltzer in imitation of the Rococo style were painted in two colors resembling ivory. Many furnishings, a corner sofa, half cabinets are built-in and connected with wall panels. Here the emperor and the empress with their children often drank coffee after breakfast, gathered for evening tea, and it was in this room where Alexandra Feodorovna spent many hours working and reading.
Works in the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir: according to historical patterns, fabric upholstery of walls, curtains, built-in furniture, carpet, wood panels, fireplace, picturesque frieze were recreated.
In 1873, mother of Alexandra Fedorovna, Princess Alice stayed here, who travelled to Russia for the wedding of her brother, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna. The bedroom was arranged in this room without significant alterations. The architect tightened the walls and the partition with the English chinet ( Charles Hindley ) chosen by Alexandra Fedorovna .
Work in the Bedroom : recreated alcove, fabric upholstery, curtains, carpet.
Other rooms which are also being restored include the New Study of Nicholas II, in which the balcony connecting it to the Maple Room will be reconstructed, the Marble or Mountain, which once housed a great slide, taking up half of the room, as well as the Small and Large Libraries.
The Alexander Palace was constructed in 1792 by order of the Empress Catherine II, for her beloved grandson, Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich (future Emperor Alexander I ) and Grand Duchess Elizabeth Alekseevna. The creator of the project is the Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi. From 1905, the palace became the permanent residence of Emperor Nicholas II, who was born here in 1868. The last 12 years of the reign of the Russian emperor and his family were spent here, It was from here that the Imperial family were sent into exile to Tobolsk on 1st August 1917.
In 1918, the Alexander Palace was opened to visitors as a state museum. Later, the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) used the west wing as a rest home, and the orphanage was located on the second floor of the east wing, in the former rooms of the children of Nicholas II .
During the fascist occupation of the city of Pushkin, the German headquarters and the Gestapo were located here, in the cellars there was a prison. The square in front of the palace was turned into a cemetery for SS soldiers.
After the war, the palace was mothballed and in 1946 transferred to the USSR Academy of Sciences to store the collections of the Institute of Russian Literature. The building was being prepared for a large-scale exhibition dedicated to the 150th anniversary of A.S. Pushkin. In this regard, in 1947-1951, restoration work began in the building, during which it was planned to restore the preserved interiors of Quarenghi and surviving fragments of decoration. During the work, many elements of the Maple and Rosewood living rooms, as well as the Moorish restroom, were destroyed. In 1951, the Alexander Palace was transferred to the Naval Department, and the palace collection, which was part of the evacuated items in the Central repository of museum funds of suburban palaces-museums, was received at the Pavlovsk Palace Museum.
The palace was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Tsarskoye Selo Museum-Reserve in October 2009, and in June 2010, during the celebration of the 300th anniversary of Tsarskoye Selo, three State Halls were opened after restoration.
The Alexander Palace remains surrounded by a fence
Source: Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve. Translated from Russian by Paul Gilbert
© Paul Gilbert. 31 October 2019