Between 1889 and 1913 Nicholas II, Grand Duke, Tsesarevich and Emperor of Russia, painted his jewellery in a small album as a private record of his collection. His watercolours of more than 300 items – some of which were created by jewellers such as Fabergé and Cartier – give a realistic picture of what the tsar was wearing as jewellery. His handwritten notes also comprise dates and names of those who presented him with each item, a record of the small circle of those who were near to him.
The drawings of his personal jewellery were made by him not to record valuables such as precious stones or gold but as a personal record of family souvenirs with memorable dates. The album is an encyclopedia of men’s fashion ornaments of the turn of the century full of crowned monograms and symbols as well as surprisingly modern jewellery designs.
The jewel album of Tsar Nicholas II was re-discovered in the 1990s in the archives of the Moscow Kremlin Museum. It consisted of 82 pages and a total of 305 watercolour drawings of his personal collection of men’s jewellery. The date of receipt of gifts from loved ones connected with holidays and memorable events were noted by Nicholas II in his own handwriting: his birthday, name day, days of engagement and wedding, the day of the coronation, birth, christening, and on major Christian holidays, such as Easter and Christmas.
In 1997, the publishing firm Ermitage issued a facsimile of the album, entitled The Jewel Album of Nicholas II and a Collection Private Photographs of the Russian Imperial Family. It was published in a high quality cloth-bound edition with 216 pages, enclosed in a handsome green-board slipcase. The accompanying text on the jewellery was written by Alexander von Solodkoff, an authority on Russian and Fabergé art. It is supplemented with an article on the history of the album by Irina A. Bogatskaya, curator of the Moscow Kremlin Museum Archives.
In addition to the more than 300 watercolours of Nicholas II’s jewellery, the book also includes 95 illustrations from the original, unpublished private photographs of the Russian Imperial Family. This rare collection offers an authentic glimpse of their private life with evocative scenes of private visits, fashion and interiors of the time. The material was discovered by von Solodkoff in the archive of Hemmelmark, formerly the home of Princess Irene of Prussia, sister of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.
Alexander von Solodkoff has studied the history and art of Russia specializing in goldsmith work and jewellery. Among his publications are books such as Russian Gold and Silver (1981), Fabergé (1988) and numerous articles in exhibition catalogues and art historical publications. He served as director of Ermitage Ltd. London.
The facsimile edition (pictured above) was distributed through Christie’s of London in the late 1990s, and sold out very quickly. This beautiful book is now long out of print, however, second-hand copies which sell for hundreds of dollars, continue to be highly sought after by Romanov enthusiasts and lovers of Imperial Russian history.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 29 November 2019
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