The History and Restoration of the Reception Room of Nicholas II in the Alexander Palace

PHOTO: the Reception Room of Nicholas II as it looked in the 1930s

The Alexander Palace served as the home and official residence of Russia’s last emperor from 1894 to the summer of 1917. By the end of 1894, in the eastern wing of the palace, work was alreay underway on finishing the apartments for the young imperial couple, who had married on 27th November (O.S. 14th November). This part of the building was divided by a corridor into two enfilades: the rooms of Nicholas II, facing the courtyard, and the rooms of Alexandra Feodorovna, with windows to the park.

The first room in the Emperor’s half was the Dining Room (later the Reception Room). The renovation of this interior was carried out in 1895-1896 by architect Roman Feodorovich Meltser (1860-1943). For the wall decoration, a “high panel around the room with a seasoned shelf” was installed, above the panels, the walls were covered with printed fabric. On the ceiling there is a “wooden plafond” with a cornice. The interior decoration features a corner fireplace of oak wood, trimmed with dark green marble. The architect decorated the upper part of the two windows with square cathedral (stained-glass) glass.

PHOTO: the Reception Room of Nicholas II as it looked in the 1930s

The furniture was made by F. Meltzer & Co., which included a sofa with two folding tables, a round table for drinking tea, a dining table and 24 chairs, a serving table, and a table “for snacks”. The set of furniture included a fireplace screen, covered with fabric, decorated with mirrored glass with a facet in the upper part.

Subsequently, this room, preceding the Emperor’s Working Study, was used as a Reception Room. Despite the change in the purpose of the interior, its furnishings remained almost unchanged until 1917. Only a few items were added, giving the room a more businesslike character.

PHOTO: This lovely portrait of the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna (1896) by A. Muller-Norden, which originally hung in the Reception Room of the Alexander Palace (seen in the 2nd photo), is currently in the collection of the Pavlovsk State Museum.

It is just one of more than 5,000 items moved to Pavlovsk in 1951. The return of the items to the Alexander Palace remains a bone of contention between the two palace-museums. Click HERE to read my article Controversy over portrait of Empress Alexandra Fedorovna in Pavlovsk, published on 20th August 2019.

Unlike many interiors of the Alexander Palace, the decoration of the Reception Room practically remained intact during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), which greatly facilitated the current restoration work in this room. Here are preserved wall and ceiling panels, a fireplace and a chandelier, which was installed by Melzer in 1899 and cost 2,275 rubles. Sadly, the furniture, curtains, and cathedral glass windows were all lost.

The interior was restored in the 1950s. In 1997, the exhibition “Memories in the Alexander Palace” opened in the eastern wing of the palace, the museum designated the room as the Reception Room. The room contained corresponding furniture of the late 19th – early 20th centuries from the museum’s collection: two tables, oak chairs, a chest, and a carpet. Memorial items were also exhibited in the Reception Room – in their historical places there was a chandelier and a model of the monument to Peter I by Ivan Schroeder.

PHOTO: the Reception Room of Nicholas II as it looks

In the course of recent restoration work in the Reception Room, the oak walls and ceiling decoration, fabric on the walls, parquet and a fireplace have been beautifully preserved. In the process of working with the fireplace, it was discovered that the monogram preserved on the frieze differs from that recorded in historical photographs. These inaccuracies have been corrected.

During the restoration, the fabrics from the walls were dismantled and sent to the restoration workshops, where a method of dry cleaning of the fabric with its subsequent conservation was developed.

PHOTO: the Reception Room of Nicholas II as it looks today

From the surviving photographs, a built-in sofa upholstered in olive leather, a fireplace grate and an openwork metal mesh of the fireplace insert have been recreated. The restoration of the historic chandelier, the only surviving piece of the Reception Room interior, has also been completed.

At present, work continues on the design based on historical photographs of some pieces of furniture: an oak table and chairs are being made for the sofa, as well as a lattice-stand for banners; the elbows of the sofa will be supplemented with folding table shelves. Subsequently, there are also plans to recreate the stained glass in the Reception Room windows.

***

The Reception Room of Nicholas II is one of eight interiors to open in the eastern wing of the palace, scheduled to open in December 2020. The other interiors include: the Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Imperial Bedroom, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, and the New Study of Nicholas II.

In the future, the Alexander Palace will become a memorial museum of the Romanov family – from Catherine the Great to Nicholas II, showcasing the private, domestic life of the Russian monarchs who used the palace as an official residence. The eastern wing of the palace will be known as the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family. The multi-museum complex is scheduled for completion no earlier than 2022.

© Paul Gilbert. 2 October 2020

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s