Roman Melzer: architect and designer of the Alexander Palace interiors

PHOTO: Roman Fedorovich (Robert Friedrich) Melzer (1860-1943)

Roman Fedorovich (Robert Friedrich) Melzer was born in St. Petersburg, on 1st April (O.S. 30th March) 1860. He was the eldest son of the coachman Johann Friedrich Meltzer (1831-1923), who later became the owner of his own furniture factory, and Sophie Christine Meltzer – nee Tatzky (1837-1915).

At the age of thirteen, Roman Meltser entered the St. Petersburg Commercial School, after graduation he continued his studies at the Academy of Arts. In 1888 he received the title of class artist of the first degree in architecture. One of his early projects was the front gate and ramp fences of the Winter Palace, created in collaboration with Nikolai Alexandrovich Gornostaev. In the late 1890s – early 1900s, Melzer worked on the construction of the Emmanuel Nobel (1801-1872) mansion in St. Petersburg.

In 1900 he was appointed chief architect of the Russian exhibition pavilions at the World Exhibition in Paris. The main building, the Pavillon des Confins Russes, looked like an old Russian town, complete with a bell tower. The architecture resonated with the images of the Moscow Kremlin. This ensemble, unusual for a European capital, was located just fifty meters from the Trocadero Palace.

Roman Melzer took part in the decoration of the interiors of numerous imperial palaces: the Winter Palace and Anitchkov Palace in St. Petersburg; Livadia Palace in Crimea; and the Cottage Palace in Peterhof. Among the buildings created according to his designs, included his own dacha on Kamenny Island (1901-1904), the building of the Orthopedic Institute (1902-1906), the palace of the Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich (1910-1913), the complex of buildings of the Psychoneurological Institute (1910-1913), among many others.

PHOTO: Colour autochrome of the Emperor’s Reception Room taken in 1917

At the end of 1894-1895, the renovation of the interiors of the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo began. Roman Melzer was invited to prepare the personal apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in the eastern wing of the building. The work took place in several stages. The first interiors created were: the Dining Room (later known as the Reception Room) and the Working Study on the Emperor’s half of the wing, as well as the Imperial Bedchamber, the Mauve (Lilac) Drawing Room and the Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room on the Empress’s half.

In the Emperor’s Reception Room, the walls were decorated with oak panels, and above they were covered with printed fabric. The interior decoration included a corner fireplace made of oak, trimmed with dark green marble. In the upper part of the windows, the architect used stained glass. The F. Meltzer & Co. in St. Petersburg, which was co-owned by Roman Melzer, produced a set of furniture for the room, which included a sofa with two folding tables, a round table for tea, a dining table consisting of a table and twenty-four chairs, a serving table, and a snack table.

PHOTO: the Working Study of Nicholas II

At the same time, the Working Study of Nicholas II was in progress. The interior was designed in the English style, with walls painted in dark red at the top and walnut panels on the bottom. The room featured a large ottoman, in imitation of the cabinet of Alexander III, as well as an L-shaped writing table.

The Imperial Bedchamber was also renovated according to the architect’s project. The furniture, which was preserved from the previous decoration (a bedroom prepared in 1874 for the marriage of Alexander II’s daughter Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna to the Duke of Edinburgh), was repainted in white and draped with English chintz, and a pattern of wreaths of small pink flowers and ribbons. The same fabric was also used to make the curtains and alcove curtains for the room.

Roman Melzer also created the interior for the Mauve (Lilac) Drawing Room, which was to become one of the Empress’s favorite interiors. Here the walls were upholstered in mauve silk and crowned with a frieze bearing an iris flower pattern, furniture and a piano painted with ivory enamel paint. Some of the pieces of furniture were built-in, connected to the panels, forming comfortable corners.

PHOTO: Colour autochrome of the Mauve (Lilac) Drawing Room taken in 1917

Melzer was engaged in the creation of the Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room, which was located next to the Mauve (Lilac) Drawing Room. Rosewood was chosen for decorating the wall panels and fireplace. The upper part of the walls was covered with a simple yet elegant yellowish silk fabric.

During this period, the children’s half on the second floor began to take shape, as the emperor’s family gradually grew and the “august children” needed their own bedrooms and classrooms.

Between 1898–1902, there were no major changes to the interiors of the Alexander Palace. In 1902, however, the decision was made to demolish the double-height Concert Hall and create in its place the Emperor’s New Study and the Empress’s Maple Drawing Room. Roman Melzer’s firm carried out not only the construction, but also the finishing and furnishing of these interiors. A mezzanine was also added, which connected the New Study with the Maple Drawing Room.

PHOTO: Colour autochrome of the Maple Drawing Room taken in 1917

Thanks to Melzer, the interiors of the Alexander Palace underwent a stunning transformation, one which provided a cozy residence for the Emperor and his family. A far cry from the luxurious and ostentatious interiors of the nearby Catherine Palace, the redesigned interiors of the Alexander Palace reflected the simple tastes of Nicholas and Alexandra.

After the 1917 Revolution, Roman Melzer left Russia, and lived for several years in Germany, from there in 1921 he moved to the United States, where he died in 1943.

In 2020, the square at the corner of Bolshoy Sampsonievsky Prospekt and Nobelsky Lane began in St. Petersburg, was renamed Meltserovsky Ploschad – in memory of the court architect. His work reflected the new trends of the turn of the late 19th to early 20th centuries, the emergence of the Art Nouveau style, which was becoming fashionable at the time.

© Paul Gilbert. 2 April 2021

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Fifteen interiors situated in the eastern wing of the palace, are now scheduled to open to visitors in the Spring of 2021. Among the recreated interiors are the New Study of Nicholas II, Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Reception Room of Nicholas II, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Maple Drawing Room, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, the Imperial Bedroom, among others.

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, which includes the Western wing is scheduled for completion no earlier than 2024.

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Dear Reader: If you enjoy my articles on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. The net proceeds help fund my work, including research, translations, etc. Thank you for your consideration – PG

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