The Alexander Palace. Photo © Ruslan Shamukov
On 13th August, the Russian media were invited to tour the recreated apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress |Alexandra Feodorovna, located in the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye. The palace welcomed its first visitors the following day, 14th August.
The first stage of the Alexander Palace restoration project is the result of the colossal work of hundreds of people, including designers, architects, restorers, museum workers and dozens of organizations.
The designers include “Studio 44 Architectural Bureau” (general design organization), “PSB“ ZhilStroy ”(general contractor organization); “Geoizolu” (deepening the basements), Tsarskoye Selo Amber Workshop (recreation of furniture sets); “Renaissance” workshops for the restoration of ancient monuments (production of fabric decoration); “Art-Corpus” (reconstruction of ceramics and coffered ceiling in the Moorish Bathroom); “Pallade” (reconstruction of the ceramic tile for the fireplace in the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir), Stavros Decor company (reconstruction of wood trim and built-in furniture), “Restro” (reconstruction of a sofa in the Maple Drawing Room), “Studio NB. Yuzhakova “(mirrors, reconstruction of the stained glass frame, and restoration of chandeliers).
Large-scale works began in 2012, which included the three State Halls, situated in the central part of the palace. The Alexander Palace was closed to visitors in the autumn of 2015. The restoration was carried out mainly at the expense of funds allocated by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. Thirty-four percent of funding was allocated by the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum and charitable donations. According to the Director of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Olga Taratynova, that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, work on the Alexander Palace continued unabated. She further noted that the tab for the restoration and reconstruction project cost 2.2 billion rubles [$30 million USD].
The opening ceremony was attended by Director of the Department of Museums and External Relations of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation Alexander Voronko, Vice Governor of St. Petersburg Boris Piotrovsky, and the Director of the Tsarskoye Selo Museum-Reserve Olga Taratynova.
The Alexander Palace is a significant architectural monument in Russian history, the last home of the last Russian emperor Nicholas II and his family, who lived here permanently from 1905 to 1917. Thus, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Alexander Palace became the center of state life in Russia.
Visitors will now have an opportunity to see 13 recreated interiors [30 colour photos + 2 videos]: the New Study of Nicholas II, Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Reception Room of Nicholas II, the Valet’s Room, PLUS the Maple Drawing Room, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, the Imperial Bedroom, the Small and Large Libraries and the Marble/Mountain Hall.
“For us, the opening of the first stage of the Alexander Palace is an epoch-making event. This place is associated with turning points in history, the fate of several generations of the Romanovs. In recent years, all our strengths, aspirations and dreams have been associated with the restoration of the palace. This is a project of incredible complexity and now, finally, we can breathe out a little – the first stage has been completed,” said Olga Taratynova.
The Western wing is scheduled for completion no earlier than 2024. After the completion of the work, the Alexander Palace will become a multifunctional museum complex, which will include exhibition halls, halls for temporary exhibitions, halls for research work and conferences, as well as a library and a children’s center. The basement floor will house a ticket booth, a museum shop, a café, a cloakroom, a tour desk, as well as technical and ancillary facilities.
CLICK on the above image to watch a VIDEO of the reconstructed interiors of the private apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, situated in the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace
Restoration and reconstruction
Some of the interiors of Nicholas and Alexandra’s private apartments have miraculously retained their historical decoration, including both the New Study and Reception Room of Nicholas II, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, and the Large and Small Libraries. In preparation of the opening of the Alexander Palace, additional restoration work was carried out in these interiors.
The restorers relied on amateur photographs taken by Nicholas II and members of his family from the state archives, colour autochromes taken in 1917, as well as additional archival documents. During the restoration, all the original elements of the interior decoration have been preserved, including oak wall panels, wood-clad ceilings and ceramic tiles.
According to the samples of fabrics that are kept in the collections of the Tsarskoye Selo and Pavlovsk State Museum-Reserves, it was possible to recreate decorative fabrics. For instance, in the Imperial Bedroom, the walls, furniture, alcove are upholstered in chintz [printed multicoloured cotton fabric with a glazed finish, used especially for curtains and upholstery], it is also used for window and door draperies. The fabric of the Imperial Bedroom required almost 350 sq. meters of fabric. It took two years to recreate the fabric and draperies of this interior – from the preliminary design to the installation. The Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir is finished with silk. Curtains, including those in the Moorish Bathroom (batiste with appliqués), have been recreated from historical samples and photographs; The Working Study of Nicholas II (jacquard with images of hyacinths); in the Maple Drawing Room (jacquard with birds). Decoration of numerous interiors is replete with trimmings (braid, fringe, cords, lace).
Recreation of decorative elements
Furniture decoration: in total, more than 60 pieces of furniture – beech, walnut, rosewood, maple – will be presented in the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Maple Drawing Room, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, the Imperial Bedroom and the Working Study of Nicholas II (the furniture in this interior is under construction and has not yet been installed). The mezzanine in the Maple Drawing Room was recreated, as well as the wall panels in the Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room and the Working Study of Nicholas II.
Fireplaces: in the Palisander (Rosewood) Living Room and Maple Drawing Room, the Working Study of Nicholas II and Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, and the Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II. The fireplace in the Reception Room of Nicholas II and two fireplaces in the Working Study of Nicholas II have been restored.
Carpets: the colour, pile height, density of the base structure were recreated on the basis of photographs and analogs – a total of almost 550 square meters. meters. Stitched New Zealand wool rug in the Maple living room measuring 182 sq. meter weighs 400 kg.
During dismantling work in the Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, craftsmen discovered the basin of the pool under the floor, and in it they found fragments of the original Metlakh ceramic on the walls. These tiles aided experts with the recreation of the original interior decoration of the Moorish Bathroom, with the aid of black-and-white photographs taken in the 1930s.
In 2019, during the clearing in the New Study of Nicholas II, the discovery of the original colour and a fragment of the stencil painting that framed the fireplace portal, made it possible to restore the historical colour of the walls. The discovery of the surviving samples of English tiles made it possible to recreate the lining of the fireplace inserts and fireplaces.
While recreating the stucco decoration of the Maple Drawing Room, the restorers discovered in the opening between the two mezzanines – from the Maple Drawing Room to the New Study of Nicholas II – a small fragment of the original decoration of the drawing room, which answered questions about the shade of pink and the nature of the stucco relief depicting roses.
Prior to the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War in 1941, the Alexander Palace housed more than 52.5 thousand items, of which more than 44.8 thousand items were lost during the war from 1941 to 1945. From the 7.7 thousand items which survived, a significant part of the items are currently in the collection of other museums in Russia. Among these were 5,615 items moved from the Alexander Palace to he Pavlovsk State Museum Reserve. Of these, nearly 200 pieces were originally from the Alexander Palaces’ three ceremonial halls: the Portrait, Semi-Circular and Marble Halls. These include 39 pieces of porcelain, 41 paintings, 73 decorative bronze pieces, and 28 pieces of furniture.’
More than 6 thousand items from the collections of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve will be displayed in the reconstructed interiors of the Alexander Palace. It is interesting to note that the Pavlovsk State Museum Reserve “temporarily loaned” nearly 200 items from its collection to the Alexander Palace [these items actually belong to the Alexander Palace]. The Central Museum of Contemporary History of Russia in Moscow handed over the keys to the palace, which entered the museum collection from the assistant commandant of the palace immediately after the revolution.
Assistance in the creation of the exhibition was provided by the History of the Fatherland Foundation, State Archives of the Russian Federation (GARF), the Peter the Great Central Naval Museum, the State Hermitage Museum, the Russian Museum, the Gatchina State Museum-Reserve, the Russian National Library, the Livadia Palace Museum, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. A.S. Pushkin, Novosibirsk State Art Museum, Rostov Regional Museum of Fine Arts, Memorial History and Art Museum-Reserve of V.D. Polenov, Research Museum of the Russian Academy of Arts, private gallery Galerie Christian Le Serbon (Paris), and the British Museum.
PHOTO: Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s Corner Reception Room
Work carried out in the interiors
Corner Reception Room
It was in this room that Nicholas II received the ambassadors of foreign states. Here, in May 1902, French President Loubet, who was on an official visit to Russia, was received. He presented Alexandra Feodorovna with a large tapestry portrait of Marie-Antoinette with her children, based on the original portrait by Vigee-Lebrun (1787). During the Russo-Japanese War and the First World War, it was in this room, that the Empress received the leaders of the charitable organizations which she patronized. The family often arranged breakfasts and dinners here, gathered during home concerts, in which the stars of the St. Petersburg opera company, including Fyodor Chaliapin, often took part.
It was also in the Corner Reception Room, on 20th August 1915, the historic meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers was held, at which Nicholas II announced that he would assume command of the army and navy.
Works: artificial marble, parquet, moulding, recreation of furniture, curtains and window fillings recreated.
Maple Drawing Room
Its architectural design with its Art Nouveau style and forms stands out sharply against the background of the rest of the interiors. The main architectural accent is the spacious mezzanine, where the Empress painted and made handicrafts.
Here Alexandra Feodorovna received people close to her and trusted visitors. During the First World War, when Nicholas II was in the army, the empress heard reports from ministers here.
Works: mezzanine, furniture, carpet, decorative moulding, recreation of fireplaces.
Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room
This interior was designed by Roman Melzer in 1896-1897. The architect chose rosewood as the main finishing material – expensive wood that was delivered from abroad. In the first years of their residency in the palace, Nicholas II and Alexandra Fedorovna often spent time in solitude in this particular room. Then the living room became a place for breakfast and dinner for the Imperial family.
The Empress kept things in this room which reminded her of her homeland – the Grand Duchy of Hesse, situated in southern Germany – landscapes, watercolours, and portraits. With the help of two telephones, the empress could use the local St. Petersburg network and communicate directly with the Headquarters in Mogilev, where Nicholas II spent a long time during the First World War. It was in this room that on 8th March 1917, General Lavr Georgiyevich Kornilov placed Alexandra Feodorovna and her children under house arrest at the Alexander Palace.
Works: the upholstery of the walls, curtains, carpets, as well as panels and a fireplace made of rosewood, decorated with a fabric insert and mirrors with a facet (special processing of edges and the outer edge of the glass), a stucco frieze were recreated according to historical samples.
Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir
During the more than two decades of Alexandra Feodorovna’s life in Russia, the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir – her favourite room in the Alexander Palace – was never redesigned. The mauve silk was ordered from the Parisian firm of Charles Bourget. In this room, the emperor and empress, along with their children often drank coffee after breakfast and gathered for evening tea. Alexandra Feodorovna spent a lot of time here writing letters and reading.
According to the memoirs of contemporaries, the Empress usually sat in a chaise lounge, reclining on lace pillows. Behind her was a draft-proof glass screen, and a lace shawl covering her legs.
Works: the fabric upholstery of the walls, curtains, furniture, carpet, wood panels, a fireplace, a picturesque frieze were all recreated.
Entry to the Imperial Bedroom could be made through the Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room and the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir. To wake the emperor and empress each morning, one of the footmen knocked three times on the door of the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir with a silver staff. By this time, Nicholas was usually already awake and already at work at his desk, while Alexandra often got up late, and if she was not feeling well, did not leave her private rooms.
Works: recreated alcove, fabric wall upholstery, curtains, carpet, furniture.
Reception Room of Nicholas II
From 1905, the Alexander Palace became the main imperial residence, and therefore the center of the country’s state life. The officials who arrived for an audience with the emperor first went to the Reception Room, where they were received by the adjutant wing, who was on duty.
Works: restoration of oak panels, parquet, fireplace, ceiling paneling and fabrics, upholstery of a built-in sofa, restoration of a chandelier.
Large and Small Libraries
According to the pre-war museum inventory, there were almost 19 thousand volumes in the library halls of the palace and 6 thousand volumes were in private rooms. The Large and Small Libraries today exhibit more than 5 thousand volumes.
Works: reconstructed artificial marble, parquet floors, bookcases (partially recreated).
Working Study of Nicholas II
Here the emperor received ministers every day, heard reports, and reviewed official documents. The interior consisted of a table, chairs, walnut cabinets and a large ottoman upholstered in the fashion of a Persian rug. Nicholas II rested on it when work dragged on until nightfall or when he returned to Tsarskoye Selo from St. Petersburg late and preferred not to disturb his family.
The study also contained the personal library of Nicholas II, which consisted of about 700 volumes of military, historical literature, books on state issues, fiction and periodicals. The decoration was destroyed during the Nazi occupation.
Works: reconstruction of curtains, fireplace, panels, built-in walnut furniture, carpets. It is assumed that the recreated ottoman, a desk with a desk, a lamp, and armchairs will also return to the interior.
PHOTO: Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II
Built in the Moorish style, the emperor’s bathroom was decorated with a swimming pool with a capacity of about a thousand buckets of water. The pool was filled with water at the required temperature in a few minutes. On the platform facing the pool there was a fireplace surrounded with oriental style tiles. The pool and the entire bathroom were designed and supervised by the architect and engineer Nicholas de Rochefort. The decoration was lost during the Great Patriotic War.
Works: recreated fireplace, pool, partition, fabrics, carpet, curtains, horizontal bar, ceiling, and a picturesque frieze.
PHOTO: Valet’s Room
Under Nicholas II, the Cloakroom and Kamerdinerskaya, separated by partitions, were located here.
Works: due to the lack of iconographic material, it was decided to leave this interior in its current state; the walls were plastered and painted, and the historical modeling was preserved.
New Study of Nicholas II
The interior was designed in the Art Nouveau style. A wooden staircase leads to a mezzanine which connects to the Maple Drawing Room mezzanine. During the First World War, maps of military operations were laid out and fateful decisions were made in the New Study of Nicholas II.
Works: restored fireplaces, parquet, ceiling, stairs to the mezzanine; the found samples were used to recreate the wall paintings (the discovered fragments were preserved), the curtains and partly furniture were recreated.
PHOTO: watercolour of the Alexander Palace as it looked in 1831
In 1792, the Alexander Palace was built by the Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi by order of Empress Catherine II. The palace was a wedding gift for her beloved grandson – Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich (future Emperor Alexander I) with Grand Duchess Elizabeth Alekseevna.
The private apartments of Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra Feodorovna were placed in the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace. Alterations were carried out from 1894 under the leadership of Alexander Vidov and Alexander Bach. After the death of Vidov, he was replaced by Silvio Danini, who, in turn, was replaced by Roman Melzer.
From 1905, the palace became the permanent residence of Emperor Nicholas II, who was born here in 1868. It was here that the Emperor spent the last 12 years of his reign. It was from the Alexander Palace on 1st August 1917, that the Imperial family were sent into exile to Tobolsk in Siberia.
In 1918, the Alexander Palace was opened to visitors as a state museum. Later, a recreation center for NKVD employees was located in the west wing of the palace. An orphanage was opened in the former rooms of the Nicholas II’s children on the second floor of the east wing.
During the Nazi occupation of the city of Pushkin [Tsarskoye Selo], the German headquarters and the Gestapo were located in the Alexander Palace, in the basements there was a prison. The square in front of the palace was turned into a cemetery for SS officers.
After the war, the palace was mothballed and in 1946 transferred to the USSR Academy of Sciences for keeping the collections of the Institute of Russian Literature. The building was being prepared for a large-scale exhibition dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. As a result, restoration work on the palace began in 1947-1949: it was planned to restore the preserved interiors of Quarenghi and the surviving fragments of the decoration of the late 19th – early 20th centuries. During the work, many elements of the decoration of the Maple Drawing Room and the Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, as well as the Moorish Bathroom, were destroyed.
In 1951, the palace was transferred to the Naval Department, and the palace collection, which was part of the evacuated items in the Central Depository of Museum Collections of Suburban Palaces-Museums, were transferred to the Pavlovsk Palace State Museum.
The palace was transferred into the jurisdiction of the Tsarskoye Selo Museum-Reserve in October 2009. In June 2010, during the celebration of the 300th anniversary of Tsarskoye Selo, three State Halls of the Central were solemnly opened after restoration.
© Paul Gilbert. 23 August 2021
Dear Reader: If you enjoy my articles and updated 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 GoFundMe, PayPal, credit card, personal check or money order.
Your donation helps support my work in a number of ways, including research, the cost of translations from Russian media and archival sources, the maintenance of my news blog: Nicholas II. Emperor. Tsar. Saint., the organization of conferences and other events. Thank you for your consideration – PG