Dispute over the colour of Nicholas II’s eyes

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Many people who met Nicholas II, whether friend or foe, testify to his overwhelming charm. “With his usual simplicity and friendliness,” wrote his Prime Minister, Vladimir Kokovtsov. “A rare kindness of heart,” commented Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov. “A charm that attracted all that came near him,” wrote British Ambassador Sir George Buachanan. “Charming in the kindly simplicity of his ways,’ said his niece’s husband Prince Felix Yusupov.

It was Nicholas II’s eyes, in particular, which attracted people to him. His cousin Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich wrote of “that clear, deep, expressive look that cannot fail but charm and enchant.”

Yet it is the colour of Nicholas II’s eyes seems to be in dispute. His early biographer Sergei Oldenburg refers to his “large radiant grey eyes,” which “peered directly into one’s soul and lent power to his words”; Hélène Vacaresco who met Nicholas when he was Tsesarevich, also wrote of his “large grey eyes.” One of his most intimate cousins Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, on the other hand, refers to the “beauty of his frank blue eyes.”

More strangely Count Vladimir Nikolayevich Kokovtsov, who served as as the Prime Minister of Russia from 1911 to 1914, had the chance to stare into those eyes many times, writes that they were “usually of a velvety dark brown.” Perhaps he was colour blind?

The true colour of Nicholas II’s eyes is captured in Serov’s famous portrait, painted in 1900, the eyes are a grey-blue, matching the colour of his uniform. 

Archpriest Lev Lebedev (1935-1998) writes: “The direct gaze of his deep grey-blue eyes, which often flashed with welcoming humour, penetrated into the very soul of his interlocutors, completely captivating people . . .”.

Russian historian Konstantin Gennadievich Kapkov writes in his book Духовный мир Императора Николая II и его семьи [The Spiritual World of Nicholas II and His Family]: “The main thing that he inspired was awe, not fear. I think his eyes were the reason. Yes I’m sure it was his eyes, so beautiful were they. The most delicate blue shade, they looked straight in the face. With the kindest, tender and loving expression. How could you feel fear? His eyes were so clear that he seemed to open his whole soul to your sight.

© Paul Gilbert. 28 November 2021

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