Toys of Nicholas II’s children transferred to museum in Sergiev Posad in 1930s

PHOTO: Overview of some of the Imperial Children’s toys from the collection of the Art and Pedagogical Toy Museum in Sergiev Posad, including a collection of porcelain dolls, once owned by the grand duchesses.

Situated 74 km [45 miles] northeast of Moscow is Sergiev Posad[1] the spiritual centre of Russia with its famous Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra[2], and home to over 300 monks. In 1993, the Trinity-Sergius Lavra which comprises a unique ensemble of more than 50 buildings was inscribed on the UN World Heritage List. In 2002 the monastery was recognized as a Cultural Heritage Site of the Russian Federation.

Sergiev Posad also has a long history of toy-making, the matryoshka doll known all over the world was born here. It seems only fitting that the town should claim to its fame the Art and Pedagogical Toy Museum, which is situated opposite the Trinity-Sergius Lavra. The museum is a unique repository of more than 150 thousand toys from Russia, Europe, Asia and America. The museum was founded in 1918 by Nikolai Dmitrievich Bartram (1873-1931)[3].

Bertram was a Russian illustrator, poster designer, art historian, and collector, who also studied the history of toys in Russia. From 1900 to 1903, he travelled throughout Europe; visiting toy shops and returning with suitcases of dolls, toy soldiers, and toy animals.

In 1912, he married the artist and collector, Yevdokia Ivanovna Loseva (1880-1936), who shared his interest in toys. In October 1918, as World War I was winding down, he and Yevdokia founded the Moscow Toy Museum, comprising of toys from his own private collection; although it was not opened to the general public until 1921. 

His collection was further enriched with toys from the Stroganov School in Moscow, as well as those from the noble estates, private collections and specialty shops, all of which had been nationalized by the Bolsheviks.

In the early 1930s toys that once belonged to the children of Emperor Nicholas II from the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo and the Livadia Palace in Crimea, were transferred to the museum’s collection.

The museum was first located in Bartram’s four-room apartment on Smolensky Boulevard in Moscow The one-storey mansion with a mezzanine, consisted of 250 square meters, 200 meters of which was allocated for his toy collection.

PHOTO: view of the Toy Museum (above), situated opposite the Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra in Sergiev Posad. The glass showcases (below) contain toys transferred from the Alexander Palace and Livadia Palace in the 1930s.

Officially founded on 17th October 1918, the museum was opened to visitors only in 1921, and three years later, in 1924, it moved to a new location – the former Khrushchev-Seleznevs mansion[4] on Kropotkinskaya Street in Moscow. It was here, that the Toy Museum was opened on 5th January 1921, expanding its exhibition space to 5 halls and 600 square meters to accommodate Bartram’s growing collection. Today the building is occupied by the Literary Museum of A. S. Pushkin.

In terms of attendance, the Museum of Toys was surpassed only by the Tretyakov Gallery. Nikolai Bartram remained at the head of the museum until his death in 1931.

In 1931, the Toy Museum was transferred from Moscow to Zagorsk[1] opposite – the Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra.

PHOTO: Toy Museum founder Nikolai Dmitrievich Bartram among his collection

The current Chief Curator of the Toy Museum Tamara Atyusheva explains the fate of the toys of the Tsar’s children, and how some of them came into the hands of the museum:

-“From 1918 to 1931 the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo was a museum, which included a permanent exhibition dedicated to the “Children’s Half”, which included the rooms of the Grand Duchesses and the Tsesarevich. These rooms were filled with the Imperial Children’s toys which were left after the Tsar and his family were sent into exile in August 1917.

“After 1931, the subject of everything Tsarist became a bone of contention among the Stalinists, one which did not fit into Soviet life. As a result the “Children’s Half” exhibition in the Alexander Palace was closed. Many of the toys and personal items of the Tsar’s children were distributed to orphanages and shelters. No records were kept of where the toys were distributed, and all traces of these toys have since been lost. The toys which were not lost, were transferred to our museum in in 1932. They were stored in the storerooms of the Research Institute of Toys in Zagorsk[1] located in the museum of the Lavra. They were stored without any indication that these items had any special significance. For instance, the Grand Duchesses collection of porcelain dolls were simply labeled “Nineteenth Century Dolls” and that’s it.

“It was during holidays – birthdays, name days, and Christmas – that the Imperial Children received expensive toys, many of which had been imported from Europe and Britain as gifts. In addition they received board games, which also acted as learning aids: for studying languages, geography, and royal dynasties, including one with “portraits of the Sovereigns of the Russian Land”.

“Interesting among the toys were those of Tsesarevich Alexei, who was brought up primarily as the future heir to the throne, and head of the Russian Imperial Army. He had everything a little warrior should have: a toy three-line Mosin rifle, toy sabers, a toy ship (“Battleship Sevastopol”), signal flags, a triangular red pennant with a white cross, and a collection of toy soldiers.

In addition the Heir had an electric train, which consisted of a huge steam locomotive, complete with stations and tunnels.

One of the highlights of the Imperial Children’s toys, was a collection of European made dolls of the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia in national costumes, in addition to children’s furniture, dishes, books, sporting goods and portraits.

Today the Art and Pedagogical Toy Museum welcomes more than 30,000 visitors each year. Exhibits from their collection are routinely loaned out to other museums throughout Russia, the toys of the children of Emperor Nicholas II being the most popular. In 2011, some of the toys from the museum’s collection were put on display in former Children’s Half located on the second floor of the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.

© Paul Gilbert. 10 January 2023


[1] Sergiev Posad was founded on 22nd March 1782, by decree of Empress Catherine II. The name is associated with the name of Sergius of Radonezh (1314-1392), the founder of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, around which the posad was formed. In 1919, Sergiev Posad was renamed Sergiev. On 6th March 1930, the city was renamed Zagorsk, in honor of the Bolshevik revolutionary Vladimir Mikhailovich Zagorsky, who died in 1919.

On 23rd September 1991, by the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, the historical name was returned to the city – Sergiev Posad. At the walls of the Lavra was erected a monument to Sergius of Radonezh, made of bronze, the work of the sculptor Valentin Chukharkin. The monument was consecrated on 18th March 2000 by Patriarch Alexy II (1929-2008).

[2] After the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Soviet government closed the Lavra in 1920. Its buildings were assigned to different civic institutions or declared museums. In 1930, monastery bells, including the Tsar-Bell of 65 tons, were destroyed. Father Pavel Florensky (1882-1937) and his followers prevented the authorities from stealing and selling the sacristy collection but overall many valuables were lost or transferred to other collections.

In 1945, following Joseph Stalin’s temporary tolerance of the church during World War II, the Lavra was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. On 16th April 1946 divine service was renewed at the Assumption Cathedral. The Lavra continued as the seat of the Moscow Patriarchate until 1983, when the patriarch was allowed to settle at the Danilov Monastery in Moscow.

[3] Nikolai Dmitrievich Bartram died on 13th July 1931. He was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

[4] Today the former Khrushchev-Seleznevs mansion houses the A. S. Pushkin State Museum (not to be confused with the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts).

Beautiful winter views of the Novo-Tikvinsky Convent, Ekaterinburg

PHOTO: the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in the Novo-Tikvinsky Convent
© Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

Snow-covered paths, trees covered in hoarfrost, early evening twilight reflect the silent beauty of winter which surrounds the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky, depicted in these beautiful photos.

The Novo-Tikhvin Monastery is a community of female monastics. It was founded in the late 18th century, growing out of an alms-house at the cemetery church in Ekaterinburg. It is the home of the icon of the Tikhvin Mother of God. Closed in 1920 by the Bolsheviks, monastic life at the monastery was restored in 1994.

In 1918, when Nicholas II and his family were being held under arrest in the Ipatiev House, the nuns of the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent were praying for them, asking God to relieve their sufferings,and to give them the strength to bear everything with Christian humility.

The sisters’ help came not only through prayer but also through deeds: disregarding their own safety, they supported the Tsar and his family by bringing various foods to them through the guards. On 18th June 1918, a month before their murder, Empress Alexandra Feodorvna made the following entry in her diary: “The kind nuns are now sending milk and eggs for Alexei and for us, as well as cream.”

I have spent many hours praying in the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky, during my visits to the Ural city in 2012, 2016 and 2018 respectively. It was during my visit to Ekaterinburg in the summer of 2016, that my hotel was situated behind the convent, and I had a clear view of the cathedral from my window. I went every morning to the cathedral to pray, and every afternoon in the beautifully landscaped gardens which surround the Cathedral.

Click HERE to read why Ekaterinburg is my favourite Russian city.

PHOTO: the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in the Novo-Tikvinsky Convent
© Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

PHOTO: the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in the Novo-Tikvinsky Convent
© Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

PHOTO: the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in the Novo-Tikvinsky Convent
© Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

PHOTO: the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in the Novo-Tikvinsky Convent
© Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

PHOTO: the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in the Novo-Tikvinsky Convent
© Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

PHOTO: I simply could not resist sharing this photo . . . A mother takes a photo of her little one [who looks like a little angel] sitting on a bench in the garden of the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent in Ekaterinburg. The magnificent Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky can be seen in the background. The snow simply enhances the beauty of this photo. © Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

PHOTO: the Nativity set against the backdrop of the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky at the Novo-Tikvinsky Convent, Ekaterinburg. © Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

PHOTO: A lovely winters night view of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral at the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent in Ekaterinburg. On the left, you can see the new monument to four faithful servants of Emperor Nicholas II, which was installed and consecrated this past summer, on the grounds of the Convent. © Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

© Paul Gilbert. 9 January 2023

The Imperial Family’s last Christmas in 1917

This article was written by Kate Baklitskaya, and published in the 7th January 2014 edition of The Siberian Times. I have taken the liberty of making some corrections and adjustments to her text – PG

NOTE: The Russian Orthodox Church observes Christmas Day on 7th January according to the Old Style Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar used in the West.

During the winter of 1917-18 Emperor Nicholas II and his family were being held under house arrest in Tobolsk, in western Siberia, before being moved in the spring of 1918 to Yekaterinburg where they were murdered in July 1918. Their last Christmas – since they used the Julian calendar, took place on what most of the world now knows as 6 and 7 January 1918, but for them it was 24 and 25 December 1917 – was still full of joy and hopes for a better future, even though 1917 was the year when the Romanovs were toppled.

In exile the Emperor and his family continued to live as normal life as their situation would allow them, although they were forbidden to go into town or attend church, they were only allowed to leave the house to walk and play in the yard.

The Tsar was not afraid of simple manual work, spending his time chopping wood with his son Alexey following his example. The former Tsesarevich, then 13, took care of the poultry. 

The children continued their studies and the Emperor taught them a course of Russian history. Their mother Alexandra taught German to the children, perhaps surprisingly since World War One was still underway. As Christmas approached, the former Tsesarevich and his four sisters – the Grand Duchesses – were given a break. 

This is how Grand Duchess Olga described this period: ‘Everything is peaceful and quiet, thank God. We are all healthy and not losing hope. Today my sisters’ and brother’s vacation begun.  There is still not a lot of snow, the frost reaches -20C, and the sun shines almost all the time, it rises and sets bright and beautiful. …It’s so nice to go for walks. Mama works all day or draws and paints, keeps herself busy all the time and the time flies quickly.’

Their hope at the time was to be allowed to go into exile abroad to Britain, but this plan was vetoed in London amid fears their presence would stoke revolutionary sentiments. Ekaterina Schneider, their Russian language teacher, described Christmas Eve in her letters: ‘In the evening today we will go for overnight prayer… After we came home and had breakfast. There I was decorating a Christmas tree with candles – there were no other decorations, so tonight a small Christmas tree will be lit’. 

‘The trees here have a completely different smell, the tree smells of oranges …  Now it’s 4pm, I’ll go into the yard to help to make a snow mountain – tonight there was a lot of snow . It’s -7C degrees. By local standards it’s hot’.

The Empress started preparations for Christmas well in advance. Despite their difficult financial situation she still managed to prepare presents for all the family members, friends and retainers. Most of these presents were handmade.

Alexandra described their Siberian Christmas in her diary: ‘December 24. Sunday. Tobolsk. Christmas Eve. Preparing gifts. Breakfast downstairs. Decorated Christmas tree, laid out the gifts. Tea. Then I went to the guards from the 4th Infantry Regiment, all together 20 people’.

‘I brought them a small Christmas tree and some food, and a Bible each with a bookmark that I hand painted. Sat there with them. 7.30 pm. Had  dinner downstairs with everyone. 9pm Christmas celebration for our servants – for all our people.

‘9.30 pm. Evening service at the church: a large choir sang. The soldiers came as well.’

The Empress did her best to support her family in the difficult times and bring the Christmas spirit into the family celebration. Perhaps thanks to her effort Romanov family enjoyed their last Christmas.

In a letter to her lady in waiting Sophia Karlovna Buxhoeveden, the Empress wrote that love, hope and patience were her guides through these difficult times.

‘I gently kiss you and wish you all the best. May God send you health and peace of mind, which is the greatest gift. We should pray to God for patience, because it is so important for us in this world of suffering (and the greatest madness), for comfort, strength and happiness.

‘Perhaps the word ‘joyful Christmas’ sounds like a joke now, but after all this joy of the birth of our Lord. …. He will manifest His mercy when the time comes, and before that we have to wait patiently. We cannot change what is happening – we can only believe, believe and pray and never lose love for Him.’

© The Siberian Times. 6 January 2023

The Alexander Palace: Then and Now

PHOTO: view of the front and rear facades of the Alexander Palace, Tsarskoye Selo

The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve have reissued a series of colour autochromes and photographs which allow us to compare some of the interiors of the Alexander Palace as they looked like in 1917 and how they look today, following a large-scale reconstruction and restoration project that began in the Autumn 2015.

Shortly after Emperor Nicholas II and his family were sent into exile to Tobolsk on 1st (O.S.) August 1917, George Kreskentievich Lukomsky (1884-1952), chairman of the Commission for the Acceptance and Registration of Property of the Tsarskoye Selo Palace Administration, arrived at the Alexander Palace, where he “methodically and consistently photographed” the interiors of the former Imperial residence.

Zehest had been commissioned by the art historian George Loukomski, Head of the Tsarskoye Selo Inventory Commission. A total of 140 colour auto-chromes were taken of the Alexander Palace. A collection of 48 auto-chromes, which were acquired at a Paris auction in 2012 have since proven to be of immense value with the restoration of the interiors of the Alexander Palace.

The Alexander Palace reopened to visitors on 14th (O.S. 1st) August 2021, marking the 104th anniversary since the Imperial Family left the palace for the last time. Visitors can now see thirteen reconstructed and restored interiors of the private apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna located in the eastern wing of the palace.

These include 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 Mountain Hall. In addition are the State Halls: the Portrait Hall, the Semi-Circular Hall and the Marble Drawing Room.

Please note that all the photos posted below are courtesy of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum:

Empress Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Maple Drawing Room as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Small Library as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Reception Room of Emperor Nicholas II as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

The Western wing of the Alexander Palace 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.

Please note that I have written more than 60 articles on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace, which include 100s of photographs, illustrations and videos. Click HERE to review the articles in this category.

© Paul Gilbert. 4 January 2023

Nicholas II Conference cancelled . . . again!

How unfortunate that my first post for 2023 should be a negative one . . . it is with much disappointment that I find myself forced to cancel the Nicholas II Conference which I was planning for September of this year.

Shortly after announcing the event several months back, I began to receive hate-filled messages and emails from “Russophobes” in the UK, who threatened to “disrupt” the Conference. Most of these messages were generously peppered with profanity – which reflected their bigoted and hateful anti-Russian sentiment.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the church – where the Conference was to be held – in Colchester, England had been targeted by anti-Russian thugs. The police even had to get involved!

The Conference had no political agenda, whatsoever, which begs the question “WHY” would thugs target an event dedicated to the study and appreciation of Russia’s last Tsar?

While I understand the anger towards Putin for ordering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I fail to understand any connection between Putin and Nicholas II, especially given that more than a century separates their lives.

After further discussion, Father Andrew Phillips and I have decided to postpone the September Conference for the time being. I was really looking forward to hosting this event, however, we will now have to be patient and wait until such time as it is deemed safe. What a sad world we live.

*Some readers may recall that I was planning a similar Conference to be held at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York in 2020, however, I was forced to cancel this event due to COVID. Father Theophylact (Clapper-DeWell) and I both agreed that the health and safety of those planning to attend should be our priority.

© 3 January 2023