Watercolours by Pavel Shipov returned to Alexander Palace

Watercolours by Pavel Dmitrievich Shipov (1860-1919)
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

A pair of watercolours by Pavel Shipov – believed to have been lost during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), have been returned to the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum. Up until 1941, these works hung in the Working Study of Emperor Nicholas II in the Alexander Palace, which at the time was a museum[1].

During the Nazi occupation of Tsarskoye Selo (1941-44), the Alexander Palace was used as headquarters for the German military command. Following the Nazi retreat in 1944, many items from the palace were destroyed, lost of stolen[2].

The provenance of Shipov’s watercolors are confirmed by the inventory numbers on the works (A-2033, A-2035), which match those found in the inventory book of museum items of the Pushkin Palaces-Museums of 1940.

The watercolours were in the possession of Björn Kohler-Svendsen, who received them from Horst Kohler-Svendsen, a relative who was in the Pushkin [Tsarskoye Selo] during the Nazi occupation. It was during the German retreat from Pushkin, that Horst discovered the watercolours and took back them to Germany. The watercolours were presented to the Russian Embassy in Berlin, who subsequently arranged for them to be returned to Tsarskoye Selo.

Both watercolours are pasted on cardboard and edged into frames, while on the reverse side there are inscriptions written in German with a ballpoint pen.

The watercolor seen on the right in the above photo depicts the presentation of the deputation of the Vologda province to Emperor Nicholas II on 29th January 1910, which features three members of the deputation, two of whom are holding icons. In the center of the composition the Tsar is depicted, leaning forward to kiss the icon. Two officers are depicted standing behind the Tsar.

On the back of the frame, Horst wrote: “I brought this painting from the city of Pushkin near Leningrad. It was lying on the floor of the Alexander Palace when the palace was destroyed by grenade explosions. I survived, and brought it with me in 1941.”

The second watercolor seen on the left in the above photo depicts a private of the Life-Guards 4th The Imperial Family’s Rifle Regiment. The artist has signed his name P. Shipov in the lower right corner, and in the lower left corner is written Tsarskoye Selo / 29 Jan. 1910.

On the back of the frame, Horst wrote: “This picture fluttered in the wind when, in the winter of 1941, the Catherine/Alexander Palaces in Pushkin, Russia (Leningrad) was bombed and damaged. I picked it up, and brought it with me.”

Pavel Dmitrievich Shipov (1860-1919)

Pavel Dmitrievich Shipov (1860-1919) served as Lieutenant General in both the Russian-Japanese and First World Wars. On 21st February 1908, he was appointed Wing-Adjutant to the Retinue of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Nicholas II, with the post of commander of the regiment. 

He was also an artist, educated at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. During the war, he specialized in military portraiture, making pencil sketches and watercolor portraits of soldiers and officers, observing them in battles and on leave.

Shipov was shot by the Bolsheviks on 23rd July 1919, although according to other sources he was shot in 1923.

These two watercolours now bring a total of five works by this artist in the collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum. Both watercolors will be returned to their historical place in the Working Study of Nicholas II in the Alexander Palace.


[1] In June 1918, the Alexander Palace was established as a museum and opened to the public. It was closed in 1941.

[2] The fate of the contents of the Alexander Palace in the 20th century

© Paul Gilbert. 16 March 2023