Nicholas II. Family and Throne exhibition opens in Tula

On Friday 21st April, a new exhibition “Nicholas II. Family and Throne”, opened in the Tula branch of the State Historical Museum.

The exhibit marks the 155th anniversary of the birth of Emperor Nicholas II on 19th May [O.S. 6th May] 1868 and the105th anniversary of the death and martyrdom [17th July 1918].

The exhibition will give visitors an opportunity to “look” at the life of the Russian ruler and his family through the impartial lens of the camera. The exposition is emphatically documentary: rare photographs from the collection of the State Historical Museum which depict the private life of the Russian monarch.

PHOTOS: the director of the State Historical Museum (Moscow) and curator of the exhibition Evgeny Lukyanov discusses watercolours (above) and photographs (below) depicting the Coronation of Emperor Nicholas II in Moscow, May 1896

The Emperor and members of his family were all avid photographers: they all had cameras and took pictures of each other, family events and their relatives. The Emperor was almost always accompanied by professional Court photographers who photographed the Emperor almost every day of his reign (among the most notable being “K. E. von Hahn and Co.” and its owner, and the Court photographer A. K. Yagelsky). The museum’s collection contains more than 750 photographs from the life of Nicholas II. A number of photographs come from the Tsar’s favourite residences: the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, the Lower Dacha at Peterhof, and Livadia Palace in Crimea, depicting the private world of the Imperial Family.

The exhibit focuses on two topics: “Nicholas II as the head of the Russian Empire” and “Nicholas II as the head of the Imperial Family”.

The first – official – section shows photographs depicting the Emperor during meetings with foreign heads of state (King Edward VII of Great Britain, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, French Presidents Felix Faure and Armand Falier); celebrations on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of St. Petersburg and the 100th anniversary of the Patriotic War of 1812; parades, reviews and regimental holidays; consecration of churches and monuments; as well as during the Russo-Japanese War and the First World War. A significant place is given to the display of two major dynastic events – the coronation of Emperor Nicholas II (1896) and the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the House of Romanov (1913).

The second – family – section of the exhibition presents photographs related to the personal life of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. The central place is given to the August children – Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Tsesarevich Alexei. Of particular note in this section, are unique photographs depicting the stay of Emperor Nicholas II and his family in Livadia in 1911, 1912 and 1913 respectively.

In addition to the hundreds of photographs, are portraits of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, watercolours depicting episodes from the life of the Imperial Family, drawings of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, unique historical documents, including autographs of the last Romanovs, are all on display.

The exhibition also includes uniforms worn by Nicholas II and his son Tsesarevich Alexei, as well as precious orders presented to Nicholas II from the collection of the State Historical Museum in Moscow. “These precious orders from European and Asian countries, stored in the collection of the numismatics department of the museum, rarely leave the walls of the fund,” said Director Alexey Levykin.

The exhibition presents Russian Orders awarded to Nicholas II[1], in addition to those given by Great Britain, Prussia, France, Austria-Hungary, Japan, Thailand and other European and Asian countries[2]. Many orders are being exhibited for the first time.

“The orders were made of silver and gold and decorated with precious stones. Each exhibit outstanding craftsmanship, utilizing various jewelry techniques: gold embroidery, filigree, various types of enameling, engraving, and casting,” he added.

PHOTOS: memorial hall (above) to Emperor Nicholas II and his family. On display in the foreground is a reliquary frame with a portrait of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich and a lock of his hair (below).

The last hall of the exhibition resembles a basement or crypt, where there are seven stelae each depicting photographic portraits of Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and their five children, who were murdered in the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg on the night of 16/17 July 1918. In the center of this miniature memorial hall is a unique item – a reliquary frame with a portrait of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich and a lock of his hair.

The exhibition is supplemented by excerpts from the diary of Emperor Nicholas II and quotes from contemporaries who knew the Emperor and his family closely: Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, the Swiss tutor Pierre Gilliard, Prince Felix Yusupov, French Ambassador to Russia Maurice Paléologue, Chief Hofmeisterina of the Imperial Court E.A. Naryshkina, Head of the Chancellery of the Ministry of the Imperial Court A.A. Mosolov, Minister of Foreign Affairs S.D. Sazonov, maid of honour of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna Anna Vyrubova.

The director of the Tula branch of the State Historical Museum notes: “Understanding all the inconsistency and ambiguity of the personality of Emperor Nicholas II, we do not presume to judge his role and place in the history of our country, but provide such an opportunity for visitors to the exhibition, who will be able to “look” at the life of the Russian monarch and his family through the lens of a camera. We hope that the exposition in the branch of the Historical Museum in Tula will be a worthy occasion to honour the memory of the last Russian sovereign, who was martyred more than a century ago.”

The State Historical Museum in Moscow, opened the first regional branch in Tula at the end of September 2020 as part of the celebration marking the 500th anniversary of the Tula Kremlin.

The “Nicholas II. Family and Throne” Exhibition runs until 11th September 2023 at the Tula branch of the State Historical Museum. A Russian-language illustrated catalogue has been prepared for the exhibition.


[1] Nicholas II was the recipient of 7 national honours

[2] Nicholas II was the recipient of 51 foreign honours from 35 countries, duchies, etc

©  Paul Gilbert. 22 April 2023