Exhibits from the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II in Tobolsk

PHOTO: recreation of the dining room in the former Governors Mansion, Tobolsk

Between August 1917 and April 1918 Emperor Nicholas II and his family were held under house arrest in the the former governor’s mansion [renamed “House of Freedom” by the Bolsheviks] in Tobolsk, Siberia.

In the beginning, the Imperial family were allowed to walk to the nearby Church of the Annunciation for worship, however, this was halted due to “concerns for their safety”. Despite this, the security regime in Tobolsk was more relaxed than in Tsarskoye Selo, allowing the family to lead a fairly calm life.

On 26th April 2018, the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II opened in the former Governor’s Mansion, following an extensive restoration. The museum is the first museum in Russia, dedicated entirely to Emperor Nicholas II and his family. Many original elements from the time that the Imperial Family lived here have been preserved. The interiors have been partially restored, each room featuring unique exhibits from their daily life. The chapel, which was set up in the ballroom of the mansion was also recreated, and consists of a folding iconostasis and an altar.

In addition, the museum features many unique personal items belonging to the Imperial family: Imperial porcelain, napkins with monograms, silver appliances, etc. One of the most precious exhibits is Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s silk shawl. The Empress gave the shawl to the wife of the doctor in gratitude, who had treated the Tsesarevich Alexei.

Below, is a selection of five exhibits from the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II in Tobolsk:

“Travels in the East of Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia When Tsesarevich” by Esper Ukhtomsky

On 5th November (O.S. 23rd October) 1890, Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich (future Emperor Nicholas II) embarked on a seven-month journey around the greater part of the Eurasian continent.

The total length of the journey exceeded 51,000 kilometres, including 15,000 km of railway and 22,000 km of sea routes, aboard the cruiser Pamyat Azov. The Tsesearvich’s journey took him to Greece, Egypt, India, Ceylon, Siam, Singapore, French Indochina, China, and Japan.

Nicholas Alexandrovich was accompanied on the journey by a close confidant Prince Esper Esperovich Ukhtomsky (1861-1921), a diplomat, publisher and Oriental enthusiast. He later published an account of this expedition: Travels in the East of Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia When Tsesarevich. Illustrations for the publication were made by the Russian artist Nicholas Nikolaevich Karazin (1842-1908).

The book was written in close consultation with Nicholas II, who personally approved each chapter. It took six years to complete, and was published in three volumes between 1893 and 1897 by Brockhaus, in Leipzig. Despite being expensive at 35 roubles, it still ran to four editions. Empress Alexandra Feodorovna bought several thousand copies for various government ministries and departments, and a cheaper edition was subsequently printed. The work was translated into English, French, German and Chinese, with a copy being presented to the Chinese Emperor and Empress in 1899 by the Russian envoy

Manila shawl of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna

This white natural silk shawl belonged to Empress Alexandra Fedorovna. The Empress’s wardrobe included several Manila shawls, which were popular in the early 20th century.

The name of the product was derived from the capital of the Philippines [a former Spanish colony] – Manila. In the 16th century, Spanish galleons arrived in the harbour, their holds full of china, precious stones, spices and fabrics including silk capes, from China. The shawls eventually found their way to Spain where they became a popular commodity. By the 18th century, they were already an important accessory of Spanish fashionistas and over time acquired the status of a luxury accessory. Not only were Manila shawls worn thrown over the shoulders: they were also used to decorate sofas, pianos and even walls. They became an important accessory for flamenco dancers.

The first silk shawls were decorated with hand-made embroidery with traditional Chinese motifs: dragons, bamboo, pagodas. Later, they were replaced by flowers and birds more familiar to Europeans, and brushes with special weaving appeared along the edges. The most common colours for Manila shawls were black, white, ivory and shades of red.

Balalaika of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich

Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, a German by birth, enjoyed the sound of a three-stringed balalaika. She first heard the tunes of the Cossack-balalaika players when she first arrived in Russia. Initially, Alexandra Feodorovna wanted her daughters to take up playing a folk instrument, but in the end, it was her son Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich who became interested in the instrument. Judging by a photograph taken on the Imperial yacht Standart in 1907, Alexei had already picked up the balalaika at the age of three.

When the Tsesarevich grew up, he was appointed a music tutor. Historians suggest that it was Major General Alexei Resin. But Resin was dedicated to commanding the tsarist guard, so instead offered a replacement – the Court adviser Alexander Zarubin. Zarubin played in an amateur orchestra of Russian folk instruments, which became the first such group in Russia. Zarubin conducted 12 balalaika lessons with Alexei Nikolaevich. For these lessons, the Tsesarevich bought one professional instrument for himself and presented two more to his fellow cadets – Vasily Ageev and Evgeny Makarov. His schedule for 1917 included weekly exercises, but classes with Zarubin were cancelled due to the February Revolution in Petrograd. After the emperor abdicated and the Imperial Family were sent into exile to Tobolsk, Alexei Nikolaevich took the instrument with him.

Perfume Coty of the Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna

In 1904, the French perfumer François Coty (1874-1934), created a perfume brand under his own name. The design of the bottle for his first fragrance was developed by the French company “Baccarat”. At first, few people were interested in the perfumes of an unknown perfumer, but once Francois Coty broke a bottle with them in a Parisian store, his luck changed. The scent filled the room and immediately attracted buyers. A few weeks later, Coty’s perfume was already on sale in department stores, boutiques and hairdressers throughout Paris.

François Coty became one of the most popular perfumers of the time. Before him, perfume was a luxury item available only to wealthy people. Coty created a line of fragrances in which the cost depended on the size and type of bottle. He said, “Give a woman the best product you can create, wrap it in simple but elegant packaging, set a reasonable price, and you have a business of a scale the world has never seen.”

The collection of the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II contains a glass bottle of perfume “Corsican Jasmine”, which was used by Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna. This fragrance was created by François Coty in 1906 and named after his homeland – the island of Corsica. The scent of “Corsican Jasmine” was also loved by the famous Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941).

Nicholas II and Chess

Emperor Nicholas II had many interests and hobbies. He traveled around Russia by train, sailed with his family on the Imperial Yacht Standart, cycled, rowed, hiked and played tennis. The monarch was also fond of hunting, cinematography and photography, he loved to drive a car and patronized the Imperial Russian Automobile Society.

Nicholas II did much to popularize chess in Russia. For example, the big tournament in memory of the famous Russian chess player Mikhail Chigorin (1850-1908) in 1909, was partially financed by the Emperor, who donated a thousand rubles. The Emperor personally attended the tournament and awarded the finalists with the title of grandmaster, the winners received vases made by the prestigious Imperial Porcelain Factory.

In 1914, the Emperor supported the creation of the All-Russian Chess Union. With his approval, chess tournaments, international congresses and chess competitions were held in Russia.

While in exile in Tobolsk, the Emperor spent his days usually engaged in physical activities, such as sawing wood, working in the garden, or shovelling snow in the winter. In the evenings, members of the Imperial Family whiled away the time books, embroidery and playing chess.

The chess set in the collection of the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II was made at the Kasli plant in the first half of the 19th century. Kasli casting was highly valued not only in Russia, but also in Europe, for its excellent quality and attention to detail.

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Click on the IMAGE below to watch a VIDEO tour [in Russian] of the the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II in Tobolsk, which includes the interiors and many exhibits. Duration: 19 minutes, 32 seconds

© Paul Gilbert. 8 June 2021

Video tour of the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II in Tobolsk

CLICK on the IMAGE above to watch VIDEO (in Russian ONLY). Duration: 13 minutes

The Tobolsk Historical and Architectural Museum-Reserve have created a 13-minute video tour of the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II.

NOTE: this video is in Russian only, there is no English version. If you do not speak Russian, please do not allow this to deter you from watching this video. For those of you who will never have an opportunity to visit Tobolsk, this video is the next best thing, as it affords a virtual tour of the interiors of this very important museum, one which reflects the final years of Nicholas II and his family – PG

This virtual tour of the museum is presented in Russian by historian and writer Peter Valentinovich Multatuli, who was born in Leningrad on 17 November 1969. Multatuli is considered by many as Russia’s leading authority on the life and reign of Emperor Nicholas II.

He is the great-grandson of Ivan Mikhailovich Kharitonov (1872-1918), who served as the Head Cook of the Imperial family. He followed the tsar and his family into exile, and was murdered along with them in the Ipatiev House on 17th July 1918.

Multatuli takes viewers on a virtual tour of the former Governor’s House in Tobolsk, where Nicholas II, his family and entourage of those who followed the Imperial family into exile lived under house arrest from August 1917 to April 1918. Each room features unique exhibits from their daily life complemented with Multatuli’s vast knowledge of Russia last emperor and tsar.

NOTE: the large white circle located in the upper left hand corner of the video has 4 arrows, which allow you to move the camera to view the entire room and their respective displays – PG

The Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II opened on 26th April 2018, in the former Governor’s Mansion in Tobolsk

PHOTO: Peter Multatuli in the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II, Tobolsk

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Emperor Nicholas II and his family arrived in Tobolsk on 19th August (O.S. 6th August) 1917.

Upon arrival the Imperial family had to live for several days on the steamer Rus, waiting for the renovation of the “House of Freedom” – the former governor’s mansion – to be completed. They moved into the house on 24th August (O.S. 11th August).

Within a few days of their moving in, part of the square in front of the house was fenced off with a tall wooden fence, allowing for the family to take in fresh air and exercise. Some of the guards and those who accompanied the Imperial family into exile from Tsarskoye Selo were settled in the Kornilov house on the opposite side of the street.

In the beginning, the Imperial family were allowed to walk to the nearby Church of the Annunciation for worship, however, this was halted due to “concerns for their safety”. Despite this, the security regime in Tobolsk was more relaxed than in Tsarskoye Selo, allowing the family to lead a fairly calm life.

The Imperial family were housed in the former governor’s house until April, 1918, when they were transferred to Ekaterinburg, and subsequently murdered by the Ural Soviet on 17th July 1918.

© Paul Gilbert. 11 November 2020

The woman who photographed the Imperial Family in Tobolsk

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Maria Ussakovskaya, nee Petukhova with her husband Ivan Konstantinovich Ussakovsky

Few historians know about Maria Ussakovskaya the first woman photographer in Tobolsk. Through the lens of her camera, she photographed life in the provincial capital during one of the most dramatic periods of Russia’s history, leaving for posterity a noticeable mark in the biography of this Siberian city.

Incredible progress

Maria Mikhailovna Ussakovskaya, nee Petukhova, was born on 28th December 1871 (Old Style) in the family of a Tobolak native, state adviser M.M. Petukhov. She graduated from the Tobolsk girl’s school and, in 1893, married the official Ivan Konstantinovich Ussakovsky.

Ivan was also a great lover of photography – a hobby that was fashionable and modern in Russia at the time. On the basis of her husband’s home laboratory, as well as money received in a dowry from her father, Maria opened a photo salon, which quickly gained popularity among the townspeople. It should be noted that in 1897 in Tobolsk, with a population of 20 thousand people, there were no less than nine photo shops! 

Maria kept up with all the new developments in photography. She ordered expensive Bristol cardboard for passe-partout, used interchangeable backs with different scenes, offered costume shots, and even performed photo montages. This was incredible progress for Siberia at that time.

Photographs by Ussakovskaya were distinguished by their artistic taste and original composition. These were real photo portraits, which is especially significant, because photography at that time was essentially a step into eternity to become a memory for years to come.

Unlike other female owned photo salons, Ussakovskaya perfectly mastered the techniques of photography herself. Her photo salon also began to publish postcards, which were in great demand. It is known that the famous Russian chemist and inventor Dmitry Mendeleev (1834-1907), during his stay in Tobolsk in the summer of 1899, bought a collection of art postcards with views of his native city from Ussakovskaya’s salon.

Maria continued to work after the revolution, but the portraits of young ladies in silk dresses were replaced with photographing labor collectives, fur farms, bone carving masters and ordinary workers. At the same time, the house was formally confiscated by the local Soviet, leaving Maria to rent her own photo workshop from a local farm in Tobolsk. In 1929, Ussakovskaya was deprived of suffrage. The photo salon had to be closed. In 1938, the Ussakovskys left Tobolsk for Moscow for fear of reprisals. Maria Mikhailovna died in 1947 and is buried in the Don Cemetery.

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Photograph of Rasputin taken at Maria’s salon in Tobolsk

Witness of events

Maria was a witness to many historical events. Of particular interest in her biography are family traditions associated with the names of prominent people of that era and carefully preserved by subsequent generations of Ussakovsky. One of them is based on the visit by the famous strannik Grigori Rasputin.

The photograph of Grigory Rasputin made by Maria Ussakovskaya is today widely known. Moreover, the famous holy man, who was hunted by Russia’s finest photographers, presented himself at Maria’s salon. Maria’s great-grandson of Vadim Borisovich Khoziev, continues to tell the story of Rasputin’s visit to his great-grandmother’s salon in Tobolsk, as told to him by his grandmother Maria Ivanovna Ussakovskaya.

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One of Maria’s photos of the Governors House, where the Imperial Family lived under house arrest

Photographer of the Romanov family?

It is also of great interest,  that according to the Ussakovsky family, Maria repeatedly photographed the family of Tsar Nicholas II during their house arrest in the former Governor’s Mansion in Tobolsk. Sadly, however, in 1938, her daughter Nina, fearing arrest, destroyed all the photographic plates. One can only speculate, as to what these lost plates depicted? How close did Maria get to the Imperial Family? What were they doing when she photographed them? How many photographs did she take, and later destroyed? Sadly, we will never know.

Only photos of the faithful servants of the Imperial Family have been preserved to this day. The original of this photo is now in the collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum in Pushkin, a copy of which can be seen in the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II (opened in June 2018) in Tobolsk. It is interesting to add that members of their suite who enjoyed freedom to go about Tobolsk, made purchases of  postcards with views of Tobolsk, on behalf of the Imperial Family from Maria’s salon.

The fact that the Imperial Family used the services of the Ussakovskaya Salon was documented. In the financial report of Colonel Kobylinsky, security chief of the Romanovs, in addition to a few mentions of invoices for purchasing postcards, information is also provided on the account “for correcting negatives”. So Maria’s photos of the Imperial Family did in fact exist!.

The Imperial Family described their stay in Tobolsk in great detail in both their respective diaries and letters, however, there is no mention of an invitation of Maria Ussakovskaya nor the photographer in general. A visit by a female photographer would hardly go unnoticed. It is also not clear why the Romanovs would need to invite a photographer: they, as well as the tutor to Tsesarevich Alexei Pierre Gilliard, had their own cameras. Many photographs of the Imperial Family have been preserved, taken in Tobolsk by the Romanovs themselves or by members of their retinue.

Pierre Gilliard notes in his diary on 17th September 1917 that the Imperial Family were forced to have “ID cards with numbers, equipped with photographs.” Empress Alexandra Feodorovna made a similar note in her diary on 30th September 1917. Their respective entries may explain the photographer from the Ussakovskaya Salon, who was most likely Maria’s husband Ivan Konstantinovich Ussakovsky, who was invited for this compulsory photography for certificates. An invoice was issued by the salon.

Several passes to the “Freedom House” with photographs have been preserved, for example, the passes with a photograph of Dr. E. S. Botkin and maid A. S. Demidova. Their copies are also on display in the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II in Tobolsk.

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Photograph of the Imperial Family’s faithful servants taken at Maria’s salon in Tobolsk

“Faithful servants”

A wonderful photograph depicting *five faithful servants of the Imperial Family has been preserved to this day. The original of this photo is now in the collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum in Pushkin, a copy of which can be seen in the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II (opened in June 2018) in Tobolsk.

The faithful servants of the Imperial Family, who had not lodged in the Governor’s House, but in the Kornilov House, located on the opposite side of the street and, obviously, enjoyed greater freedom of movement, could visit the Ussakovskaya Salon, which was located nearby. The famous photograph, called “Faithful Servants”, was clearly taken in the salon. Five members of the imperial retinue pose against a backdrop with a view of Tobolsk, printed or painted on canvas, This background can be seen in other photos from the Ussakovskaya Photo Salon.

*NOTE: the photo above depicts – the gentlemen: Count Ilya Tatishchev, Pierre Gilliard, Prince Vasily Dolgorukov; the ladies, Catherine Schneider, Anastasia Hendrikova. With the exception of Pierre Gilliard, the other four faithful retainers of the Imperial Family were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

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The home and salon of Maria Mikhailovna and Ivan Ussakovsky in Tobolsk

The home and salon of Maria Mikhailovna and Ivan Ussakovsky which was located at No. 19 Ulitsa Mira, was illegally demolished in 2006. Requests to local authorities by a group of local historians to restore the building has fallen on deaf ears in Tobolsk. 

© Paul Gilbert. 24 February 2020

Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II in Tobolsk

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The Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II opened in Tobolsk on 26 April 2018

NOTE: All of the articles pertaining to Nicholas II and his family which were originally published in my Royal Russia News blog, have been moved to this Nicholas II blog. This article was originally posted on 26 April 2018 in my Royal Russia News blog – PG

On 26th April 2018, the long awaited Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II opened its doors in the Siberian city of Tobolsk. Governor Vladimir Yakushev called the event “significant not only for the region, but for the whole of Russia.”

The guest of honour at the opening of the museum was Mrs Olga Nikolaevna Kulikovsky, a well-known Russian public figure, and widow of Tikhon Nikolayevich Kulikovsky, the eldest son of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, nephew of Nicholas II and grandson of Alexander III. In addition, descendants of the tutors of the Tsesarevich Alexei, who accompanied the Imperial family to Tobolsk, arrived from France and Switzerland.

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Mrs Olga Nikolaevna Kulikovsky

Mrs Kulikovsky said that she liked the museum, and noted the excellent work of its employees. According to her, it is impossible, however, to add the original atmosphere of the time when the family of Nicholas II lived in the house, Olga Nikolaevna, undoubtedly the museum was made with love. When asked what kind of feeling the museum created for her, she said: “Longing for the times when the Imperial family lived here.”

The museum is the first museum in Russia, dedicated entirely to the family of Emperor Nicholas II. The museum is housed in the former governor’s house, where the Imperial family lived from 6th August, 1917 to 13th April, 1918. The mansion became a prison for the Imperial family before the Bolsheviks sent everyone to them all to their deaths in Ekaterinburg.

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During the past year historians have collected their personal belongings: furniture, icons, Alexandra Feodorovna’s gospel, and Alexei’s “magic lantern” – the prototype of a modern projector. In addition, the new museum will temporarily feature exhibits from the Central Museum of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the Russian National Museum of Music, which include porcelain Easter eggs of 1912 with the monograms of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, and a balalaika made in the studio of the court master Franz Paserbsky.

After the Revolution, the Governor’s house was renamed the “House of Freedom”. During the last 50 years, the former Governor’s mansion at Ulitsa Mira, 10 was occupied by the district administration. Historians had argued for many years that a building with such a history should be utilized as a museum dedicated to the Imperial family.

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In the museum’s exposition there are unique items related to the period of the Imperial family’s 8-month residency: Imperial porcelain, napkins with monograms, silver appliances. One of the most precious exhibits is Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s silk shawl. The Empress gave the shawl to the wife of the doctor in gratitude, who had treated the Tsesarevich Alexei.

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The Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II in the former Governors Mansion, Tobolsk

© Paul Gilbert. 12 December 2019