Frozen in Time: 5 Iconic Photos of Nicholas II

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On this day 19 May (O.S. 6 May) 1868, Tsesarevich and Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich was born in the Blue Boudoir of his mother Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna (the future Empress Maria Feodorovna) in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. 

The following 5 images of His Imperial Majesty Sovereign Emperor Nicholas II, are among my personal favourites. As if frozen in time, the photographer has captured a moment in his 22+ year reign as Emperor and Tsar of All the Russias.

PHOTO No. 1 (below)

This photograph of Nicholas II, standing at the window of the Imperial train is one of the most popular images of Russia’s last sovereign. It has been published in countless books and web pages, but is quite often misidentified at Pskov, after signing his abdication in “1917”. This is incorrect.

The photograph, is one of a series taken at the Stavka military headquarters at Mogilev in 1915, by one of his daughters. It does not depict a man who has just signed over his throne, but that of a very well-composed Emperor and Tsar.

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PHOTO No. 2 (below)

Unlike many of his predecessors, Emperor Nicholas II was devoted to the Russian Orthodox Church and considered himself a Christian monarch, one who regarded his political activity as a religious duty. He strove to live and to rule in accordance with the Orthodox faith. To the end of his days, Nicholas II believed himself to be anointed by God, selected to be more than an Orthodox ruler, and more than a Russian emperor.

His official biographer, Major-General Andrei Georgievich Elchaninov wrote “not one day, not one act is started by him without turning with prayer to God.”

Nicholas prayed several times per day, often with his wife and children in the mornings and evenings. Nicholas used this time to ponder his role within the country as well as seek religious guidance from God. Additionally, Nicholas spent time daily studying the Bible and its teachings. The tumultuous events of his 22 year reign did not weaken his faith, but rather, made him more devout. 

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PHOTO No. 3 (below)

In 1905, twelve years before Emperor Nicholas II’s abdication and three years from his own repose, St. John of Kronstadt (1829-1909), spoke these prophetic words:

“We have a Tsar of righteous and pious life. God has sent a heavy cross of sufferings to him as to His chosen one and beloved child, as the seer of the destinies of God said: ‘Whom I love, those I reproach and punish’ (Rev. 3.19). If there is no repentance in the Russian people, the end of the world is near. God will remove from it the pious Tsar and send a whip in the person of impure, cruel, self-called rulers, who will drench the whole land in blood and tears.”

Nicholas himself made a similar observation about his fate when speaking to his Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin (1862-1911). In his diary, Stolypin noted with some degree of incredulity that Nicholas spoke these words without any hint of alarm or distress.

“I have a premonition. I have the certainty that I am destined for terrible trials, but I will not receive a reward for them in this world… Perhaps there must be a victim in expiation in order to save Russia. I will be this victim. May God’s will be done!”

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PHOTO No. 4 (below)

As Emperor Nicholas II steps off the Imperial Train at the station of Dvinsk, near the Northwestern Front, he is caught off guard by a waiting photographer. 30th January 1916.

Standing over the Tsar left shoulder is General Count Alexander Grabbe (1864-1947), who served as Major-General of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Convoy – the Cossack unit which served as the Tsar’s elite guard – from 1914 to 1917.

In 1984, his son Paul Grabbe produced ‘The Private World of the Last Tsar’ – a stunning pictorial, based on the private photographs and notes of his father.

Photo: Central State Archive of Film and St. Petersburg (Санкт-Петербурга (ЦГАКФФД СПб)

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PHOTO No. 5 (below)

On 15th March (O.S. 2nd March) 1917 – Russia’s last emperor abdicated, bringing an end to more than 300 years of the Romanov dynasty and the monarchy in Russia.

The Emperor abdicated in the heartfelt belief that his abdication would save the honour of the army, prevent civil war and keep Russia in the war against Germany.

Sadly, it did not. In his diary, Nicholas wrote: “I am surrounded by betrayal, cowardice, and deceit.”

Nicholas II was an anointed Tsar, sealed by the grace of the Holy Spirit during the Sacrament of his Coronation in the Dormition (aka Assumption) Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin, on 26 May (O.S. 14 May) 1896.

As God’s Anointed, Nicholas II could not be displaced during his lifetime. Since the will of God was nowhere manifest, neither in the naming of his brother Grand Duke Michael to the throne, nor in the Tsar’s signing of the instrument of abdication, his status as Tsar remained inviolate and unassailable.

What God performs cannot be undone; therefore, Nicholas II remained the anointed Tsar to his martyr’s death in the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg on 17 July 1918.

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© Paul Gilbert. 19 May 2020

Early 20th century photos of Nicholas II

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Sovereign Emperor Nicholas II, during a photo session – 1903
Photo © State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) 

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Sovereign Emperor Nicholas II, during a photo session – 1903
Photo © State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) 

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Sovereign Emperor Nicholas II, during a photo session – 1903
Photo © State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) 

© Paul Gilbert. 31 December 2019

Moscow artist breathes new life into Russia’s last tsar

Nicholas II | Николай II

Nicholas II of Russia in the uniform of the Life-Guards 4th The Imperial Family’s Rifle Regiment, 1912
Photo © Olga Shirnina

With an artist’s eye and a surgeon’s precision, Olga Shirnina — who works under the name Color By Klimbim — uses Photoshop to breathe new life into black-and-white photos from Russian history.

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Olga Shirnina — who works under the name Color By Klimbim

Olga Shirnina was born in Schwerin (former DDR). She studied at Moscow State Pedagogic Institute of Foreign Languages, where she received a Ph.D. in Germanisctic. Following her studies, she has worked as a professor of German at Moscow State Pedagogic Institute of Foreign Languages and that of Alma-Ata.

Having a special love for arts, she started working as a picture colourist, producing her first work in 2011. Continuing, she published a website and a Facebook page with her colourings, which led her in receiving some significant commissions.

She colorizes photos purely “for pleasure.” The most thrilling part of the coloring process, says Shirnina, is “when suddenly the person looks back at you as if he’s alive.”

Shirnina says it takes her around one full day to colorize a photo, though she’ll usually wait another day before publishing in order to see things with “a fresh eye.”

Olga is fascinated by Russian history, which she finds full of dramatic, cataclysmic events, which not only had an impact on the history of the country, but also on the rest of the world. According to her, “Sometimes a picture can say more than many words are able to, and it gives me great pleasure to add to people’s knowledge and learning about Russia, through my work in colourings”. She also finds it interesting to work with colours, achieving different effects or copying the manner of great painters of the past.

​Olga has contributed to the The Romanov Royal Martyrs Project by undertaking the colourization of all the pictures of the project. In addition to her artwork, she has been able to locate most of the Russian archival material used for the project and has undertaken the transcription work of many handwritten manuscripts.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO WATCH MY INTERVIEW

Olga Shirnina’s colourized photos are also featured in my interview The Conspiracy Against Nicholas II, which aired on YouTube in August 2018. My seven-minute interview was one of a special six-part video series commemorating the Romanovs Martyrdom Centennial in 2018, prepared by the Monastery of St John the Forerunner Mesa Potamos in Cyprus.

To date she has colourized dozens of black-and-white photos of members of the last Russian Imperial Family, all of which are exceptional in their own right. It is Shirnina’s collection of colourized photographs of Emperor Nicholas II, which are my personal favourites:

Nicholas II | Николай II

Nicholas II on the Imperial Train, 1916| Photo © Olga Shirnina

Nicholas II of Russia

Nicholas II | Photo © Olga Shirnina

[Click on the images to enlarge and view caption and copyright]

Nicholas II | Николай II

Nicholas II under House Arrest, Tsarskoye Selo 1916| Photo © Olga Shirnina

Click HERE to view Olga’s collection of colourized photographs The Romanovs. An Imperial Family

© Paul Gilbert. 4 September 2019

 

Photos 37 – 40 of Nicholas II

PHOTOS: Four views of Nicholas II seated in the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir

Situated in a corner of the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir of the Alexander Palace, was a large, plush arm-chair with a high backing, and covered with the Moscow-made silk. This chair is among the most photographed spots in the Alexander Palace. There are countless photos of the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and her five children posing in the now infamous arm-chair.

Other family members who have been photographed in this spot include the Empress’s sister Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna with her husband Grand Duke Alexander “Sandro” Mikhailovich, and Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna.

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Copy of the now famous chair in the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir of the Alexander Palace

The original chair did not survive, however, a copy of the chair was made in 2000, and used by Russian director Gleb Panfilov to shoot a scene for Романовы. Венценосная семья (The Romanovs: An Imperial Family), a film on the last days of Tsar Nicholas II and his family. The copy of the chair remains part of the collection of furniture in the Alexander Palace to this day.

I must apologize for the quality of some of the photographs, however, this is something which I have no control over. Where possible, photographs have been chosen for their visual impact, but historical accuracy has made it vital to include a number of photographs whose quality is poor, but whose value as historical documents is considerable. Sadly, during the Soviet years, many photographs of the Imperial family were stored under poor conditions and their standard is low – PG

© Paul Gilbert. 18 March 2019

Documentary: The Return of Pierre Gilliard

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Pierre Gilliard and Nicholas II sawing wood during their house arrest in Tobolsk

«Возвращение Пьера Жильяра» (The Return of Pierre Gilliard) is the name of a new Russian language documentary film dedicated to the the French language tutor to the five children of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia from 1905 to 1918.

Work on on the documentary began in 2018, and was recently completed at the “NATAKAM” film studio; the script was written and directed by Lyudmila Shakht and Konstantin Kozlov. The premiere was held earlier this month in the House of Cinema, with additional viewings scheduled on 20th March at the Knowledge of Russia Society, and on 24th April at the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library in St. Petersburg. Gilliards’ grand-nephews – writer Pierre-Frederic Gilliard and doctor Jacques Moser talk about the life and fate of Pierre Gilliard (1879-1962). The film is based on family memories, diaries, letters and photographs, on their famous uncle, a true friend of the Imperial family.

After returning from Russia to Switzerland, he wrote and published the book Le tragique destin de Nicolas II et de sa famille (1921). An English language edition Thirteen Years in the Russian Court was published in 1927. 

The Swiss-born Pierre Gilliard first gave French lessons to Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana, then to Maria and Anastasia. He first began to teach French to the Tsesarevich and Heir Alexei in 1913. Gilliard grew fond of the family and following the Russian Revolution of 1917, he followed them into internal exile to Tobolsk, Siberia. The Bolsheviks prevented Gilliard from joining his pupils when they were moved to the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg in May 1918.

Gilliard remained in Siberia after the murders of the Imperial family, assisting White Russian investigator Nicholas Sokolov. In 1919, he married Alexandra Tegleva (1894-1955), who had been a nurse to Grand Duchess Anastasia. In 1920, he returned to Switzerland through Vladivostok, along with wife. He managed to save his archive – diaries, letters, memorabilia, photographs. In 1958, Gilliard was severely injured in a car accident in Lausanne, Switzerland. He never fully recovered and died four years later on 30 May 1962

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Pierre Gilliard’s  Eastman Kodak Bulls Eye camera

It is important to note that in recent years Pierre Gilliard descendants have donated several memorial items to the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum. Among these are the *Eastman Kodak Bulls Eye camera (above)  from which he photographed the Imperial family in Tsarskoye Selo and later in exile in Tobolsk. According to Mr. Moser, his mother, the goddaughter of Gilliard, inherited this camera and explained that “Uncle Pierre” took all the photos at the Russian Court, and that “the emperor himself actually held the camera in his hands.” She showed pictures – in particular the one in which Gilliard and the Tsar sawed wood in Tobolsk (above). The photos which are featured in the documentary film illustrate the dramatic fate of the last Russian emperor and his family. The museum also received a tea set and a set of tableware, a gift to Gilliard from Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, as well as a Faberge brooch and a Paul Bure golden pocket watch gifted by Empress Alexandra to Gilliard’s wife Alexandra Tegleva.

*Pierre Gilliard’s Eastman Kodak Bulls Eye camera was recently displayed in The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution Exhibition, at the Science Museum in London, England

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In recent years photos taken by Gilliard of the Imperial family were sold at auction

© Paul Gilbert. 17 March 2019

Photos 33 – 36 of Nicholas II

 

Emperor Nicholas II with his only son and heir Tsesarevich Alexei

I must apologize for the quality of some of the photographs, however, this is something which I have no control over. Where possible, photographs have been chosen for their visual impact, but historical accuracy has made it vital to include a number of photographs whose quality is poor, but whose value as historical documents is considerable. Sadly, during the Soviet years, many photographs of the Imperial family were stored under poor conditions and their standard is low – PG

© Paul Gilbert. 15 March 2019

Photos 29 – 32 of Nicholas II

Emperor Nicholas II with his only son and heir Tsesarevich Alexei

I must apologize for the quality of some of the photographs, however, this is something which I have no control over. Where possible, photographs have been chosen for their visual impact, but historical accuracy has made it vital to include a number of photographs whose quality is poor, but whose value as historical documents is considerable. Sadly, during the Soviet years, many photographs of the Imperial family were stored under poor conditions and their standard is low – PG

© Paul Gilbert. 25 February 2019

Photos 25 – 28 of Nicholas II

I must apologize for the quality of some of the photographs, however, this is something which I have no control over. Where possible, photographs have been chosen for their visual impact, but historical accuracy has made it vital to include a number of photographs whose quality is poor, but whose value as historical documents is considerable. Sadly, during the Soviet years, many photographs of the Imperial family were stored under poor conditions and their standard is low – PG

© Paul Gilbert. 15 February 2019