Nicholas II approved the Winter Palace to be painted red in 1897

PHOTO: this contemporary colourized view of the western facade of the Winter Palace, does not reflect the actual terracotta-red hue, however, it does gives an idea of the palace’s facade, as it looked in the early 20th century

During its 250+ year history, the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg has been repainted many times, in a variety of ochre colours and various densities. The colour of the facades of the Winter Palace changed radically at the beginning of the 20th century. It was in 1897, that Emperor Nicholas II approved the project for a new colour of the facades of the Winter Palace. A brick-red hue was chosen, to match the red sandstone colour of the new fence of His Majesty’s Own Garden.

The Emperor’s decision was carried out in 1901 after the construction of the fence of His Majesty’s Own Garden was completed. In April 1901, the architect Nikolai Ivanovich Kramskoy (1865-1938) presented an estimate for 15,639 rubles. “for the project of painting the Imperial Winter Palace in the colours of the new garden fence”. On the project and estimate he wrote: “Highly approved. I was ordered to start painting immediately!” The tender for repair work was awarded to Kruglov, a contractor who was paid 29,467 rubles, which included “to scrape, grind and clean off the walls of the facades, external and outward, the drum of the dome, towers and chimneys”, and then paint all the indicated areas.

Aside from the Winter Palace, all the buildings on Palace Square were painted in the same brick-red colour, including the 580 m [1,902 ft.] long bow-shaped General Staff Building and the Headquarters of the Guards Corps, which, created a complete ensemble of the historic square.

According to the architects of the time, as a result of the Emperor’s decision, the unique buildings of the Palace Square ensemble, diverse in their construction, contributed to a “unity of perception and merged into a monochrome terracotta-brick colouristic mass”.

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II leaves the Winter Palace (1896)

In early 20th century black and white photos, one can clearly see the dark coloured facades of the Winter Palace [see photo above]. In addition, colour postcards [see below] from the time, also provide a good example of the colour.

Not all Petersburgers liked the gloomy brick/terracotta-red façade that had been adopted under Nicholas II. The public turned to the Emperor in an effort to persuade him to change the colour scheme of the Winter Palace. However, Nicholas II rejected their proposals.

Under the last Tsar, the white stone statues were also replaced with dark ones made of copper. Before that, the palace featured yellow-ochre façades in various shades depicted in watercolours, fragments of which have been uncovered during architectural stripping operations.

PHOTOS: early 20th century postcards of the Winter Palace

PHOTO: early 20th century postcard of the western facade of the Winter Palace and His Majesty’s Own Garden. The private apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna were located in the northwestern part [to the left, but not seen in the photo above] of the palace

In June 1911, Minister of the Imperial Court Count Vladimir Frederiks (1838-1927) expressed his desire that the Imperial Winter Palace be painted in a lighter hue than that of its current colour. The minister requested that samples of the palace colouring, be presented to him in order to approve one of them.

As there were no colour photographs of the Winter Palace as it looked in 1911, we rely on one observer of the time, who provided an idea of ​​the colour of the palace: “The colour scheme differs in its composition from the approved colour scheme of 1901 in a more pinkish colour, but in terms of density of its composition it is denser than the old colour scheme”.

So, in October 1917, the Winter Palace was not “revolutionary red”, but in a somewhat dubious pinkish one. However, even with all these dubious nuances, the monochrome of the palace, was preserved in full.

PHOTO: watercolour of the Winter Palace, painted by the famous Russian artist Alexandre Benois (1870-1960) in 1939, when he was living in exile in Paris. Note that the canopied balconies; the wall and iron grid fencing surrounding His Majesty’s Own Garden have by now been removed.

The red colour facades of the Winter Palace remained through the revolution and the early Soviet period in the 1930s. Following restoration work on the palace after World War II, it was painted green (turquoise) with the ornaments depicted in white, the standard Soviet colour scheme for Baroque buildings.

In January 2022, the State Hermitage Museum announced that the restoration of the facades of the former Winter Palace is scheduled for 2023. No change of colour scheme is envisaged, but, as with previous restorations, a lighter “pastel” shade of green will be selected in keeping with St Petersburg traditions.

© Paul Gilbert. 23 January 2022

Nicholas II celebrates the Blessing of the Waters, 1904

Note: the video above features a compilation of vintage photographs, set against the ‘Troparion on the Feast of the Epiphany’ sung by the Sretensky Monastery Choir

On 19 (O.S. 6) January 1904, Emperor Nicholas II took part in the annual celebrations marking the Feast of the Epiphany in St. Petersburg.

The Emperor along with members of the Imperial Court, and senior members of the Russian Orthodox Church proceeded down the Jordan Staircase from the first floor of the Winter Palace to the bank of the Neva River for the Blessing of the Waters at Epiphany in commemoration of Christ’s Baptism in the river Jordan.

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Nicholas II descends the stairs leading down to the Neva for the Blessing of the Waters

Situated near the northern entrance to the Winter Palace, a temporary wooden pavilion was constructed on the embankment in front of steps leading down to the Neva. The Metropolitan of St. Petersburg dipped a cross in a hole made in the ice. A small cup was then dipped into the water and presented to the Emperor, who took a sip and then handed the cup back to the Metropolitan. Prayers were said for the health of the Tsar and his family.

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The above photo shows the spot on the embankment of the Neva River, where the temporary wooden pavilion was constructed for the Blessing of the Waters in the early 20th century.

© Paul Gilbert. 19 January 2020

State Russian Museum Establishes Monument to Founding Emperors

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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 17 March 2018 in my Royal Russia News blog – PG

On 15th March 2018, the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg, established a monument to its two founding emperors Alexander III and Nicholas II.

The monument, which was established in the courtyard of the museum, was designed by the Russian sculptor Ilya Dyukov. It features a granite base with bronze portraits of the two emperors, and the text of the decree on the establishment of the museum, published in April 1895.

The monument was established on the eve of the 120th anniversary of the birth of the State Russian Museum. The main building of the museum is the former Mikhailovsky Palace, a splendid Neoclassical residence of Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich (1798-1849), constructed between 1819-1825. Upon the death of the Grand Duke the residence was named after his wife as the Palace of the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, and became famous for its many theatrical presentations and balls.

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The museum was established on 25 (O.S. 13) April 1895, by Emperor Nicholas II and renamed the Russian Museum of Emperor Alexander III, in honour of his father, who was a great patron of Russian art. The museum was officially opened on 19 (O.S. 7) March 1898. The following day, the museum received its first visitors, and over time would acquire a rich collection of art and sculpture. After the 1917 Revolution, many private collections were nationalized and relocated to the renamed State Russian Museum.

Today it is the world’s largest depository of Russian art, a unique and beautiful architectural complex of palaces and gardens in the heart of St Petersburg, with a collection of more than 410 thousand items.

© Paul Gilbert. 13 December 2019