Reopening of the Alexander Palace now delayed to end of 2020

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Curtains featuring a pattern of pink ribbons entwined with green wreaths set
with flowers on a white background have been recreated for the Imperial Bedroom

The Director of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Olga Taratynova, announced in Russian media yesterday, that the long awaited reopening of the Alexander Palace has been further delayed due to restrictions made by the coronavirus. Russia remains one of the hardest nations hit by the pandemic with more than 362,000 cases reported to date.

The Alexander Palace, the last residence of Emperor Nicholas II, was scheduled to open to the public on 20th August, however, Taratynova has now confirmed that the reopening of the palace to the public has been delayed until the end of 2020 – although the exact date has yet to be confirmed.

“As for the Alexander Palace, unfortunately, there is a ban on restoration work, including the transfer of museum items during the quarantine. At first we thought that we could open the first eight restored rooms in the summer months, unfortunately, however, work has come to a standstill due to strict quarantine measures. The recreation of the historical interiors is done, but we now need to prepare each room for the exposition. Once our experts have decorated the rooms with objects of applied art, the interiors can then be showcased to visitors in all their glory,” said Taratynova.

The Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo was built by the Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi on the orders of Catherine II for her eldest grandson Alexander, the future Emperor Alexander I. From 1905, it became the permanent residence of Emperor Nicholas II and his family. It was from the Alexander Palace that the Imperial Family were sent into exile to Tobolsk on 14 August (O.S. 1), 1917. After the October Revolution, the palace housed a sanitarium for NKVD employees and later an orphanage. In 1951 the building was transferred to the Navy of the USSR, and the palace collection was transferred to Pavlovsk Museum. In 2009, the palace was transferred to the authority of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve.

The palace has been undergoing restoration since 2011, which includes reconstruction work, the installation of internal engineering networks, and restoration of interiors. The Pavlovsk State Museum  have agreed to return “some items” for the exposition; while furniture for the halls has been recreated according to original samples and archival materials.

The first eight interiors to open in the eastern wing of the palace include: the Reception of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Imperial Bedroom, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, and the New Study of Nicholas II.

In the future, the Alexander Palace will become a memorial museum of the Romanov family – from Catherine the Great to Nicholas II, showcasing the private, domestic life of the Russian monarchs who used the palace as an official residence. The eastern wing of the palace will be known as the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family.  The multi-museum complex is scheduled for completion no earlier than 2022.

Click HERE to review more articles, news, photos and videos of the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace

© Paul Gilbert. 26 May 2020

20th March 1917 – Provisional Government decrees that Nicholas II and family should be held under house arrest in the Alexander Palace

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Iconic image of Emperor Nicholas II in the Alexander Park at Tsarskoye Selo

On this day – 20th March (O.S. 7 March) 1917 – the Provisional Government decreed that Emperor Nicholas II, his wife and five children should be held under house arrest in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.

The Tsar joined the rest of the family there two days later, having travelled from Stavka at Mogilev. He was addressed by sentries at the gate of his home as “Nicholas Romanov”.

On Alexander Kerensky’s order, Nicholas and Alexandra were kept apart in the palace for a period of 18 days. They were permitted to see each other only during meals, and only in the presence of soldiers. Kerensky conducted an investigation of the Imperial couple’s documents and letters. He failed to find any evidence which would incriminate either of them.

Kerensky interviewed Alexandra regarding her involvement in state affairs and Rasputin’s involvement in them through his influence over her. She answered that as she and her spouse kept no secrets from each other, they often discussed politics and she naturally gave him advice to support him; as for Rasputin, he had been a true holy man of God, and his advice had been only in the interest of the good of Russia and the imperial family. After the interview, Kerensky told the tsar that he believed that Alexandra had told him the truth and was not lying.

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Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna sitting in the Alexander Park, June 1917

The family had total privacy inside the palace, but walks in the grounds were strictly regulated. Members of their domestic staff were allowed to stay if they wished and culinary standards were maintained.

Even in the Alexander Park, their movements were restricted. The photo at the bottom of this post, show the prisoners at the frontier of their domain. They were not permitted to cross the bridge which led them to the big park, to the outside world and freedom.

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Nicholas II working in the vegetable garden behind the Alexander Palace in 1917

Colonel Eugene Kobylinsky was appointed to command the military garrison at Tsarskoye Selo, which increasingly had to be done through negotiation with the committees or soviets elected by the soldiers.

During his captivity, the Tsar was subject to constant harassment and humiliation from the soldiers – most of whom were thugs – stationed in and around the Alexander Palace.

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Nicholas II and his family under guard in the Alexander Park, August 1917

On the morning of 14 August (O.S. 1), 1917, the former Tsar and his family left the Alexander Palace for the last time. They exited from the Semicircular Hall of the palace, and travelled by car to the Alexandrovskaya Station where they were sent into exile to Tobolsk. 

For an eye witness account of Nicholas II and his family under house arrest in the Alexander Palace, please refer to the following book The Romanovs Under House Arrest: From the 1917 Diary of a Palace Priest, the memories of Archpriest Afanasy Belyaev, who served as priest and confessor to the Russian Imperial family.

© Paul Gilbert. 20 March 2020

Tender issued for next stage of reconstruction of the Alexander Palace

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The western wing of the Alexander Palace

The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve has issued a tender for the next stage of reconstruction of the Alexander Palace, the initial (maximum) price of the contract was announced at 778 million rubles ($11.6 million USD).

The project in two phases are envisaged for the western wing of the palace. Note: the restoration of the private apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, are located in the eastern wing of the palace.

The list of works includes, general construction work, restoration of floors, doorways and facades, installation of engineering networks, installation and commissioning of security systems and other equipment, including elevators, installation of plasterboard walls inside the building and the installation of a terrace.

The contract requires that work must be completed before 1st December 2021. The funding of 778 million rubles will come from the federal budget. Applications for participation in the tender will be accepted until 23rd March, consideration of proposals is planned for 25th March and 2nd April 2020.

The Alexander Palace was built in 1792-1796 near the Catherine Palace and was intended for the grandson of Empress Catherine II – Alexander Pavlovich (future Emperor Alexander I). It became the permanent residence of Emperor Nicholas II and his family in 1905. The restoration of the palace began in 2012, and has been closed to visitors since autumn 2015.

The first 8 of total of 14 rooms, which will be known as the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family are scheduled to open on 18th August 2020.

Upon completion of the restoration work – sometime in 2022 – the Alexander Palace will become a multi-functional museum complex, which will include exhibition halls, temporary exhibition halls, rooms for research and conferences, as well as a library and a children’s center. On the ground floor there will be a cafe, lobbies with ticket offices, a coat check, a tour desk, a museum store, as well as technical and auxiliary rooms.

© Paul Gilbert. 28 February 2020

Alexander Palace will officially open on 18th August 2020

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The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve announced today, that the Alexander Palace will officially open on 18th August 2020.

They note that Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the opening. Also, effective 19th August 2020, the museum will charge a separate entrance fee to tour the Alexander Park.

Eight rooms of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, located on the first floor of the east wing of the Alexander Palace will open to visitors – the result of almost five years of work, including the Reception of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Imperial Bedroom, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, and the New Study of Nicholas II.

A total of 14 rooms will be restored in the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace, which will be known as the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family in the Alexander Palace. All work in the palace will be completed by 2022.

Click HERE to review 15 additional articles on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace, which include more than 110 photos + 2 videos

© Paul Gilbert. 22 February 2020

Cossacks visit the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo

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Members of the Cossack Convoy of the Holy Tsar Passion-bearer Nicholas II at the
Monument to Nicholas II on the grounds of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral
© Духовно-просветительский центр

On 8th October 2019, members of the Cossack Convoy of the Holy Tsar Passion-bearer Nicholas II organized a tour of St. Petersburg and Tsarskoye Selo.

Among the places visited by the Convoy was the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral, which is situated near the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo. The cathedral was constructed between 1909 – 1912 by order of Emperor Nicholas II to serve as the regimental church of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Convoy.

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Russia’s first monument to Nicholas II by the sculptor V.V. Zaiko
© Духовно-просветительский центр

The Cossacks also visited Russia’s first monument to Nicholas II, which was established on the grounds of the Cathedral on 19th May 1993, and consecrated on 16th July 1993. The bronze bust was created by the sculptor Victor Vladimirovich Zaiko (born 1944).

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Trees planted by the Emperor and his family in 1909
© Духовно-просветительский центр

The bust was installed near a group of trees, planted by the Emperor and his family in 1909. Of the seven trees planted, only four have survived to the present day.

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Icon of the Holy Royal Martyrs
© Духовно-просветительский центр

The Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral was closed from 1933 to 1991. When the building was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church in the spring of 1991, it was in a terrible state of neglect and disrepair. It took more than 20 years to restore the Cathedral to its historic original, including the magnificent iconostasis in the Upper Church, and the Lower Church, where the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna came to pray.

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Members of the Cossack Convoy of the Holy Tsar Passion-bearer Nicholas II
© Духовно-просветительский центр

© Paul Gilbert. 20 January 2020

Seven Letters from the Past

Back in July 2018, the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo hosted a unique exhibition Seven Letters from the Past timed to the 100th anniversary of the murders of Emperor Nicholas II and his family. 

The highlight of the exhibit were seven portraits of the Imperial family by the St. Petersburg artist Alexander Kondurov. 

The artist depicted the faces and figures of members of the Imperial Family through the mutilated walls of the shooting room of the Ipatiev House, where they were all brutally murdered on 17th July 1918.

Each composition includes a facsimile passage from a letter written by the family member during their captivity in the “House of Special Purpose’ and the outline of a black window frame in which a cross is clearly seen.

Exhibitions showcasing Alexander Kondurovs’ paintings have been held in Russia, USA, Germany, Finland. The artist’s works are in museums and private collections.

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The Murder of the Imperial Family. 2018
by Alexander Kondurov. Private collection

© Paul Gilbert. 13 January 2020

Original works of art will decorate recreated rooms in the Alexander Palace

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The Rosewood (Pallisander) Drawing Room in the Alexander Palace in the 1930s. ‘The Annunciation
can be seen to the left of the mirror, and ‘The Madonna and Child’ to the right of the mirror.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve

The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve has announced that they will recreate picture frames for paintings, that originally hung in the interiors of the Alexander Palace. The project of creating the frames, will be based on historic photographs and inventory descriptions.

The first two paintings will be The Annunciation by Susanna Renata Granich and The Madonna and Child by Paul Tuman. Both canvases will be placed in the Rosewood (Pallisander) Drawing Room, where they originally hung before the Imperial Family were sent into exile in 1917. The Rosewood Drawing Room is among first eight rooms of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, which will open to visitors in the summer of 2020.

The frames for the two paintings from the Rosewood Drawing Room were made by the specialists of the Rokail workshop of Pavel Yankolovich (The Annunciation) and Svetlana Fedorova (The Madonna and Child). Photographs taken in the 1930s from the museum’s collection and descriptions from the 1939 Inventory Book helped in the reconstruction of the picture frames, including the sizes, material, and decor technique. The recreated frames are made of two types of wood – beech and pine, ornament – using the technique of mastic moulding.

The Rosewood Drawing Room of the Alexander Palace was decorated by Roman Meltzer in 1896–1897. The architect chose rosewood as the main finishing material – an expensive wood, which was imported from abroad. High wall panels with a shelf, framing of a fireplace installed in a corner and furniture were also made of rosewood. In the first years of their life in the palace, Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna often spent time in this room. It was here that the Imperial family took breakfast and dinner together. In recent months, the Rosewood Drawing Room has been transformed into its historic original, including wall finishes, drapes, panels and a rosewood fireplace.

The selection and acquisition of porcelain, household items, and paintings to replace those that were lost during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45) is currently underway.

In addition to the two frames recreated for the Rosewood Drawing Room, the museum’s collection was replenished in 2019 with seven additional paintings: six were purchased from their owners along with a seventh painting, which was presented with a photograph.

© Paul Gilbert. 9 January 2020

Olga Taratynova on the restoration of the Alexander Palace

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Director of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Olga Taratynova

According to the Director of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Olga Taratynova, historic documents and photographs have been extremely useful resources for restorers in the recreation of the private apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in the Alexander Palace.

In the summer of 2020, eight rooms located on the first floor of the east wing of the Alexander Palace will open to visitors – the result of almost five years of work. The building was seriously damaged not so much from the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), but as a result of the destruction of the palace during the Soviet years. Experts are currently attempting to restore the interiors as close to their historic original as possible.

As Olga Taratynova, noted during a recent interview with The Art Newspaper Russia, almost 90% of the private apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna will be recreated. The scrupulous use of all available iconographic material has been utilized to aid restorers to bring the project to fruition. “It was decided to restore the interiors as they looked at the beginning of the 20th century,” said Olga Taratynova. “We hope that the Alexander Palace will become as popular as the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo.”

The Alexander Palace was commissioned by the Empress Catherine II in the early 1790s for her beloved grandson, Tsearevich and Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich (the future emperor Alexander I), by the architect Giacomo Quarenghi. In 1905, Nicholas II made the palace his permanent residence, and it was then that the interiors underwent major changes – they were adapted for life in accordance with the fashion of their time, sadly little of the early 20th century interiors have been preserved.

In August, immediately after the Imperial Family were sent into exile to Tobolsk, the famous art historian Georgy Lukomsky took numerous photographs of the interiors – black and white and color, the so-called auto-chromes. These along with newsreels taken during the Soviet years, have provided restorers the basic material for their work.

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The eastern wing will house the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family in the Alexander Palace

Not long after the departure of the Imperial Family for Siberia, a museum was established within the Alexander Palace. It operated until the beginning of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). From 1951, the Ministry of Defence occupied the building until 2009, when the palace was transferred to the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve.

In the autumn of 2015, the palace was completely closed for restoration. The project of reconstruction, technical re-equipment and adaptation was the studio of Nikita Yavein Studio 44, the general contractor was LLC PSB ZhilStroy.

According to the Chief Architect of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Maria Ryadova, the project for reconstructing the interiors had to be adjusted after the Lukomsky autochromes were acquired for the museum at an auction in Paris in 2012. “When we saw these colour photographs, we saw for the first time, exactly how the apartments actually looked in 1917,” said Maria Ryadova. “Unfortunately, the ceiling lights and floors were not visible in them, therefore, we left them the way they were.”

Aside from the numerous photographs of the interiors, were the preserved albums with samples of fabrics for decorating walls and furniture. This made it possible to recreate the upholstery as accurately as possible. The room-by-room inventories made by Vsevolod Yakovlev, the keeper of the palace, have also survived to this day. Restorers had many doubts about the Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II (after the military vacated the palace in 2009, only the plastered walls remained). But when work began on the room, excavation of the floor revealed fragments of ceramics. A vintage Soviet newsreel showed the general appearance of the room. As a result, the interior of this room has been restored in all its beauty and with historical authenticity.

The first eight rooms are now scheduled to open to visitors in the summer of 2020. A total of 14 rooms will be restored in the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace, which will be known as the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family in the Alexander Palace. All work in the palace will be completed by 2022.

Click HERE to review 14 additional articles on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace, which include a total of 110 photos + 2 videos

© Paul Gilbert. 5 January 2020

The sad state of the Imperial Railway Pavilion in Tsarskoye Selo

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Current state of the Imperial Railway Pavilion near the Alexander Palace, Tsarskoye Selo

Over the past 25+ years, I have written numerous articles on the Imperial Railway Pavilion in Tsarskoye Selo. Among these, have been news updates from Russian media sources on proposals to restore this historic building, sadly, none of which have seen the light of day.

Meanwhile, the Imperial Railway Pavilion has continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate. This of course is in part due to the elements, vandalism, but also from sheer neglect.

During my many visits to Tsarskoye Selo over the years, I have visited the pavilion on a number of occasions, only to have my spirits dampened on each successive visit by its ongoing neglect and deterioration.

On one such visit, a door had been broken open, and I ventured inside to explore the interior. I was shocked by what I saw. Graffiti all over the walls, garbage strewn throughout, including empty vodka and beer bottles. The smells were equally offensive. The interiors were being used by local drug addicts and thugs, who not only used it as a public toilet, but also lit fires, charring the walls and ceilings in the process. I took many photographs as evidence of what I saw. The only light came through what remained of the windows, the darkness cast shadows, and I entered each room with trepidation, fearing what or who might be lurking in the shadows.

The pavilion is now completely surrounded with a fence, all the doors and windows sealed – as seen in the photo above – to prevent any further trespassing and acts of vandalism.

Can the Imperial Railway Pavilion be saved?

In July 2019, Channel 5 News (St. Petersburg), reported that a decision by the regional government would allow the lease on historical buildings for the price of just one ruble per square meter. Among the list of seven structures was the former Imperial Railway Pavilion in Tsarskoye Selo.

The investor would be responsible for the reconstruction of the Imperial Railway Station, with a 49 year lease. Some developers suggested using the historic building as a hotel, shopping center, or restaurant. Any of these proposals would further (negatively) affect the historic integrity of this architectural monument, therefore, let us pray that none of these ideas come to fruition!

Given its proximity to the Alexander Palace of one and a half kilometres, it would be both fitting and logical that the pavilion should be turned over to the administration of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve (GMVZ), who have shown a high degree of professionalism in the restoration of damaged building dating from the Tsarist period. For instance, they are about to begin the restoration of the Chinese Theatre, which is in a far worse state than the Imperial Railway Pavilion.

If they could get financial backing from the Ministry of Culture, the GMVZ could breath new life back into the pavilion. Drawings have been preserved of the interiors, including the magnificent wall and ceiling paintings, which have almost disappeared. One idea, would be to create a museum dedicated to the history of the Imperial Railway, which opened during the reign of Nicholas I, and include a permanent exhibition dedicated to the luxurious Imperial Train of Russia’s last emperor. 

A shocking state of neglect and disrepair 

The following photographs taken by St. Petersburg historian and guide Roman Venezin, depict the interiors of the Imperial Railway Pavilion, as they looked in 2014. Please bear in mind that these photographs were taken five years ago, and the building and its once magnificent interiors have deteriorated even further. 

A brief history of the Imperial Railway Pavilion

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The original Imperial Pavilion was constructed of wood in 1895, however, it was destroyed by fire on 25th January 1911. A new stone pavilion designed by architect V.A. Pokrovsky, was constructed in the same Neo-Russian style as the buildings of the nearby Feodorovsky Gorodok. It was here that the Emperor greeted many foreign dignitaries. A special road was laid from the station to the Alexander Palace.

The richly decorated interiors were stylized as chambers with heavy stone vaults. The rich decoration of the facades and interiors corresponded to the grand presentation of the station, being an example of a synthesis of architecture, monumental painting and decorative art, which successfully combined the forms of ancient Russian architecture of the 17th century. with construction technologies and materials characteristic of the modern era.

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The imperial chambers of the station were painted by the artist M. I. Kurilko, reflecting the chambers of the beloved suburban palace of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich.

During the First World War 1914-1917. The Tsar’s pavilion was used to transfer the wounded soldiers with special ambulance trains to hospitals deployed in Tsarskoye Selo (there were more than 60 of them). In 1918, the station was renamed the Uritsky Pavilion, and was closed in the middle of the 20th century. The pavilion was badly damaged during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). 

© Paul Gilbert. 29 December 2019

Unique Sabre of Emperor Nicholas II

Emperor Nicholas II, in the uniform of a Royal Navy Admiral of the Fleet

One of the many memorial items belonging to Emperor Nicholas II from the collection of the Military Chamber in Tsarskoye Selo, is this sabre of the admiral of the British Navy.

On 27-28 May 1908, King Edward VII of Great Britain met Nicholas II, during the King’s State Visit to Russia, which took place off Revel (now Tallinn, Estonia).

During their meeting, in addition to discussing diplomatic and trade issues, Edward VII granted Emperor Nicholas II the rank of Admiral of the British Navy.

On May 28, 1908, Emperor Nicholas II wrote in his diary:

Again, a wonderful day. We slept well … At one o’clock a big breakfast was held on the ‘Standart’. Uncle Bertie appointed me Admiral of the British Navy … “.

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From the collection of Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

On the blade is the English inscription “To His Imperial Majesty Nicholas II Emperor of all the Russians from his affectionate uncle Edward Revel 1908”

© Paul Gilbert. 27 December 2019