Photo Exhibition: Tsarskoye Selo. Residence of the Last Emperor of Russia

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The opening of the photo exhibition Tsarskoye Selo. Residence of the Last Emperor of Russia was held on Friday, 5th July in the Russian Spiritual and Cultural Orthodox Center (RDPC) in Paris. The exhibit features reproductions of unique colour images of the interiors of the Alexander and Catherine Palaces, taken several months after the abdication of Nicholas II.

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“Although the Imperial palaces had been nationalized by the Bolshevik government, they were left virtually intact,” said Victoria Plauda, ​​senior researcher at the Tsarskoye Selo Museum-Reserve, at the opening of the exhibition. According to her, it was thanks to the efforts of the creative intelligentsia of Petrograd, which included the artist Alexander Benois (1870-1960), the writer Maxim Gorky (1892-1936) and the singer Fedor Chaliapin (1873-1938), who collectively managed to achieve a thorough inventory of the former Imperial residences during which these photographs were taken.

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The photos were taken by military photographer Andrei Zeest. The corresponding task was entrusted to him by the architect and art historian George Lukomsky, who headed the Tsarskoye Selo Artistic and Historical Commission created to preserve and protect the property of the former Palace Administration. Filming in the Catherine Palace began in June 1917, and in the Alexander Palace in August, immediately after the family of the last Russian emperor Nicholas II was exiled to Tobolsk, and continued until October of the same year.

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Precision Technology

The reproductions which are currently on display in the RDPC, reflect “stunning clarity and brightness of colours” – which were amazing for that time – are particularly noteworthy. The organizers also brought 11 black-and-white photographs from the collection of the Imperial family (the originals are kept in the library of Yale University in the USA), as well as 27 auto-chromes, not made with ordinary camera film, but with the aid of special glass dies with a special coating. Due to the microscopic size of the elements (about 0.015 mm), the structure of the image is not visible even with an increase in the resulting transparency. Some visitors even asked representatives of the museum if it was just a question of copies of authentic photographs of those times, and not about modern digital photographs.

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“These photos are invaluable material for us, because we have already been working on reconstructing the historic interiors of the Alexander Palace for several years. And very soon, after a few months, our visitors will see the first restored halls of the former private apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna,” the museum representative added. She also noted that the auto-chromes were invaluable to restorers and artists in the recreation of decorative items and furniture for the rooms.

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The photo exhibition Tsarskoye Selo. Residence of the Last Emperor of Russia runs until Sunday, 25th August 2019, in the Russian Spiritual and Cultural Orthodox Center (RDPC) in Paris. 

Difficult fate of a unique collection

The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve currently has more than 90 auto-chromes in their collection. In fact, there were many more of them, but after 1918 the trail of some of them was lost. After Lukomsky left the post of chairman of the Artistic and Historical Commission and went abroad, 843 images from black and white negatives and 83 color slides were transferred to the Kopeyka publishing house for reproduction in a publication prepared by Lukomsky but which never came to fruition. According to Plauda, ​​Lukomsky took some pictures after he left Russia.

Only in the post-war years (late 1950s- early 1960s) was it possible to form a collection of 45 images, transferred to the Tsarskoye Selo Museum by the heirs of the photographer Zeest and a member of the Oxford club by the Englishman G. Barrat. In June 2012, the museum acquired another 48 auto-chromes at an auction organized by the Drouot auction house in Paris.

Click HERE to view MORE colour auto-chromes of the Alexander Palace

© Paul Gilbert. 8 July 2019

Reconstruction of Nicholas II’s bathroom in the Alexander Palace

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PHOTO: Stavros and Artcorpus Interiors firms in St. Petersburg

My latest report on the reconstruction of the private apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna in the Alexander Palace, and the recreation of their historic interiors, provides an update on the Tsar’s Bathroom – PG

The reconstruction and restoration of Nicholas II’s Bathroom, situated in the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace is nearing completion. The main feature is a giant heated swimming tub – where the Tsar, and Tsesarevich Alexei liked to swim. “This was all lost, but now the restorers, have completely recreated the interior, based on pieces of ceramics from the walls, and photos from the palace-museum archives,” said Director of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Olga Taratynova.

Once completed, Nicholas II’s Moorish-style Bathroom will be one of a series of rooms showcasing the private apartments of the last emperor and empress of Russia. Work is being carried out by the Stavros and Artcorpus Interiors firms in St. Petersburg.

According to Bob Atchison’s Alexander Palace Time Machine, “the Tsar’s Bathroom had a giant heated swimming tub on a platform which also led, via a glass and wood door, to his toilet, which was a dark room hung with an assortment of pictures including a humorous cartoon of Nicholas driving a car.

“The bathroom was designed in the Moorish style by Robert-Friedrich Meltzer (1860-1943). The millwork of the room was intricately fabricated in fragrant woods. The ceiling was particularly complex. Meltzer added many interesting touches to the room including hanging glass lanterns in the shape of old mosque oil lamps. For practical reasons they were wired for electricity. He also installed magnificent antique Turkish tiles around the top of the bath. In the arcade of the tub-platform he designed elaborate patterns in Arab style.

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Nicholas II posting in front of the his elevated swimming tub in the Alexander Palace

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“It was great fun for the Tsar’s children, when they received permission from their father, to use his bath. A thick cord prevented falling into the bath by accident. The swimming bath was huge, it held 500 pails of water [1000 according to the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve-PG] and had its’ own powerful special hydraulics to rapidly pump hot water from the basement boiler up into the tub. Nicholas ordered the bath to be constructed in the palace in 1896 after seeing a similar bath on one of his estates. He used it almost every day. A special servant was assigned to maintain the equipment below and a second servant was assigned to keep the bath spotless after every use.

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“Outside the tub platform, Nicholas installed a chinning bar (seen in above photo), seen in a photograph, taken in 1917. The Tsar was passionate about exercise and also had a similar chinning bar in his train. He also had weights in his bathroom for working out. 

“On the back wall, by the left hand side of the door leading to the Tsar’s Working Study, was a collection of ions and hanging Easter eggs. To the right was draped an embroidered cloth with a double-headed eagle, probably the work of Alexandra or one of the girls. [The embroidered cloth with a double-headed eagle, can also be seen in the 1917 posted above-PG]

“Nicholas kept a large collection of Fabergé cigarette cases on the table in front of the window. He put up a display of gifts and small objects from his children in the bathroom. These included porcelain penguins and dancing girls. A floral watercolor painted by his daughter, Marie, and dated May 1917, hung on the door from the bathroom to the Working Study.”

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Reconstruction of the Tsar’s Bath or swimming tub

The Alexander Palace, has been closed for restoration since August 2015. The palace was scheduled to reopen in July 2018,  however, numerous delays have pushed now back the reopening date to the end of 2019. 

“We really want to make everyone happy for the new year. But in any case, the recovery process is underway and has already progressed significantly. So if not at the end of December 2019, then in the first quarter of 2020, the Alexander Palace will open its doors,” says the Director of the Tsarskoye Selo Palace Museum.

For more information on the reconstruction and restoration of the Alexander Palace, please refer to the following articles:

Recreation of Furniture for Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir Underway

Furniture for interiors of the Alexander Palace to be recreated

© Paul Gilbert. 16 June 2019

Recreation of Furniture for Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir Underway

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Two views of the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir in the Alexander Palace, as it looked in 1917

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Note the many photos of the Imperial family on the side table and shelves above the sofa

For those of you who have been following the restoration of the Alexander Palace, I am pleased to announce that work on the recreation of furniture for the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir is now underway.

According to Stavros (St. Petersburg), the firm commissioned to recreate the furniture for the historic interiors of the Alexander Palace: “We are now creating pieces for the Lilac Room. These include the frame of the sofa and wall panels.”

The Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir suffered greatly during the Second World War. It was located in the suite of rooms, between the Imperial Bedroom and the Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room, and did not have a separate exit to the corridor. At one time, the walls were covered with high-quality gorgon lilac silk fabric, with vertical narrow paired stripes, and the lower part was decorated with wooden panels. During the war years, the room was completely burned out, only a few photographs remind us of it’s former luxury. 

The project is part of a recreation of the Private Apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, situated in the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace. 

Since the closing of the Alexander Palace in 2015, the Tsarskoye Selo Palace Museum have been very tight lipped about the restoration itself. Very little information has been released to the media, and barely mentioned on their official website. As a result, it has been an endless source of frustration trying to obtain any reliable updates on progress of the restoration. Dates for the reopening of the palace have been delayed on numerous occasions, often simply due to the lack of funding.

According to the latest information, the restoration of the Alexander Palace as a multi-museum complex is not expected to be completed until 2022 – at the earliest!

For more information on the restoration of the Alexander Palace, please refer to my article Furniture for the interiors of the Alexander Palace to be re-created (9th March 2019)

© Paul Gilbert. 22 May 2019

Furniture for interiors of the Alexander Palace to be recreated

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PHOTO: The corner fireplace is being recreated (right) for the Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room (left) in the Alexander Palace. © Stavros

The following update on the restoration of the Alexander Palace is sure to be of great interest to those of you who are following this important project in Tsarskoye Selo

The Imperial Bedroom, the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, and the Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Rooms of the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo will soon be furnished with exact replicas of their lost furniture. The work is being carried out by Stavros (St. Petersburg), a firm who manufactures fine wood furniture and interiors. 

This project is part of the recreation of the Private Apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, situated in the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace. The total amount for the recreation of furniture for these rooms is currently estimated at 16 million rubles ($240,000 USD).

Not long after the Imperial family were exiled to Siberia in August 1917, a museum was established within the Alexander Palace. It operated until the beginning of the Second World War. At the beginning of the war, the most valuable furnishings were evacuated to the interior of the country. The remaining parts of the collection were hidden in the basement. During the Nazi occupation, the palace was used as headquarters for the German military command, the basement was used as a prison. The area in front of the palace was turned into a cemetery for SS soldiers. Artistically and historically unique collections were partially destroyed. As the Nazi German forces were leaving the Soviet Union, many of the former imperial palaces were set ablaze. The Alexander Palace was spared, however, according to the testimony of the Soviet military leader Anatoly Kuchumov, many interiors were destroyed, and many pieces of their remaining collections stolen by Nazi soldiers.

During the years after the war, as interest in Nicholas II and his family was discouraged by the Soviet regime, so too was interest in the palace that had been their residence.

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The Imperial Bedroom (above) was situated between the Dressing Room of Alexandra Feodorovna and the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir. The walls and furniture were lined with pink English Chintz print. Two vitrines contained jewellery, including the famous Fabergé Imperial Easter eggs. Set in an alcove was the Imperial bed made up of two gilt-bronze twin beds. Behind it were hundreds of icons and religious items hung on cords. To the right of the bed was an icon-stand. Most of the icons and other items, totaling 700, were gifts to the Imperial family from important monasteries, churches, religious organizations, military units and private persons. The room and its furnishings have did not survive the war.

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The Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir (above) suffered greatly during the Second World War. It was located in the suite of rooms, between the Imperial Bedroom and the Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room, and did not have a separate exit to the corridor. At one time, the walls were covered with high-quality gorgon lilac silk fabric, with vertical narrow paired stripes, and the lower part was decorated with wooden panels. During the war years, the room was completely burned out, only a few photographs remind us of it’s former luxury. 

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The Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room (above), was located between the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir and Maple Drawing Room. Nicholas II called it the “Chippendale Room” because of several furniture pieces made in the Chippendale style, including the fireplace. At the same time, the Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room also served as a dining room, where the Imperial family gathered for afternoon tea. After the occupation, only the doors and the upper part of the fireplace survived, the upholstery of the walls and wall panels disappeared, and the beautiful stucco cover partially collapsed. 

The restoration of the Alexander Palace will be carried out in three stages over the next year and a half. Other historic interiors to be recreated include the Library, the Maple Drawing-Room and the Corner Drawing-Room of Alexandra Feodorovna.

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In 2000, the New (State) Study of Nicholas II (above) was 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. Reproductions of furniture were made for the film and remain on display in the room to this day.

For more information on the restoration of the Alexander Palace, please refer to my article 1.2 Billion Rubles Allocated for Restoration of the Alexander Palace – published 20th January 2019

© Paul Gilbert. 9 March 2019