The fate of the Tsarskoye Selo Palace Hospital cave church

PHOTO: The cave church at the Palace Hospital, Tsarskoye Selo

In March 1915, the churches at the Palace Hospital at Tsarskoye Selo: the upper one – the Church of Sorrow (in the name of the icon of the Mother of God) and the lower one – Church of Tsar Constantine and Helena – were transferred from the diocesan department to the Court, in which they remained a part of until 1917.

Work on the construction of the unique lower church at the Palace Hospital began in the summer of 1913. Its creation was made possible thanks to a donation of 10,000 rubles by the St. Petersburg Orthodox merchant of French origin Jacob Rode.

According to the decision of the Construction Committee, the church was planned in the style of the ancient “cave” churches of the 5th-6th centuries. The Russian Court architect Silvio Danini (1867-1942) and Sergei Nikolayevich Vilchkovsky (1871-1934) received permission from the director of the Imperial Hermitage, Count Dmitry Ivanovich Tolstoy (1860-1941), to familiarize themselves with the literature, photographs and art samples of early Christian buildings in the imperial library to carry out their work.

The main feature of the cave church was the unusual altar barrier, which replaced the iconostasis. Two marble pillars, which displayed the icons of the Saviour and the Mother of God, had low latticed doors. Behind them, across the entire width of the vault, was a purple curtain with embroidered ornaments of yellow silk in two tones. The sketches of the utensils were ordered from Sergei Vashkov, the icons from Nikolai Emelyanov, both in Moscow.

PHOTO: Architect’s drawing of the Altar barrier (above); and
cross section of the cave church (below). 1913

An altar cross made of gilded metal with multi-coloured stones was inserted into the wall, and the head of Christ was depicted above it. From the northern part of the barrier in front of the apse there was an altar, from the southern – a paralytic (teaching chapel), in which the Byzantine queens listened to the liturgy in ancient times. In the paralytic there was an armchair for the empress; near the apse arch were armchairs for the emperor and the patriarch.

Empress Alexandra Feodorovna wrote on 21st October 1914 to Nicholas II: “We went to inspect the small cave church located under the old palace hospital, there was a church there in the time of Catherine II. It was arranged to commemorate the 300th anniversary [of the Romanov dynasty]. The church is absolutely charming. Everything in it was selected by Vilchkovsky in the purest and most ancient Byzantine style, perfectly sustained. You must see it. The consecration will take place on Sunday at 10 o’clock, and we will take there those of our officers and soldiers who can already move independently. There are tables with the designation of the names of the wounded, who died in all our Tsarskoye Selo hospitals, as well as the officers who received the St. George’s Crosses or the Golden Weapon for Bravery.”

The consecration of the church, however, did not take place until 26th October 1914.

On the eve of this event, before the all-night vigil, Vilchkovsky presented the empress with a report describing the cave church. At the same time, Alexandra Feodorovna “… ordered to turn the lower church into a monument to the heroic deeds of mercy, treatment and charity of those soldiers wounded during the war and to record on the walls with the inscribed names of all the soldiers who passed through the hospitals of the Tsarskoye Selo region and were awarded for military distinctions as well as the wounds of the deceased.”

During the First World War, a pavilion was built in the garden of the hospital according to Danini’s project, for 30 wounded officers of Her Majesty’s Own Infirmary No. 3, paid out of the empress’s personal funds. Until her arrest in February 1917, the empress worked as an operating nurse in the infirmary, assisting the surgeon Vera Giedroyc, with the assistance of her two eldest daughters Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana Nikolaevna.

PHOTO: A plaque dedicated to Empress Alexandra and her daughters, Grand
Duchesses Olga and Tatiana Nikolaevna for their contribution from 1914-1917

The church was closed in 1933. Today, practically nothing remains of it, most of its of the interior decoration and contents, have been lost. Only individual elements have survived, in particular, a lamp, an icon lamp and candlesticks, which are today in the collection of the Museum of the History of Religion in St. Petersburg.

During Soviet times, the hospital was renamed the city hospital No. 38 named after N. A. Semashko. In recent years, a plaque honouring Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana Nikolaevna was erected on the grounds of the hospital. Sadly, the church has not been restored.

© Paul Gilbert. 3 April 2021

Roman Melzer: architect and designer of the Alexander Palace interiors

PHOTO: Roman Fedorovich (Robert Friedrich) Melzer (1860-1943)

Roman Fedorovich (Robert Friedrich) Melzer was born in St. Petersburg, on 1st April (O.S. 30th March) 1860. He was the eldest son of the coachman Johann Friedrich Meltzer (1831-1923), who later became the owner of his own furniture factory, and Sophie Christine Meltzer – nee Tatzky (1837-1915).

At the age of thirteen, Roman Meltser entered the St. Petersburg Commercial School, after graduation he continued his studies at the Academy of Arts. In 1888 he received the title of class artist of the first degree in architecture. One of his early projects was the front gate and ramp fences of the Winter Palace, created in collaboration with Nikolai Alexandrovich Gornostaev. In the late 1890s – early 1900s, Melzer worked on the construction of the Emmanuel Nobel (1801-1872) mansion in St. Petersburg.

In 1900 he was appointed chief architect of the Russian exhibition pavilions at the World Exhibition in Paris. The main building, the Pavillon des Confins Russes, looked like an old Russian town, complete with a bell tower. The architecture resonated with the images of the Moscow Kremlin. This ensemble, unusual for a European capital, was located just fifty meters from the Trocadero Palace.

Roman Melzer took part in the decoration of the interiors of numerous imperial palaces: the Winter Palace and Anitchkov Palace in St. Petersburg; Livadia Palace in Crimea; and the Cottage Palace in Peterhof. Among the buildings created according to his designs, included his own dacha on Kamenny Island (1901-1904), the building of the Orthopedic Institute (1902-1906), the palace of the Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich (1910-1913), the complex of buildings of the Psychoneurological Institute (1910-1913), among many others.

PHOTO: Colour autochrome of the Emperor’s Reception Room taken in 1917

At the end of 1894-1895, the renovation of the interiors of the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo began. Roman Melzer was invited to prepare the personal apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in the eastern wing of the building. The work took place in several stages. The first interiors created were: the Dining Room (later known as the Reception Room) and the Working Study on the Emperor’s half of the wing, as well as the Imperial Bedchamber, the Mauve (Lilac) Drawing Room and the Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room on the Empress’s half.

In the Emperor’s Reception Room, the walls were decorated with oak panels, and above they were covered with printed fabric. The interior decoration included a corner fireplace made of oak, trimmed with dark green marble. In the upper part of the windows, the architect used stained glass. The F. Meltzer & Co. in St. Petersburg, which was co-owned by Roman Melzer, produced a set of furniture for the room, which included a sofa with two folding tables, a round table for tea, a dining table consisting of a table and twenty-four chairs, a serving table, and a snack table.

PHOTO: the Working Study of Nicholas II

At the same time, the Working Study of Nicholas II was in progress. The interior was designed in the English style, with walls painted in dark red at the top and walnut panels on the bottom. The room featured a large ottoman, in imitation of the cabinet of Alexander III, as well as an L-shaped writing table.

The Imperial Bedchamber was also renovated according to the architect’s project. The furniture, which was preserved from the previous decoration (a bedroom prepared in 1874 for the marriage of Alexander II’s daughter Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna to the Duke of Edinburgh), was repainted in white and draped with English chintz, and a pattern of wreaths of small pink flowers and ribbons. The same fabric was also used to make the curtains and alcove curtains for the room.

Roman Melzer also created the interior for the Mauve (Lilac) Drawing Room, which was to become one of the Empress’s favorite interiors. Here the walls were upholstered in mauve silk and crowned with a frieze bearing an iris flower pattern, furniture and a piano painted with ivory enamel paint. Some of the pieces of furniture were built-in, connected to the panels, forming comfortable corners.

PHOTO: Colour autochrome of the Mauve (Lilac) Drawing Room taken in 1917

Melzer was engaged in the creation of the Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room, which was located next to the Mauve (Lilac) Drawing Room. Rosewood was chosen for decorating the wall panels and fireplace. The upper part of the walls was covered with a simple yet elegant yellowish silk fabric.

During this period, the children’s half on the second floor began to take shape, as the emperor’s family gradually grew and the “august children” needed their own bedrooms and classrooms.

Between 1898–1902, there were no major changes to the interiors of the Alexander Palace. In 1902, however, the decision was made to demolish the double-height Concert Hall and create in its place the Emperor’s New Study and the Empress’s Maple Drawing Room. Roman Melzer’s firm carried out not only the construction, but also the finishing and furnishing of these interiors. A mezzanine was also added, which connected the New Study with the Maple Drawing Room.

PHOTO: Colour autochrome of the Maple Drawing Room taken in 1917

Thanks to Melzer, the interiors of the Alexander Palace underwent a stunning transformation, one which provided a cozy residence for the Emperor and his family. A far cry from the luxurious and ostentatious interiors of the nearby Catherine Palace, the redesigned interiors of the Alexander Palace reflected the simple tastes of Nicholas and Alexandra.

After the 1917 Revolution, Roman Melzer left Russia, and lived for several years in Germany, from there in 1921 he moved to the United States, where he died in 1943.

In 2020, the square at the corner of Bolshoy Sampsonievsky Prospekt and Nobelsky Lane began in St. Petersburg, was renamed Meltserovsky Ploschad – in memory of the court architect. His work reflected the new trends of the turn of the late 19th to early 20th centuries, the emergence of the Art Nouveau style, which was becoming fashionable at the time.

© Paul Gilbert. 2 April 2021

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Fifteen interiors situated in the eastern wing of the palace, are now scheduled to open to visitors in the Spring of 2021. Among the recreated interiors are the New Study of Nicholas II, Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Reception Room of Nicholas II, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Maple Drawing Room, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, the Imperial Bedroom, among others.

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, which includes the Western wing is scheduled for completion no earlier than 2024.

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Dear Reader: If you enjoy my articles on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. The net proceeds help fund my work, including research, translations, etc. Thank you for your consideration – PG

UPDATE on the reopening of the Alexander Palace

PHOTO: Director of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve Olga Taratynova

According to the Director of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve Olga Taratynova, the Alexander Palace will receive its first visitors in late May – early June 2021.

“The first stage, which includes 15 interiors of the private rooms of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna is nearing completion, and I hope that within the coming weeks, we will be able to confirm the opening date. Once open to visitors again, we will organize tours for small groups, since the interiors themselves are small. The private life of Nicholas II and his family will be shown from a completely different perspective,” noted Taratynova.

More than 2 billion rubles ($26 million USD) were allocated for the first stage of the restoration of the Alexander Palace, which include the fifteen interiors situated in the eastern wing of the palace. The recreated interiors include the New Study of Nicholas II, Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Reception Room of Nicholas II, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Maple Drawing Room, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, the Imperial Bedroom, among others.

Taratynova noted, that the second phase of the restoration of the palace will take about three more years. “We assume that the second stage will be approximately 2.5-3 years. Work on the second stage is already underway”.

The restoration of the Alexander Palace began in 2010, in which three State Halls were opened to visitors  marking the 300th anniversary of Tsarskoye Selo. In August 2015, the palace was closed for a comprehensive restoration and reconstruction project.

In the future, the Alexander Palace will become a memorial museum of the Romanov family – showcasing the private, domestic life of Nicholas II and his family, who used the palace as an official residence from 1905. The eastern wing of the palace will be known as the Museum of the Russian Imperial Family.

The restoration of the Alexander Palace, which includes the Western wing is scheduled for completion no earlier than 2024. After the completion of the work, the Alexander Palace will become a multifunctional museum complex, which will include exhibition halls, halls for temporary exhibitions, halls for research work and conferences, as well as a library and a children’s center. The basement floor will house a ticket booth, a museum shop, a café, a cloakroom, a tour desk, as well as technical and ancillary facilities.

© Paul Gilbert. 23 March 2021

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Dear Reader: If you enjoy my articles on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. The net proceeds help fund my work, including research, translations, etc. Thank you for your consideration – PG

 

Recreation of the interiors of the Maple Drawing Room in the Alexander Palace

PHOTO: view of the sofa, recreated for the Maple Drawing Room
© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve

This is the second of two articles on the recreation of the Maple Drawing Room, one of the personal rooms of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna situated in the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace. The first article The History and Restoration of the Maple Drawing Room in the Alexander Palace, was published on 25th November 2020.

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PHOTO: view of the recreated Maple Drawing Room
© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve

The recreation of the textile decoration for the Maple Drawing Room in the Alexander Palace is nearing completion, The craftsmen relied on small fragments of fabrics and historical photographs which had been preserved in the storerooms of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum.

The interior decoration of the Maple Living Room is a classic example of Art Nouveau. The room features: moulding, carving, stained glass framed by a fireplace mirror and artistic textiles, which are best described as a “vividly manifested synthesis of the arts”.

The Art Nouveau style is also reflected in the design of the fabric textiles: curtains on the windows and the doorway to the adjacent Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room, furniture upholstery, in particular, on the corner sofa under the mezzanine and the bracket-shaped sofa – elements which add elegance to this room.. 

PHOTO: view of the recreated Maple Drawing Room
© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve

The corner sofa under the mezzanine is covered with greenish-olive moire silk with a pattern of stylized lilies and leaves in the form of hearts. The same fabric upholstered the panel of the wall under the mezzanine with a jardiniere [flower box].

The brace-shaped sofa, situated in the center of the room is covered with a pink silk lampas fabric decorated with a fawn pattern of plant shoots and roses.

PHOTO: recreated knurled white silk curtains with lace ornaments
© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve

On the windows are knurled white silk curtains with lace ornaments and pink silk curtains with gold ornaments, made at the Sapozhnikov brothers factory in Moscow. Fabulous motifs in fabric ornamentation are highlighted with lily branches, rose bushes, and sirin-birds.

The floor in Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s Maple Drawing Room was covered with a stitched gray-green beaver carpet. This design made it possible to replace individual elements of the carpet, which over time wore thin. The recreated stitched carpet of New Zealand wool covers an area of ​​182 m2 and weighs 400 kg. A fragment of the reseda-green carpet from the early 20th century, which had been preserved in the palace storerooms, allowed experts to recreate the carpet.

PHOTO: recreated fabric for the Maple Drawing Room
© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve

PHOTO: recreated fabric for the Maple Drawing Room
© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve

PHOTO: recreated fabric for the Maple Drawing Room
© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve

The fabrics for curtains and upholstery were made by RUBELLI in Italy. Models were made from the recreated fabrics and the curtains were sewn at the “Le Lux” factory in St. Petersburg. The carpet, metallic braid and lace inserts were made at the “RE KON ART” factory in Poland.

Various pillows for the sofas and armchairs complemented the upholstered furniture for this room. The brocade pillows were made by the Sapozhnikov brothers’ manufactory, and velvet pillows decorated with peacock feather ornaments, are the works of students of the Stroganov School, as well as a purple pillow made of a veil-type shawl. 

In the future, various pieces of furniture will be recreated for the Maple Drawing Room, with fabrics made according to historical patterns.

NOTE: all photos © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve

© Paul Gilbert. 11 March 2021

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Fifteen interiors situated in the eastern wing of the palace, are now scheduled to open to visitors in 2021. Among the recreated interiors are the New Study of Nicholas II, Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Reception Room of Nicholas II, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Maple Drawing Room, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, the Imperial Bedroom, among others.

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, which includes the Western wing is scheduled for completion no earlier than 2024.

***

Dear Reader: If you enjoy my articles on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. The net proceeds help fund my work, including research, translations, etc. Thank you for your consideration – PG

 

Elena Tretyakova’s gift to Nicholas II in 1911

PHOTO: Elena Andreevna Tretyakova. Paris, 1875. 

In 1911, the famous Russian collector and philanthropist Elena Andreevna Tretyakova (1846-after 1917) presented as a gift to Emperor Nicholas II: her vast collection of paintings, icons, weapons and historical documents which documented Russia’s military history from ancient times. In addition, she donated a significant amount for the construction of the Госуда́рева Ра́тная пала́та [Sovereign Military Chamber] at Tsarskoye Selo. Due to the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the construction of the war museum was not completed. At the height of the First World War, and in anticipation of impending hard times, Elena Tretyakova wrote: “Probably, if not during my lifetime, then afterwards others will appreciate my idea and work.”

It would be another century before the Sovereign Military [aka Martial] Chamber would become a museum. The building was transferred to the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve in 2010. Between 2011-2014. the building underwent restoration, at a cost of 292,000,000 rubles ($8 million USD). The building is now home to the ‘Russia in the Great War’ Museum, which was inaugurated on 4th August 2014 , marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One. The museum has been visited by more than 120 thousand people.

The Sovereign Military Chamber at Tsarskoye Selo is the first museum in Russia dedicated entirely to Russia’s participation in the First World War. The history of the museum has its roots in the era of Nicholas II. Today, the museum is a rich repository of military uniforms, weapons, and items used in military life, as well as photographs and documents.

PHOTO: portraits of Elena Tretyakova and Nicholas II in the Sovereign Military Chamber

This year marks the 175th anniversary of the birth of Elena Andreevna Tretyakova (1846-after 1917). 

She was born on 26th February (O.S. 14th) February 1846 in Moscow in the family of the hereditary honorary merchant Andrei Matveyev. In 1868 she married Sergei Mikhailovich Tretyakov (1834-1892), brother of the founder of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov (1832-1898).

According to her contemporaries, Elena was “educated, and distinguished by her natural beauty, with beautiful curved shoulders, a pale, slightly puffy face, a heavy plait of hair on the back of her head and tiny hands, which she was very proud”. She dressed very luxuriously, ordered dresses from Paris and rented a large summer dacha in Peterhof for the summer. Her neighbour at Peterhof was the Russian pianist, conductor, and composer. Nikolai Grigoryevich Rubinstein (1835-1881), with whom she was in love (he died in her arms in 1881 in Paris). Every day she received guests at her home, where an exquisite choir of gypsies sang, which was then in great fashion. The Tretyakovs’ marriage was childless. After the death of her husband she lived in St. Petersburg. Elena Andreevna Tretyakova died after 1917, the exact date is unknown.

Elena Tretyakova’s idea came true more than a hundred years later. Today, her portrait hangs in the Sovereign Military Chamber at Tsarskoye Selo.

PHOTO: the restored Sovereign Martial Chamber at Tsarskoye Selo

© Paul Gilbert. 2 March 2021

Home Church of the Imperial Family in the Alexander Palace

PHOTO: the home church of the Imperial Family in the Alexander Palace in the 1930s

On 9th March (O.S. 24th February) 1897, the first liturgy was performed in the home church of the Alexander Palace. “We went to the service in the red corner living room, where the camp church was set up – it is very convenient and pleasant,” Nicholas II wrote in his diary that day.

Initially, a house church had not been built in the New Palace (as the Alexander Palace was called until 1856), Following the tragic death of his beloved daughter Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna (Adini) on 10th August (29th July) 1844, Emperor Nicholas I, ordered a small chapel (see photo below) to be organized in the western wing of the building, decorated in the Old Russian style.

Russian historian and author Igor Zimin describes the room: “there was a little door in the wall, leading to a tiny dark chapel lighted by hanging lamps, where the Empress [Alexandra Feodorovna, wife of Nicholas I] was wont to pray.”

PHOTO: chapel in the west wing of the Alexander Palace [not survived] in the 1930s

Since the wife of Nicholas II, Alexandra Feodorovna, due to poor health, could not always attend the service in the church of the nearby Catherine Palace, the emperor decided to create a comfortable and simple house church in one of the ceremonial halls of the Alexander Palace: the Crimson Drawing Room was redesigned for these needs. The Travelling Iconostasis of Emperor Alexander I, made by Vasily Shebuev, was installed.

The Travelling Iconostasis of Emperor Alexander I was created for the emperor’s use during his travels. Very simple by imperial standards, it reflected simplicity, convenience and ease of use, and adaptable for moving from place to place. It could be quickly and easily disassembled, easily stowed in crates with all accessories and just as quickly reassembled. Nicholas II sometimes took this iconostasis with him on his travels.

PHOTO: Red and “Crimson” Drawing Rooms. Artist: Luigi Premazzi (1814-1891)
From the Collection of the State Hermitage Museum

In the photos, the iconostasis of Alexander I can be seen stretched across the center of the chapel. This screen followed the Emperor from Russia to Paris and back as part of the furnishing of Alexander’s travelling camp church. The iconostasis is now in the General Staff Building [part of the State Hermitage Museum] in St. Petersburg.

In addition, a small prayer room was installed for Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, where a lectern and a sofa were added for her convenience. The church was consecrated in honour of the Holy Prince Alexander Nevsky.

Divine liturgies were held here for more than 15 years, right up until 1913, when the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral was consecrated in Tsarskoye Selo, which from then on served as the family church of Nicholas II and his family.

PHOTOS: View (above) of the Travelling Iconostasis of Emperor Alexander I. 1930s.
The iconostasis (below) is now in the General Staff Building in St. Petersburg. 1930s

On 12th August (O.S. 30th July) 1917, the last divine liturgy was held in the home church of the Alexander Palace. In his diary, Archpriest Alexander Belyaev recalled this day: “After arriving at the palace at 10 o’clock in the morning, we immediately went, under guard, straight to the church. The valet came from the former empress, bringing a small bunch of carnations and said: “Her Majesty asks that you put these flowers on the icon of the Znamensky Mother of God, which will be brought at two o’clock, into the palace church. These flowers are to remain on the icon during the moleben, and then returned to Her Majesty. She wishes to take them with her on her journey <…> The liturgy began at 11 o’clock. Somehow, I could not help but feel that this was the last Divine Liturgy to be served in the former Tsar’s dwelling . . .”,

The home church existed in the Alexander Palace for exactly 20 years. During the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), its interiors were damaged, but the iconostasis had been evacuated and after the war it was transferred to the Central repository of museum funds of suburban palaces-museums. In 1956, it was transferred to the State Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. Today, it is exhibited in the former interiors of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the General Staff Building, which is now a branch of the State Hermitage Museum.

PHOTO: the home church of the Imperial Family in the Alexander Palace is circled in RED

© Paul Gilbert. 26 February 2021

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Dear Reader: If you enjoy my articles on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. The net proceeds help fund my work, including research, translations, etc. Thank you for your consideration – PG

Recreation of the interiors of the Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room in the Alexander Palace

 

PHOTO: view of the recreated Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room

This is the second of two articles on the recreation of the Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room, one of the personal rooms of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna situated in the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace. The first article The history and restoration of the Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room in the Alexander Palace, was published on 11th November 2020.

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The Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room was originally conceived as a “reception room” and a music salon with a grand piano, decorated with comfortable furniture for guests.

During the mid-19th century, the room was known as the Blue Drawing Room, one of the former private rooms of the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna (1853-1920), daughter of Emperor Alexander II (1818-1881). By the 1890s, the Blue Drawing Room was outdated and slightly dilapidated. In 1895-1896, the interior was renovated according to the project of the architect Roman Melzer – co-owner and head of the artistic department of the Meltzer Furniture Trading House, in St. Petersburg.

Prior to the decoration of the room’s interior in the 1890s, a selection of French fabric samples for wall decoration, furniture upholstery and curtains, were presented to Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna for their consideration. On 24th May 1895, Nicholas recorded in his diary: “After breakfast, we chose materials and carpets for our rooms in the Alexander Palace.”

PHOTO: samples of yellowish French fabric for the walls

A month later, on 24th June 1895, the terms of the contract for the implementation of the finishing of the former “reception room” and the supply of the necessary upholstery fabrics and trimmings from France were entered into the order book of Meltzer and Company.

The renovated interior was named Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room: the walls were covered with yellowish French fabric on top, the fireplace and the lower part of the walls were faced with panels of polished rosewood, and rosewood furniture was placed throughout the interior. Some items of the headset were decorated with oak intarsia. The drawing room was completed with rosewood doors.

Over time, the interior was decorated with numerous items related to the tastes and interests of members of the Imperial Family. On the mantelpiece, Art Nouveau clocks coexisted with Royal Danish Porcelain; works of Russian and foreign artists decorated the walls. Many items were reminders of the Empress’s homeland – Darmstadt and the Hesse Landgrave: the large landscape by Bracht depicted a view of the ancestral castle of her family Romrod. Watercolours with views of Darmstadt and its environs were inserted into a wide screen. The shelves of rosewood panels were adorned with objects and framed photographs of members of the Imperial Family.

During the first years of their lives in the Alexander Palace, Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna often spent time in solitude in this room. The room also served as the preferred place for breakfast and lunch for the entire family. Close relatives and distinguished guests were often invited to informal dinners with the Imperial Family in the Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room.

PHOTO: old and new carpet samples from Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room

PHOTO: the purple Wilton carpet in the recreated Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room

Sadly, the decoration of the Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room were lost during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). In 2013, the year marking the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg, the Alexander Palace was presented with an exact copy of the Wilton carpet that once decorated the interior. Larry Hokanson, a carpet designer in the United States recreated the colour and pattern, based on the historical sample preserved in the museum’s collection.

In 2018–2020, expert Russian craftsmen recreated the Rosewood finish for the interior. The work on the manufacture of wood panels and fireplace cladding was carried out at the Stavros firm in St. Petersburg. Fabrics and trimmings for walls and curtains were recreated at the Rubelli in Italy and “Re Kon Art” in Poland. They were all able to achieve success, thanks to historical photographs and samples preserved in the Tsarskoye Selo and Pavlovsk museum-reserves. The fabric for the upper part of the fireplace was provided by the Alpina company.

In January 2020, the Tsarskoye Selo announced that they would recreate frames for original works of art, which decorated the room before the 1917 Tevolution. Now restoration specialists of the Tsarskoye Selo Amber Workshop are recreating pieces of the furniture set of the Pallisander (Rosewood) Drawing Room.

NOTE: all photos © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve

© Paul Gilbert. 20 February 2021

***

Fifteen interiors situated in the eastern wing of the palace, are now scheduled to open to visitors in 2021. Among the recreated interiors are the New Study of Nicholas II, Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Reception Room of Nicholas II, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, the Imperial Bedroom, among others.

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, which includes the Western wing is scheduled for completion no earlier than 2024.

***

Dear Reader: If you enjoy my articles on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. The net proceeds help fund my work, including research, translations, etc. Thank you for your consideration – PG

 

The History and Restoration of the New Study of Nicholas II in the Alexander Palace

PHOTO: view of the New Study of Nicholas II, as it looked in 1917

In 1902–1904, Roman Feodorovich Meltser’s (1860-1943) firm carried out the construction, decoration and furnishing of the New Study of Emperor Nicholas II in the Alexander Palace. The work had to be carried out according to precise calculations and drawings, which were submitted for consideration by the Technical Committee organized under the Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty.

The emperor’s spacious four-window study had a mezzanine with marble columns, made by the German company Duckerhoff & Neumann (Nassau, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany), which was connected to the mezzanine of the Maple Drawing Room on the opposite side of the eastern wing of the palace. The interior was heated by fireplaces ordered from Vienna. Several types of electric lamps were specially made to illuminate the office, based on the best technological achievements of Russian scientists Alexander Ladygin and Werner von Bolton, as well as the developments of General Electric. Meltzer decorated the lamps with Tiffany style shades with variegated glass. These cylindrical coloured glass “tulip lanterns” have not survived, but are clearly visible in historic photographs, which will allow restorers to recreate them exactly to their original.

PHOTO: view of the staircase leading to the mezzanine, which connected the New Study of
Nicholas II with the Maple Drawing Room, as it looked in 1917 (above); and in 1944 (below)

The ceiling in the Emperor’s study was made of mahogany, including the trim. The walls were painted with a deep blue-green mastic paint and stencilled with ornamental friezes around the tile cladding above the fireplace and a niche behind the table. The walls of the mezzanine were painted in light yellow tones with the same stencil ornament.

An important decorative element of the decoration of the rooms of the Alexander Palace during the late 19th to early 20th centuries, including the New Study were the beautiful oriental carpets. The New Study of Nicholas II, was decorated with large Persian carpets, on top of a seamed crimson carpet.

A pool table occupied the space along the northern wall of the New Study, with a fireplace decorated with blue relief tiles. The pool table was made according to Russian standards, developed and produced by the St. Petersburg manufacturer Adolf Freiberg. A large corner sofa was placed next to the table.

Near the opposite wall was a large desk with an upper shelf and an attached electric lamp on a block. The desk, was covered with many family photographs, writing instruments and other accessories and small memorabilia. Near the window on a high mahogany curb stone stood a plaster bust of Emperor Alexander II by the Italian sculptor Pietro Canonica (1869-1959). It is known that Canonica made a modified bronze copy of the sculpture, which was approved by Nicholas II. A copy of this bust is preserved in the collection of the Museum of Pietro Canonica in Rome, therefore, it will be possible to recreate the lost sculpture based on a historical analogue.

In the central part of the New Study was a large round table, armchairs and chairs, a soft sofa and an armchair with an oval tea table between them. The table, armchair and chair have been preserved and are today in the collection of the Pavlovsk Museum-Reserve. The first meeting in the New Study is noted in the diary of Nicholas II on 3rd May 1903.

The New Study of Nicholas II was filled with works of Danish and Russian porcelain, family photographs, books, and memorabilia. In the bookcases, in addition to works on history, politics and religion, there were the collected works of Shakespeare and Tennyson, works of Byron, Merimee, Gaultier, Hugo, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Merezhkovsky among many others.

The New Study is one of the few interiors of the Alexander Palace, the decoration of which partially survived the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45: the ceiling lining with brass overlays, a mahogany door, two fireplaces, and columns on the mezzanine have all been preserved.

PHOTO: the New Study of Emperor Nicholas II, as it looked between 1997-2015

The interior of the New Study of Emperor Nicholas II was partially restored in 1997 for the opening of the Memories in the Alexander Palace exhibition. Several years later, the interior decoration was reconstructed, which included built-in wardrobes, sofas, chairs, a desk, lighting fixtures, draperies on the windows, made from photographs of the 1930s and inventory drawings of the Tsarskoye Selo Artistic and Historical Commission of 1918. These items were made in 2000 for the filming of Gleb Panfilov’s film The Romanovs. Crowned Family

The current restoration of the interior began in 2015. In 2019, restorers discovered the original color and a fragment of the stencil painting that framed the fireplace portal, which made it possible to restore the historic color of the cabinet walls. The discovery of surviving samples of English tiles made it possible to recreate the cladding of the fireplace inserts and fireplaces.

PHOTO: the restored fireplace in the New Study (above); and a detail of the tile (below)

Furniture lost during the war will be recreated for the New Study. A corner sofa for the billiard table has already been made, a display cabinet, bookcases, wall sconces with Tiffany lanterns and other lighting fixtures are being recreated; work is underway to restore the writing table and billiards, matched by analogy. One future project, is a plan to restore the window frames with cathedral (stained-glass) glass based on information from archival sources.

The Russian company “Tissura” together with the Swiss company Fabric Frontlain, have recreated the silk fabric decorated with hyacinths for the window decoration based on historical samples preserved in the Collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum. The window curtains will be made by the St. Petersburg firm “Le Lux”.

PHOTO: the current look of the restored New Study of Emperor Nicholas II

Specialists from the Studio 44 architectural bureau, will soon begin work on the reconstruction of the lost pieces of furniture and lighting fixtures for the New Study.

Paintings, porcelain, and interior sculptures which have been preserved in the Pavlovsk State Museum-Reserve, will be returned to the Alexander Palace. Among them – paintings, sculptures, busts, Danish porcelain, etc. Following the completion of the restoration of the New Study, these items will be returned to their historical places in the Alexander Palace.

© Paul Gilbert. 10 February 2021

***

Fifteen interiors situated in the eastern wing of the palace, are now scheduled to open to visitors in 2021. Among the recreated interiors are the New Study of Nicholas II, Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Reception Room of Nicholas II, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, the Imperial Bedroom, among others.

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, which includes the Western wing is scheduled for completion no earlier than 2024.

***

Dear Reader: If you enjoy my articles on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. The net proceeds help fund my work, including research, translations, etc. Thank you for your consideration – PG

 

Winter Views of the Alexander Palace and Park

PHOTO: western (foreground) and eastern (background) wings of the Alexander Palace

The former Imperial palaces of the Russian Imperial Family take on a whole new beauty in the winter months when they are covered and surrounded with a fresh blanket of snow. The favourite residence of Nicholas II and his family, the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo in particular. The elegant Neo-Classical edifice, painted a soft pastel yellow, blend perfectly with the surrounding winter landscape. A glorious sense of peace and tranquility are felt while walking around the palace and park at this time of year.

I have assembled the following collection of photos of the Alexander Palace and Park, all of which evoke a breathtaking Russian winter wonderland. After viewing these images, I am sure that you will agree that it is quite understandable why the Imperial Family so loved this place – PG

PHOTO: The main gate leading into the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. The gate was installed in 1898, based on the design of the Russian architect (of Italian origin) Silvio Amvrosievich Danini (1867-1942). The view from the street has remained virtually unchanged since the early 20th century.

Following his abdication on 15 March (O.S. 2 March) 1917,”Colonel Romanov” passed through these gates to be reunited with his family. Together, they lived here under house arrest, until their exile to Tobolsk on 1st August of the same year.

PHOTO:  A lovely panoramic view which shows the expanse of the Alexander Palace from the opposite side of the pond.

The Alexander Palace was constructed in the town of Tsarskoye Selo, 30 miles south of St. Petersburg. It was commissioned by Empress Catherine II, who reigned 1762–1796, for her favourite grandson, Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich, the future Emperor Alexander, who reigned 1801–1825), on the occasion of his marriage to Grand Duchess Elizaveta Alexeievna (1779-1826), born Princess Luise Marie Augusta of Baden in 1793.

The edifice was constructed between 1792 and 1796, by the foremost and most prolific practitioner of Neoclassical architecture in Imperial Russia, Giacomo Quarenghi (1744-1817). It was agreed that the architect had excelled himself in creating a masterpiece. In 1821, a quarter of a century later, the architect’s son wrote:

“An elegant building which looks over the beautiful new garden in Tsarskoye Selo, was designed and built by my father at the request of Catherine II, who shaped it with greatest simplicity, combining both functionality with beauty. Its dignified façade, harmonic proportions, and moderate ornamentation are also manifested in its interiors without compromising comfort in striving for magnificence and elegance.”

Emperor Nicholas II and his wife Empress Alexandra Feodorovna always loved this palace. After the events of Bloody Sunday in 1905, the August Coupled decided to make it their permanent residence.

During the reign of Nicholas II, the palace underwent many modern upgrades: it was wired for electricity and equipped with a telephone system. In 1899, a hydraulic lift was installed connecting the Empress’ suite with the children’s rooms on the second floor. With the advent of motion pictures in the early 20th century, a screening booth was built in the Semicircular Hall where the family gathered to watch films.

PHOTO: The eastern wing (left) is where the former private apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna are located. The wing was closed in autumn 2015 for an extensive restoration.

Fifteen interiors situated in the eastern wing of the palace, are now scheduled to open to visitors in 2021. Among the recreated interiors are the New Study of Nicholas II, Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Reception Room of Nicholas II, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, the Imperial Bedroom, among others. This wing of the palace will become known as the ‘Museum of the Russian Imperial Family’.

PHOTO:  Situated facing the Alexander Park are the windows of the Semi-Circular Hall. It is through these doors on 1st August 1917, that the Imperial Family and their retinue departed the Alexander Palace for the last time. They were transported to the Alexandrovsky Station, where an awaiting train took them into exile to Tobolsk in Siberia. It was in Tobolsk that the Imperial Family were held under house arrest in the former Governor’s Mansion – renamed the “House of Freedom” until April 1918, when they were transferred to Ekaterinburg and subsequently murdered by the Bolsheviks on 17th July 1918.

PHOTO: The warm glow from a winter sun simply adds to the beauty of the Alexander Palace surrounded by snow. During the winter months, Nicholas II took time to enjoy outdoor activities with his family. Together, they build snow fortresses, went skating on the ice covered ponds, and partook of sleigh rides through the park, a pastime in which the Empress also participated. In his zest for physical activity, the Tsar was often seen shoveling snow from the paths, chopped ice for the cellar, cut dry branches or old trees, storing firewood for the long, dark and cold winter months. 

PHOTO: This aerial view of the Alexander Palace, taken by a drone, shows the size of the building. The photo was taken last year, during the ongoing restoration of the palace. The surrounding park offers pathways leading to the parks numerous pavilions, as well as ponds and canals, which were often used during the summer months by Nicholas II and his children for boating.

The Alexander Palace is within walking distance of the nearby Catherine Palace, which can be seen in the upper left hand corner of the photo above.

PHOTO: The Kitchen Building of the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. Meals were prepared in this building, and taken to the palace through an underground tunnel.

When the restoration of the palace is completed in 2024, the former Kitchen Building will serve as the main entrance to the multi-museum Alexander Palace complex.

PHOTO: the Children’s Island, which features a tiny house built for the children of Emperor Nicholas I, and later enjoyed by the children of three successive monarchs: Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicholas II. To the left of the house is a small cemetery, where the Tsar buried his favourite dogs. The cemetery has survived to this day.

The island was reached by a pull-ferry, whereby sailors would pull ropes sending the ferry over to the island and back from the park’s shore.

During two winter visits to the Alexander Palace, the author of this article managed to walk across the frozen pond to explore the island, and photograph both the house and the cemetery at close hand.

According to the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum, there are plans to eventually restore the Children’s Island and Pavilion, once funding has been secured.

PHOTO: Just a short walk from the Alexander Palace is the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral, with its beautiful Russian national-style edifice and magnificent interiors, including the Cave Church.

On 2 September (O.S. 20 August) 1909, Emperor Nicholas II laid the first foundation stone for the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral, which later served as the household church of the Imperial Family.

After the 1917 Revolution, the cathedral was closed, it was badly damaged during the Great Patriotic War (1941-44). In 1991 the cathedral was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, restoration of the Cathedral lasted nearly 20 years.. 

On 17th July 1993, hundreds of Orthodox Christians and monarchists gathered for the official opening and consecration of the first monument to Emperor Nicholas II (seen on the left in the photo) to be established in post-Soviet Russia.

The monument was consecrated on the day marking the 75th anniversary of the murder of Nicholas II, on the grounds of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral. The monument is the work of St. Petersburg sculptor Victor Vladimirovich Zaiko (born 1944).

PHOTO: A walk through the snow covered Alexander Park at Tsarskoye Selo offers many surprises for visitors. Over the course of the past decade, numerous pavilions have been beautifully restored, including the Sovereign’s Martial Chamber, the Arsenal, the Chapelle, and the White Tower.

In addition, some people may want to visit the gravesite of Grigorii Rasputin (1869-1916). His body was buried on 2 January (O.S. 21 December) 1916, at a small church (has not survived) that Anna Vyrubova (1884-1964) had been building in the Alexander Park. His body was exhumed and burned by a detachment of soldiers shortly after the Tsar abdicated the throne in March 1917.

There are future plans to restore the Children’s Pavilion and Island, the Chinese Theater, the Pension Stable, the Farm as well as the reclamation of the Alexander Park. There are plans to charge for entry to the park, the funds of which will help restore these historic buildings and maintain the grounds, however, this additional cost has yet to be implemented.

Click HERE to view Summer Views of the Alexander Palace and Park, published on 29th July 2021

© Paul Gilbert. 1 February 2021

 

The fate of the contents of the Alexander Palace in the 20th century

PHOTO: the Alexander Palace was established as a museum in June 1918

Thousands of items from the Alexander Palace were destroyed or stolen in the decades that followed the 1917 Revolution. Thousands more were moved to other locations, where they remain to this day. This article examines the fate of the Alexander Palace collection, researched from Russian archival sources.

The ‘Romanov Museum’

On 1st August 1917, Emperor Nicholas and his family left the Alexander Palace for the last time. It was on this day that the Imperial family were sent into exile to Tobolsk, where they spent 8 months under house arrest, before being transferred to Ekaterinburg, where they were murdered by the Ural Soviet on 17th July 1918.

In June 1918, the Alexander Palace was established as a museum and opened to the public. Throngs of visitors – among them many revolutionaries and their families – filed silently through the state halls located in the central part of the building and the private apartments of the last tsar and his family located in the east wing of the palace.

The Bolsheviks had led the Russian people into believing that Nicholas II and his family lived in great luxury, however, the interiors of the Alexander Palace proved otherwise. Compared to their 18th century ancestors, Nicholas II and his family lived rather modestly. The Alexander Palace lacked the ostentatious interiors of the nearby Catherine Palace the Great Palace at Peterhof, and even that of the Winter Palace in Petrograd (St. Petersburg).

Following the uncertainty of the political climate during 1917, members of the Tsarskoye Selo Commission prepared for the evacuation of highly artistic items from the collection of the Imperial residences, including the Alexander Palace. These included paintings by outstanding artists, sculptures, the finest examples of furniture, bronze, porcelain and crystal. In total, 50 crates with items from the Alexander Palace were packed and transported by train to Moscow in two separate shipments – 15-17th September 6-8th October. The items were placed in storage in the Armoury and the Grand Kremlin Palace.

In October 1917, the Artistic and Historical Commission began to compile descriptions of the interiors of the Alexander Palace. They refused to compile new inventories, preferring instead to draw up cards with descriptions of objects, carry out plans for the arrangement of furniture, explication of interiors and take photographs of each room, its possessions and decoration.

This decision was made due to the fact that there was an enormous number of items in the Alexander Palace, which meant that to list every item, not to mention their description, would take a lot of time, which the Artistic-Historical Commission did not have, due to the growing political unrest in Petrograd.

In December 1920, the valuables evacuated in 1917 were returned to Tsarskoye Selo from Moscow, among them were 32 crates containing items from the Alexander Palace. In parallel with the rest of the work, the researchers began unpacking the re-evacuated exhibits, examining them, checking against the inventories, and by 1923 all items were returned to their historical places in the Alexander Palace.

The Soviet regime were always hostile towards the ‘Romanov Museum’ and made constant threats  to close the museum and sell off its treasures. Luckily, the museum staff managed to dissuade the government from this step and the museum operated up until the beginning of the Second World War.

In 1941 the Alexander Palace was closed, the children’s toys and furniture were transferred to the Toy Museum in Moscow [in 1931, the museum was transferred to Zagorsk – renamed Sergiev Posad – where many of OTMAAs toys remain to this day – PG].

PHOTO: the damaged Alexander Palace and SS cemetery, 1944

Nazi occupation

In the first months of the Great Patriotic War (1941-44), only a part of the contents of the Alexander Palace was evacuated: chandeliers, carpets, some pieces of furniture, marble and porcelain. The bulk of the contents remained in the palace during the war, and suffered great losses.

By mid-September 1941, the Alexander Palace – along with the rest of Pushkin [Tsarskoye Selo] – was near the front line. During the occupation of Pushkin, the Nazi Headquarters was located in the Alexander Palace, the torture chambers of the Gestapo located in the basement, and a cemetery for 85 SS officers was created in the lawn, situated in front of the palace.

When Soviet troops entered the city in 1944, the Alexander Palace, like all other palaces, was in a terrible state. Historical interiors had been looted, thousands of items stolen or destroyed, some interiors had been completely destroyed.

The building itself suffered to a much lesser extent than the nearby Catherine Palace. The former sustained some shelling by the Soviets, who were determined to drive the Nazi invaders from the Alexander Palace, where they were holed up. The palace had been looted by the retreating Nazi’s which resulted in many of the palaces treasures being stolen. According to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of the Russian Federation, the registered inventory for the Alexander Palace had 30,382 items, of which 22,628 items – more than two thirds – were recorded as lost or stolen at the end of World War II.

PHOTO: the Alexander Palace surrounded by security fence and barbed wire

Post-war Soviet years 

At the end of the war, the palace was mothballed and in 1946 was handed over to the USSR Academy of Sciences to store the collections of the Institute of Russian Literature and to house the exposition of the All-Union Museum of Alexander Pushkin. Between 1947-1951, restoration work began on the Alexander Palace, during which it was planned to restore the surviving interiors of the plans of the architect Giacomo Quarenghi (1744-1817), and the surviving fragments of the decoration, as well as to recreate the interiors of the time of Emperors Nicholas I and Nicholas II. However, during the work, many elements of the decoration of the Maple and Rosewood drawing rooms of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, as well as the Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II were lost. Instead, these interiors were modified according to the project of the Soviet architect Lev Moiseevich Bezverkhny (1908–1963).

‘In 1951, by a government decree, the Alexander Palace was transferred to the Ministry of Defense. The Naval Department used the building as a top-secret, submarine tracking research institute of the Baltic Fleet. As a result, the former palace would be strictly off-limits to visitors for the next 45 years. The Alexander Palace was surrounded by a security fence and barbed wire and closed to the public. Even historians could not gain access inside.

‘The palace’s collection which was among the evacuated items in the Central Repository of Museum Stocks from the Suburban Palace-Museums was transferred to the Pavlovsk Palace Museum. A total of 5,615 items were moved from the palace to Pavlovsk. Of these, nearly 200 pieces were originally from the Alexander Palaces’ three ceremonial halls: the Portrait, Semi-Circular and Marble Halls. These include 39 pieces of porcelain, 41 paintings, 73 decorative bronze pieces, and 28 pieces of furniture.’¹

At the time, no one could have imagined that the Soviet Union would end, so it was just automatically assumed that these items would remain part of the Pavlovsk collection. Most of these items remain at Pavlovsk to this day.

PHOTO: most of the interiors in the “Memories in the Alexander Palace” exhibition,
featured huge floor to ceiling photos depicting the original look of each room,
and served as backdrops, against which items of furniture were displayed

The Post-Soviet years

In 1996, a grant from the World Monuments Fund (WMF) was received for the restoration of the Alexander Palace, and work began to repair the building’s roof.

In 1997, the first museum exposition “Memories in the Alexander Palace” was opened in the east wing of the Alexander Palace. Since almost all the historic interiors of Nicholas II and his family were lost, large floor to ceiling photos depicting the original look of each room, served as backdrops, against which items of furniture were displayed.

In 2009, the Alexander Palace was transferred to the administration of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve. In June 2010, the year marking the 300th anniversary of Tsarskoye Selo, the Portrait, Semi-Circular and Billiard Halls were opened to the public after an extensive restoration.

PHOTO: Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s dresses on display at Pavlovsk

It is interesting to add, that in 2007, Pavlovsk opened a costume museum in one of the wings of the palace. The permanent exhibit showcases a mere fraction of dresses, hats, gloves, fans, and other personal items of Empresses Maria Feodorovna and Alexandra Feodorovna, as well as Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia.

Given that Nicholas II and his family never resided at Pavlovsk, how is it that these items from the wardrobes of the last Imperial family are today part of the Pavlovsk collection? As it turns out, they are among the many thousands of items transferred from the Central Repository of Museum Stocks from the Suburban Palace-Museums in 1951.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and in particular since the restoration of the Alexander Palace, the return of the collection has been a bone of contention between the two palace-museums. During a visit to Pavlovsk several years ago, I raised the subject with one of the Directors at Pavlovsk. “If we return these exhibits to the Alexander Palace, then we [Pavlovsk] will have nothing,” he declared.

Surely, the Pavlovsk Palace State Museum have a moral responsibility to return all of the items to their rightful home? Their history belongs to the Alexander Palace. It seems that the Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation Olga Lyubimova will have the final say. Let us hope that she does the right thing, and order the return of these items to the Alexander Palace, where they can be put on display in the rooms from which they originated.

It is interesting to note that during the course of the restoration of the Alexander Palace, which began in 2015, some items which were stolen during the Great Patriotic War have found their way home to the Alexander Palace. In recent years, a number of items have been returned by the descendants of German soldiers who stole from the palace during the Nazi retreat in 1944. Let us hope that their actions set an example to others.

Fifteen interiors situated in the eastern wing of the palace, are now scheduled to open to visitors in 2021. Among the recreated interiors are the New Study of Nicholas II, Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Reception Room of Nicholas II, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, the Imperial Bedroom, among others.

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, which includes the Western wing is scheduled for completion no earlier than 2024.

© Paul Gilbert. 17 January 2021

¹ ‘My Russia. The Rebirth of the Alexander Palace’ by Paul Gilbert. Published in ‘Royal Russia No. 3 (2013), pgs. 1-11

***

Dear Reader: If you enjoy my articles on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. The net proceeds help fund my work, including research, translations, etc. Thank you for your consideration – PG