On 24th May, the exhibition The Romanovs. Family Archive, opened in the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. The exhibit presents the largest collection of documents and photographs associated with the Imperial family, acquired in the hundred-year history of the museum. The collection of personal documents and photos of the families of Emperors Alexander III and Nicholas II, was acquired at an auction in London in 2017 thanks to the financial support of Sberbank of Russia.
The exhibit is dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the birth of Nicholas II, whose life was closely connected with Tsarskoye Selo: on 18 May (O.S. 6 May) 1868, Nicholas Alexandrovich was born in the Alexander Palace. From his birth, Russia’s last tsar held Tsarskoye Selo close to his heart, and from 1905, made the Alexander Palace his permanent residence, in which he spent the last 12 years of his reign. It was in the Alexander Palace, in which the Emperor was held under house arrest during the first months of his abdication on 15 March (O.S. 2 March) 1917. It was from here on 14 August (O.S. 1 August) 1917, that he and his family were sent into exile to Tobolsk in Siberia.
The archive which spans from 1866 to the 1920s, includes 200 items from the museum collection. Among them – telegrams with warm messages to their children from Emperor Alexander III and his wife Maria Feodorovna. These laconic, but warm parental messages testify to how the August couple cherished family values. In separation, the loving father always found the time to write letters to his children, sharing with them his successes in hunting, fishing, his health, and about how he misses them when they are apart.
The exhibition also presents the letters of Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna to her younger brother Mikhail, with whom she was in correspondence from a young age. Hardly having learned to write, the little brother and sister shared impressions of new discoveries, and humourous anecdotes from their still carefree life. Later, after marrying the Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, Xenia never forgot her “dear Mishkin.” The young couple often wrote to the Grand Duke from their estates “Ai-Todor” in Crimea, and “Abas-Tuman” in the Caucasus. In letters from the French city of Biarritz, Alexander Mikhailovich also shared his interest and passion of motor-driving, his hobbies, hunting, fishing, archaeological excavations, playing tennis, golf and maps.
Of particular importance for the museum was the acquisition of several autographs of Emperor Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra Feodorovna. A letter written by the empress at Easter to her sister-in-law Xenia, included one of her handmade watercolour drawings with a congratulatory signature.
The tragic events of 1917-1918 are described in the letters of Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich to Prince Georgi Shervashidze – the Ober-Hofmeister, who served the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. The grand duke’s letters, which reflect his diary entries record his vision and understanding of the fate which awaits Russia in the future.
From revolutionary Petrograd, Nikolai Mikhailovich writes to his friend in the Crimea: “It’s hard to tell what’s going on here, not only here, but all over Russia. If the Bolshevik regime comes to an end, then little good can be expected from their successors – socialist-revolutionaries or anarchists. . . ”
With the growing nationalization of property, which took place in Russia, the Grand Duke noted in February 1918: “Yesterday I was forced to leave my palace, to leave my rooms and personal things to the mercy of fate and move to another house, an apartment of one of the employees … I now live in one room on the 4th floor … My palace is now the headquarters of the new Red Army … “. As if in anticipation of his tragic fate, the Grand Duke finishes the letter with a hopeless line: “I do not know if we are destined to meet again on this earth, but in the next world my feelings for you will remain invariably friendly. All your NM. ”
The meeting was not destined to take place. Georgi Dmitrievich Shervashidze died in the Crimea on 26 March 1918, and Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich was shot the following year on 9 January 1919 in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg.
The collection also includes several letters from the widowed British Queen Alexandra, the sister of Empress Maria Feodorovna, to Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna during her life in exile.
Click HERE to read an article about the acquisition of the archive + more photos
The exhibition The Romanovs. Family Archive runs until 30 December 2018 in the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia / Tsarskoye Selo State-Museum Preserve. 30 May 2018