Exhibition: ‘Nicholas II. Family and Throne’

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The State Historical Museum is currently the venue for an exhibition on the reign and family life of Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov – the history of the Imperial family in photographs, paintings, diaries, personal items and other rare artifacts. 

A significant part of the 750 photographs in the exhibit are from the funds of various archives and museums in Russia – including the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF), which contains a vast and unique collection of photo albums of members of the Imperial family.

Timed to the 150th anniversary of the birth and the 100th anniversary of the death of the last Russian emperor Nicholas II, the exhibition allows all visitors interested in history to create their own impression of one of Russia’s most controversial and misunderstood historical figures, which includes a look at the life of the Russian monarch and his family.

Photography, which is the basis of the exhibition, is of great historical importance, often fragile, requiring careful handling and protection. The photos submitted for the exhibit are 100 – 150 years old, and a considerable part of the photos were restored by professionals for presentation to the public in this exhibition.

As is known, the emperor and his family members took a great interest in photography: they all had cameras and enthusiastically photographed each other and and those close to them. Nicholas II was usually accompanied by a professional photographers who recorded his 23-year reign almost daily (the main merit belonged to the court photographer AK K. Yagelsky to the owner of the KE von Gan and Kº studio). Many photos come from Tsarskoye Selo and Peterhof palaces, and reflect the day to day lives in their private apartments of the Alexander Palace and the Lower Dacha.

 

The exhibition is divided into sections: family, official and memorial. The first sections testify to the two “functions” of Nicholas II: the head of the family and the ruler of a vast empire. It shows about 300 photographs taken in the 1870s – mid 1910s by leading Russian and foreign photo masters (K. K. Bulla, S. L. Levitsky, A. I. Saveliev, F. P. Orlov, M. I. Gribov, A. A. Otsup, K. A. Fisher, Atelier “Boissonna and Eggler”, “K. E. von Gan and Co.”, “J. Russell & Sons”, “W. & D. Downey “). Autographs and letters of Nicholas II are also on display, documents include a manifesto on the birth of Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich, a lunch menu on the occasion of the coming of age of Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich, and an announcement of the coronation of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

The family section of the exhibition is divided into the following topics: “Grand Duke. Tsesarevich. Emperor”, “Niki and Alix”, “Tsar’s Children. OTMA”, “Tsar’s Children. Alexei”, “In the Family Circle. Tsarskoye Selo. Livadia. Finland. Poland “. Particular emphasis is placed on the figure of Tsearevich Alexei Nikolaevich, the only son of Nicholas II, and heir to the throne, whose tragic fate left an imprint on the life of the entire imperial family.

The official section of the exhibition shows photographs of Nicholas II during meetings with the heads of foreign countries (British King Edward VII, German Emperor Wilhelm II, Siamese King Rama V, French Presidents Armand Falier and Felix Faure) during the celebrations marking the 200th anniversary St. Petersburg and the 100th anniversary of the Patriotic War of 1812, during the opening of grand monuments and the consecration of churches, the holding of regimental holidays and parades, as well as during the First World War. 

Two of the most important dynastic events in which Nicholas II was most directly involved – the coronation (1896) and the 300th anniversary of the Romanovs’ house (1913), are also featured.

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Ceremonial portrait of Nicholas II, by Léon Bakst, 1895

A large ceremonial portrait of Nicholas II, by the famous artist Léon Bakst (1895) in Paris is on display for the first time. The painting has never before been exhibited, and was specially restored for the exhibition. The exhibition also features pictorial portraits of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna by G.M. Manizer and A.V. Makovsky, and a series of watercolors by N.N. Karazin, N.S. Matveeva and A.I. Charlemagne.

In addition to photos, the exhibition is filled with numerous items, both personal and memorial, associated with Nicholas II and his family – portraits, diaries, letters and more. For example, the uniforms of Nicholas II and Tsesarevich Alexei, the Imperial Constellation Easter Egg, made by Faberge for Alexandra Feodorovna Easter 1917, but not presented to the Empress, are shown a bronze frame with a watercolor portrait of Tsesarevich Alexei, a drawing, a watercolor portrait of Tsesarevich Alexei, and a drawing of Alexandra Feodorovna with their children.

One of the most unique artifacts on display is a curl of hair belonging to Tsesarevich Alexei, embedded in a watercolor portrait (see below), which was transferred during the post-war period to the Belgrade Museum in Serbia. In order to confirm its’ authenticity, the staff of the Historical Museum turned to the scientists of the N.I. Vavilova Institute of General Genetics, who confirmed a direct connection to the female line of Queen Victoria. 

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Curl of hair belonging to Tsesarevich Alexei, embedded in a watercolor portrait

The exhibition is located in the renovated premises of the State Historical Museum, where there is also a small memorial hall with photographic portraits of members of the Romanov family and their personal belongings.

The end of the exhibition is a small hall, resembling a basement, where seven portraits are displayed of members of the Imperial family who were murdered in the basement of the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg on the night of July 16-17. 

The exhibition Nicholas II. Family and Throne runs from 10 November 2018 to 15 April 2019 in the State Historical Museum in Moscow.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 6 December 2018