World Monument Fund Reports on the Alexander Palace

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The Alexander Palace

Designed by the Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi and completed in 1796, Alexander Palace housed three generations of Russian monarchs before it was abandoned by the Imperial family in the months preceding the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Built on the order of Catherine the Great as a gift to her grandson Alexander I, the palace is in Tsarskoye Selo, a 1,500-acre imperial estate near St. Petersburg. The building was later used as a summer residence by Alexander’s brother, Nicolas I, and then by his nephew, Tsar Nicolas II. In 1917, the Imperial family was expelled from the palace by order of Alexander Kerensky, head of the provisional government. Nicholas II and his family were murdered by the Bolshevik regime one year later. From then until World War II the palace remained uninhabited; it functioned as a museum until occupying German forces converted the building into their military headquarters. Alexander Palace later served as a naval command base and research station, until the mid-1990s when we assisted with efforts to convert the palace into a museum.

Parts of Alexander Palace had fallen into serious disrepair by 1994 when it garnered local interest as a potential museum. We provided funds toward assessments and planning for public access to a suite of rooms to be used as museum space. Shortly after its inclusion on the 1996 World Monuments Watch, the palace was added to the list of institutions operated by the Museum-Preserve of Tsarskoe Selo, which agreed to manage the upkeep of the property and its tourist facilities. In September 1996, we helped with emergency renovations to the roof over the Nicholas II wing of the palace, comprising approximately one-third of the building’s total roof structure. Alexander Palace is now an exhibition space dedicated to the final years of Tsarist Russia, and houses a collection of Nicholas II’s personal effects and historical documents.

An important national heritage site (1995)

One of the few Tsarist residences left relatively intact following World War II, Alexander Palace provides a window into Imperial life during pre-communist Russia. For its historical value as the setting of Nicholas II’s final years, and for its artistic merits as a much-celebrated work of sumptuously decorated neoclassical architecture, the palace is an important national heritage site.

NOTE: the following three reports, published in 1995, 1996 and 1997 respectively, although now dated, still provide readers with some interesting facts on the history of the Alexander Palace, and the challenges presented with it’s restoration – PG

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Alexander Palace: Restoration and Adaptive Re-Use as a Museum (1995 – 112 pages)

Describes an investigation into the prospect of adapting the 18th century Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo near St. Petersburg for use as a house museum interpreting the history and life of the last Romanovs, the last imperial dynasty to rule over Russia. The neoclassical palace was designed by Giacomo Quarenghi and built between 1792 and 1796, a gift from Catherine the Great to her eldest grandson Alexander before he acceded to the throne. Following the Bolshevik Revolution and the execution of Nicholas II and his family the palace was used as a museum, until World War II, when it was damaged during the German occupation. In 1995-1996, World Monuments Fund conducted three missions to the palace. The first mission, described in this report, had an exploratory and fact-finding character and took place over five days in February 1995. During this mission the potential for repairing the structure, restoring its interiors, and returning to it original furnishings from the collections of Russian museums was studied. Two subsequent missions are described in separate reports.

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Alexander Palace: Groundwork for Restoration and Museum Adaptation (1996 – 47 pages)

This report provides a bilingual summary of the research later compiled into the report entitled “The Alexander Palace: Preliminary Assessment Report for Restoration and Adaptive Re-Use,” published by World Monuments Fund in 1997.Designed by Giacomo Quarenghi and built between 1792 and 1796, this neoclassical palace near St. Petersburg was a gift from Catherine the Great to her eldest grandson Alexander before he ascended to the throne. Alexander I, Nicholas I and Nicholas II all spent their summers living in the palace.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution and the execution of Nicholas II along with his family, the palace was converted into a museum, which it remained until World War II, when it was damaged during the German occupation. From the end of the war until 1995, the building served as administrative offices for the Russian Navy. Over the first half of 1995, a team from the World Monuments Fund conducted three missions to the palace, evaluating the potential for repairing the structure, restoring its interiors, and returning its original furnishings then in the collections of three different Russian museums. During the course of these missions, the World Monuments Fund established the scope of work necessary to convert the palace into a historic house museum focused on the life of Nicholas II and his family and secured funding for the site through American Express as part of the inaugural World Monuments Fund Watch List. This grant provided for emergency repairs to the roof over the southeast wing of the palace.

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Alexander Palace: Preliminary Assessment Report for Restoration and Adaptive Re-Use (1997 – 85 pages) 

Designed by Giacomo Quarenghi and built between 1792 and 1796, this neoclassical palace near St. Petersburg was a gift from Catherine the Great to her eldest grandson Alexander before he ascended to the throne. Alexander I, Nicholas I and Nicholas II all spent their summers living in the palace. Following the Bolshevik Revolution and the execution of Nicholas II along with his family, the palace was converted into a museum, which it remained until World War II, when it was damaged during the German occupation. From the end of the war until 1995, the building served as administrative offices for the Russian Navy. Over the first half of 1995, a team from the World Monuments Fund conducted three missions to the palace, evaluating the potential for repairing the structure, restoring its interiors, and returning its original furnishings then in the collections of three different Russian museums. During the course of these missions, World Monuments Fund established the scope of work necessary to convert the palace into a historic house museum focused on the life of Nicholas II and his family and secured funding for the site through American Express as part of the inaugural World Monuments Fund Watch List. This grant provided for emergency repairs to the roof over the southeast wing of the palace.

Click HERE for more current and up-to-date reports on the restoration of the Alexander Palace

© World Monuments Fund / Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 20 April 2019

 

Will the Alexander Palace Open in 2019?

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The left (eastern) wing of the Alexander Palace

There are rising doubts that the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo will open in 2019, as was previously planned. According to the Director of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Olga Taratynova: “It all depends on the timing of the allocation of funds from the federal budget. The palace-museum is waiting for the 300 million rubles required for the completion of the first stage of restoration work.”

The Alexander Palace has been closed to visitors since 2015. It was originally planned to complete the first part of the work in the beloved residence of the last Russian emperor by July 2018 – timed to the 100th anniversary of the murder of the Imperial Family. The opening date of a partial reopening of the palace to visitors was then postponed to the end of 2019. 

Now, according to Olga Taratynova, these plans are in doubt. “If the money arrives within the next month, then by the end of the year we will open the first eight rooms of the left (eastern) wing of the palace to visitors,” she said. “If the funds are delayed, the opening of the restored and reconstructed apartments will take place in the first quarter of 2020. And in the same year we hope to open 7 additional rooms. Thus, the restoration of the entire left wing of the palace will be complete.” 

Of particular interest to visitors will be the Tsar’s Moorish-style Bathroom. The main feature is a giant heated swimming tub with a capacity of 1000 buckets of water – 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,” added Olga Taratynova. On the second floor of the palace, where the children’s rooms were located, the museum plans to hold temporary exhibition facilities. 

“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, then in the first quarter of 2020, the Alexander Palace will open its doors,” says the Director of the Tsarskoye Selo Palace Museum.

Click HERE to read 5 additional articles on the restoration of the Alexander Palace

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 17 April 2019

Reconstruction of Tsarskoye Selo Monuments Destroyed During WWII will Take 25 years

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Restoring the Golden Gate and fence of the Catherine Palace

The complete restoration of the architectural monuments of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve (GMZ) destroyed during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), the main residence of the Russian emperors and empresses near St. Petersburg, will take at least another quarter of a century. This assessment was made last week by Deputy Director for Research and Education Iraida Bott, during a press conference marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Pushkin from Nazi occupation.

“I think that it will take least 25 years,” said Bott, when asked the question of how long it will take to recreate all the monuments of the museum-reserve that were damaged in wartime. Most of them were destroyed in the first year of occupation, which lasted a total of four years.

Recreation of the Catherine Palace

Two-thirds of the main monument of the museum-reserve – the Catherine Palace – have now been restored, its restoration has been going on for more than six decades, since 1957. Among the most significant objects that have been recreated in recent years is the Golden Enfilade. “it will soon be completely restored, and in March of this year we will open the Church of the Resurrection of Christ – the last interior created by the famous architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1700-1771). The Imperial Chapel was consecrated on 30th July 1756, and thus the entire Golden Enfilade will be brought back to life,” explained Bott.

One of the greatest achievements during the reconstruction of the monuments lost during the Great Patriotic War is the reconstruction of the Amber Room. The unique interior, presented to Tsar Peter I by the Prussian king Friedrich-Wilhelm I, disappeared without a trace during the war years; its fate remaining a mystery to this day. Work on the recreation of the “eighth wonder of the world” lasted twenty-four years and on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the foundation of St Petersburg the restored legendary Amber Room received its first visitors. 

“The greatest sadness and the greatest hope of my generation is to see the state rooms and private quarters of the Empress Catherine II restored. It is hard to imagine when these rooms will be realized,” said Bott. In the meantime, there are plans to recreate the rooms of Emperor Alexander II and Empress Maria Alexandrovna in the Zubov Wing of the Catherine Palace.

Later this year, noted Bott, one of the most grand palace halls of the 18th century – the Lyon Hall will be opened. “This is the ceremonial hall, located next to the Arabesque Hall, which was also created in Catherine’s times, and underwent significant changes in the middle of the 19th century. We will restore it to its pre-war look,” she added.

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The Alexander Palace was closed for restoration in August 2015

Alexander Palace and the lost exhibits

“Besides the Catherine Palace, we still have the Alexander Palace and a large number of pavilions to restore and recreate in the Alexander Park, all of which require a lot of work,” said Bott. In recent years, the Martial Chamber, the Arsenal and Chapelle pavilions were opened to visitors. In 2019, the first eight rooms of the Alexander Palace are scheduled to be opened.

The museum is working hard to return the lost exhibits to the collection.

“Before the war, our entire museum collection was catalogued, so we have the exact numbers — about 110 thousand pieces. Of course, not all of them could be evacuated, only the finest items were evacuated – about 19 thousand items. Today we have in our collection more than 50 thousand items: these include items that we acquired at auctions, and those that we received from donors and sponsors. Descendants of soldiers and civilians who stole items as a souvenir from the palaces during the war years have returned more than a hundred items,” said Bott.

It is interesting to note that when the Alexander Palace was handed over to the Ministry of Defence in 1951, a total of 5,615 items that were still among the evacuated items in the Central Repository of Museum Stocks from the Suburban Palace-Museums, were transferred to the Pavlovsk Palace State Museum. Of these, nearly 200 pieces were from the Alexander Palace ceremonial halls. These included 39 pieces of porcelain, 41 paintings, 73 decorative bronze pieces, and 28 pieces of furniture. Let us hope that as a gesture of goodwill, that the Pavlovsk Palace-Museum administration will do the right thing, and return all of these items back to the Alexander Palace – PG

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 29 January 2019

1.2 Billion Rubles Allocated for Restoration of the Alexander Palace

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A recent photo of the facade of the Alexander Palace

On 18th January, an announcement was made that more than 1.2 billion rubles ($18 million USD) will be allocated for the restoration of the Alexander Palace and the Imperial Farm at the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve in 2019

The Government of the Russian Federation has finalized a draft decree which will allocate the necessary funding to complete the restoration of the Alexander Palace, ensuring that it will be open to visitors in 2020. In a previous news article, I noted that a partial reopening of the palace would take place in late 2019.

During a press conference held last Friday, Olga Taratynova, Director of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum, noted that several rooms of the Alexander Palace, where Emperor Nicholas II and his family lived, where planned to open in 2018, the year marking the 100th anniversary of the their murders on 17th July 1918. Unfortunately, their goal was not realized due to lack of funding. The initial estimate for the restoration of the historical interiors of the palace was estimated at 2 billion rubles ($30 million USD), but the federal budget only transferred 827 million rubles ($12 million USD), leaving the museum to look independently for the remaining balance. Ticket and excursion sales by the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve raised 279 million rubles ($4.2 million USD). The Russian Government have promised to allocate 1,027,930,000 rubles (15 million USD) in 2019.

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Vintage postcard of the Imperial Farm situated in the Alexander Park, Tsarskoye Selo

The Russian Government have also confirmed that an additional 187 million rubles ($2.8 million USD) have been allocated for the reconstruction of the Imperial Farm in 2019. This cost to complete this project is estimated at 713 million rubles ($10.8 million USD). Over the past few years, the Russian Government have invested 418 million rubles ($6.3 million USD) in the Imperial Farm, while the Central Scientific Research Geological Museum in St. Petersburg, contributed an additional 108 million rubles ($1.6 million USD).

The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve also have plans for the reconstruction of the Chinese Theatre and Mount Parnassus, both of which are situated in the Alexander Park.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 20 January 2019

Kazan Exhibition Features Colour Autochromes of the Alexander Palace in 1917

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On 17th July, the exhibition Tsarskoye Selo: the Last Residence of the Last Emperor, opened in the E.A. Boratynsky Museum (a branch of the National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan) in Kazan. The exhibition presents unique autochromes from the collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve. The exhibition is timed to mark the 100th anniversary of the murder of Russia’s last Imperial family in 1918. 

The life of the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II is closely connected with Tsarskoye Selo: on 18th May (6th May in the old style) in 1868, he was born in the Alexander Palace. From 1905, Nicholas II made the palace his permanent residence, in which he spent the last 12 years of reign. After his abdication on 15th March [O.S. 2nd March] 1917, the Emperor spent the first months of his house arrest in the palace. On 1st August 1917, the Emperor and his family left the Alexander Palace for the last time, his family was sent into exile to Tobolsk.

Immediately after the departure of the imperial family, the Kunsthistorico-Historical Commission, headed by Georgy Lukomsky, began work in the Alexander Palace. Photographer Andrey Zeest took 140 colour autochromes of the palace interiors.

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Colour autochromes of the Alexander Palace taken in 1917
© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve

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The fate of this unique collection is interesting. In November 1918, 843 images from black and white negatives and 83 color transparencies (autochrome) were transferred to the Kopeyka Publishing House. The pictures were supposed to be transferred to the Detskoye Selo department of artistic property, however, the transfer never took place. 

Now the collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve now consists of 93 autochromes, shot by Zeest in 1917. Thirty-three autochromes were acquired by the museum in 1968, from the heirs of a photographer, twelve – in 1958, from a British tourist from Oxford, England. In 2013, members of the Friends of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve Club Michael Piles and Mikhail Karisalov, financed the acquisition of another 48 autochromes at an auction in Paris.

The exhibition is complemented by documents relating to the links of Georgiy Lukomsky with Kazan, from the funds of the National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan, and printed editions issued for the coronation of Nicholas II from the Kazem-bek family collection courtesy of the Department of Manuscripts and Rare Books of the Lobachevsky Libraries.

The exhibition Tsarskoye Selo: the Last Residence of the Last Emperor marks the beginning of cooperation between the National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan and the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Reserve. 

The exhibition Tsarskoye Selo: the Last Residence of the Last Emperor, runs from 17th July to 17th August 2018, in the E.A. Boratynsky Museum (a branch of the National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan) in Kazan.

Click HERE to read more about the colour autochromes of the Alexander Palace, and HERE to watch a VIDEO of the collection.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 8 August 2018

Restoration of the Alexander Palace Further Delayed

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This article was researched from Russian media sources and written by Paul Gilbert, Founder of Royal Russia © 2018

The Alexander Palace, which has been closed for restoration since August 2015, is scheduled to reopen in the summer of 2018. According to Russian media sources, however, it will only be possible to view a few restored rooms located on the first floor in the eastern wing of the palace, where the private apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna are located.

These include the Mauve Study, the Palisander Drawing-Room, and the Imperial Bedroom. The restoration of the Tsar’s Old Study, the Valet’s Room, and the Moorish Bathroom are also near completion, while the restoration of the Library, the Maple Drawing-Room and the Corner Drawing-Room of Alexandra Feodorovna is not expected to be completed until sometime in 2019.

To date, extensive restoration work has been carried out in the basement area of the building, supporting structures have been reinforced, and the roofing system have all been reconstructed. Now the palace is focusing its resources on restoring the historical interiors. The complete restoration of the new Alexander Palace multi-museum complex is now anticipated to be completed by 2022.

Click HERE to review more than 40 illustrated articles on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 18 March 2018