Kazan Exhibition Features Colour Autochromes of the Alexander Palace in 1917


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.


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


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

Exhibition: Alexander II at Tsarskoe Selo. ‘Home at last…’


The exhibition Alexander II at Tsarskoye Selo. ‘Home at last …’ dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the birth of Emperor Alexander II opened on 1st August.

The exhibition occupies the former private apartments of Alexander II on the first floor in the Zubov Wing of the Catherine Palace.

Unfortunately, the interiors of these rooms – as well as the apartments of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, situated on the second floor – were lost during the Great Patriotic War. Today, the interiors have survived only in the watercolours by Luigi Premazzi and Eduard Hau, as well as in illuminated works by photographer Steinmueller and other photographs from the 1930s. The exhibit attempts to “reconstruct”  a few of the rooms with some of their original furnishings and personal items of the Tsar-Liberator.

PHOTOS © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve

About 200 artifacts such as paintings, furniture and porcelain pieces, weapons, bronzes and uniforms which belonged to the emperor and members of his family when they were in residence at Tsarskoe Selo. The Ostankino Estate Museum in Moscow has loaned 25 pieces of furniture from Alexander’s Office in the Ostankino Palace.

The highlights include the arms from the non-restored Asiatic Room of the Catherine Palace, some personal effects – his clock, briefcase and portraits of his grandchildren – from Alexander’s desk, and some pieces of the famous Lyons furniture set from the sitting room of Alexander’s wife, Empress Maria Alexandrovna.

The exhibition Alexander II at Tsarskoye Selo. ‘Home at last …’ runs until 31st December 2018, in the Zubov Wing of the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. 

© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve / Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 3 August 2018

Russian Historical Rose Garden at Tsarskoye Selo


Empress Alexandra of Russia Rose. Фото: ГМЗ Царское Село

Tsarskoye Selo is currently hosting a small exhibition Russian Historical Rose Garden which features 11 outdoor display stands depicting the historical varieties of roses dedicated to the Russian empresses, members of the Imperial family, and high ranking individuals of the empire. 

The exhibit is located near the Tower Ruins in the Catherine Park. The exhibition is situated near the former Pink Field, commissioned by Catherine the Great.

Known as the “Queen of Flowers” – historically, the rose figured prominently in the lives of kings and emperors around the world. Russia was no exception. The history of the Russian Empire from the beginning of the last century before 1917 was reflected in the names of roses. In the list of “Russian” roses were the names of almost all the emperors and empresses, grand dukes and grand duchesses. They were developed primarily by French rose breeders.

Фото: ГМЗ Царское Село

The exhibit acquaints viewers with historic details written by the efforts of rose breeders and gardeners of many countries of the world.

Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, wife of Nicholas I, is dedicated the White Flower Rose or Blanchefleur. It was derived by the French gardener Jean-Pierre Vieber in 1835. The variety has medium white flowers with a slight pink tinge, which have a strong sweet scent. The empress surrounded herself with beautiful silver, and porcelain vases filled with roses. Her favorite flowers were bought in huge quantities and planted in all the gardens and parks wherever the Empress was in residence.

Catherine the Great’s love for roses is an historical fact. Being a native of the part of the world where this flower was elevated to the status of a cult, she paid tribute to it in her new homeland. It was during the reign of Catherine II that the Pink Field appeared in the Catherine Park of Tsarskoe Selo – a huge rose garden stretching over several hectares. Her collection was constantly replenished from Denmark, Holland, Germany, and France. New varieties were introduced – some of which were planted in the Pink Field during the summer, others planted in greenhouses for the winter.

For Catherine II, is dedicated the Catherine II Rose. It was derived by the French gardener Jean Laffey, who developed this variety in 1826, during the reign of the Alexander I, grandson of the Empress. The flowers are small to medium in size, have a very strong scent, the bush does not exceed 50 cm in height, blossoms only once in early summer. The variety has been preserved in many European collector’s rosaries to this day.


The former Pink Field of Empress Catherine II, as it looks today

Visitors can also learn about the breeding of certain varieties of roses inspired by the breeders of the Empress Maria Feodorovna (wife of Alexander III), Alexandra Feodorovna (wife of Nicholas II), Grand Duchess Olga Nikolayevna and other members of the Russian Imperial family.

The exhibition was prepared based on the materials of the landscape architect of the Alupka Palace and Park Museum-Reserve of Utah Arbatskaya with the participation of students from the International School of Design (St. Petersburg). 

© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve / Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 4 July 2018

Tsarskoye Selo Marks 15th Anniversary of Reconstructed Amber Room

The VIDEO (in Russian) presents stunning photographs of the details and elements of the reconstructed Amber Room

Fifteen years ago today, the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo celebrated a landmark event – the opening of the replicated Amber Room in the majestic Catherine Palace.

The original Amber Room was made in Germany under the guidance of Andreas Schluter, Gottfried Wolfram, Ernst Schacht, and Gottfried Turau from 1701 through 1715. The customer was Friedrich I of Prussia who initially planned installing it in Charlottenburg Palace. Eventually, the amber panels were installed at Berlin City Palace.

The masters used amber in the facing panels, ornamental boards and decorations.

Friedrich Wilhelm I who ascended the throne in 1716 presented the Amber Room to Tsar Peter I of Russia. In response, he received from Peter a group of 55 Russian grenadier soldiers and a cup carved out of ivory by the Russian Tsar himself. 

The disassembled room was delivered to St Petersburg in 1717 and reassembled in the lower lounge of the Visiting Chambers [dismantled in 1801] in the Summer Garden where Peter I also kept his collections and the library.

Peter’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth ordered ‘ameliorations’ in the composition of the room by adding more decorations to it. She also moved it to the Winter Palace. Master Alessandro Martelli ‘ameliorated’ the room under the supervision of arch-architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli.

Since the amber parlor of the Winter Palace had a much larger space than the similar parlors in German palaces, Rastrelli added new details – he separated the panels and put pilasters with mirrors in gilded frames between them.

The Amber Room was moved to the newly built Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo in 1755. It was here that Rastrelli had it assembled in a hall larger than the one used in the Winter Palace. It had a floor space of 96 square meters. The height of the wall measured 7.5 meters while the height of the amber boards did not exceed 4.75 meters.

Rastrelli added another six pilasters with mirrors to the composition and filled the remaining spaces with painted imitations of amber. He further decorated the upper tier with gilded woodcarving.

Maria Theresia, the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, presented Empress Elizabeth with Florentine mosaics by Giuseppe Zocchi showing the allegories of human senses Taste, Eyesight, Hearing, Touching and Scenting – which Rastrelli placed in the center of the four largest boards.

In 1763, the next Russian ruler, Catherine II ordered to replace the paintings with amber mosaics. The masters invited from Konigsberg and their Russian apprentices produced the supplementary details by 1770, using 450 kg of amber for the purpose. These elements united all the fragments of the decor into a single composition.

The decorative parquet in the room was made of fine woods. To make the premise still more impressive, the architects added plated commodes, also made of primary woods.

Amber proved to be a rather fragile material that responded erratically to the fluctuations of temperatures, stove heating and drafts. Its sensitiveness to these and other factors demanded small restoration works that took place in 1833, 1865, from 1893 through 1897, and in the post-revolutionary times from 1933 through 1935.


The original Amber Room in a photo taken in 1931

The directorate of the museum, which the Catherine Palace reported to after the Revolution of 1917, scheduled a major restoration for 1941. They had to scrap the plans, however, because of Nazi Germany’s invasion and the beginning of armed operations on the Soviet front that the Russians refer to as the Great Patriotic War.

The fragility of the material made it impossible to evacuate the Amber Room from the Catherine Palace in the first months of the war. The directorate decided to conserve the amber panels on the spot – by covering them up with paper and then with cheesecloth.

German troops seized the town of Pushkin on September 17, 1941. A commission for arts [Kunstkomission] which commanded the removal of the works of art to Germany was particularly active in the occupied territories. It worked in compliance with the lists drawn up back at home in advance.

Nazi experts apparently were not overburdened by the problem of the amber’s fragility. On October 14, 1941, they took the panels down and transported them to the Castle of Konigsberg [nowadays Kaliningrad, Russia] where these amber masterpieces remained until 1944.

When the Nazi troops were pulling out of East Prussia, the Amber Room was disassembled once again. Bombing raids turned the Castle of Konigsberg into ruins. The subsequent place of keeping of the panels remains unclear to this day.

The Central Commission for the Storage of Exhibits at Leningrad’s Suburban Palaces said in 1951 that the Nazi occupation had led to a loss of 30,151 museum items from the Catherine Palace.

The search for the Amber Room that was in progress from 1967 through 1984 did not produce any results. One of the versions suggested that the Germans had packed the panels into wooden boxes and had taken them out of the Castle of Konigsberg to an unknown destination. The other version held it that the panels had vanished in a fire.

Dozens of various suppositions regarding the whereabouts of the amber treasure were made over years but none of them received confirmation.

The Council of Ministers of the then Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic passed a decision in July 1979 to start works for replicating the Amber Room – a project which took 24 years to complete.


Tsarskoye Selo Amber Workshop

Architect Alexander Kedrinsky designed the reconstruction project. Experts from the specially organized Tsarskoye Selo Amber Workshop recreated the room’s composition on the basis of photos taken at the end of 1939.

Efforts taken by various organizations made it possible for the return of two original elements of the decorations – the Touching and Scenting mosaic and a plated commode – to the palace in 2000. They had been found in Germany.

The workshop received 6 tonnes of amber from the largest deposit on the Baltic Sea, which is located in the Kaliningrad region of Russia.

The works cost $ 11.35 mln. The German corporation Ruhrgas provided $ 3.5 million of that amount.

On May 31, 2003, Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Federal Chancellor Gerhardt Schroder led the ceremony of the first public presentation of the reconstructed Amber Room. 


The Amber Room as it looks today

Click HERE to read more articles, photos and videos on the history, reconstruction, and search for the original Amber Room

© TASS News Agency / Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 31 May 2018

Exhibition: The Romanovs. Family Archive


© The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve

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 Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve

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

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Restoration of the Lyons Hall in the Catherine Palace to be Completed in 2019

The above VIDEO shows the Lyons Hall as it looked in 1878, 1944 and 2018. The end of the video shows the recreation of the luxurious silk, and what the former Imperial hall will look after the restoration is complete – thanks to state of the art computer artistry. Once complete, the Lyons Hall will most certainly rank among one of the most beautiful interiors in the Catherine Palace – PG

During their occupation of Tsarskoye Selo during the Great Patriotic War (1941-44), the Nazis used the Catherine Palace as a barracks and later for target practice. When the Nazi forces retreated after the Siege of Leningrad in 1944, the former Imperial palace was plundered, and intentionally set ablaze, leaving only the hollow shell of the palace behind. 

After the Soviets retook Tsarskoye Selo, “the Catherine Palace presented a terrible scene. The great hall, the picture gallery and the gala staircase had all collapsed… The Amber Room had been stripped and the gala rooms gutted by a fire… A most terrible sight was Ratsrelli’s vista of golden doorways, now reduced to raw bricks laden with snow. Cameron’s classic suite of rooms was not destroyed but had been much vandalised,” notes Christopher Morgan and Irina Orlova in their book Saving the Tsar’s Palaces (2005).

Prior to World War II, Soviet archivists managed to document a fair amount of the interior, which proved of great importance in reconstructing the palace.

Although the largest part of the reconstruction was completed in time for the Tercentenary of St. Petersburg in 2003, much work is still required to restore the palace to its former glory.

Among the projects is the Lyons Hall, which has been undergoing a costly restoration for many years now. Up until recently, the Lyons Hall only offered visitors surviving items from its pre-war furnishings and a copy of Luigi Premazzi’s watercolour of 1878 titled The Lyons Hall (Yellow Drawing-Room) in the Great Palace of Tsarskoye Selo, which demonstrates its mid-nineteenth century splendour.


The Lyons Hall (Yellow Drawing-Room) Artist: Luigi Premazzi (1878)

The interior is the creation of two architects: Charles Cameron (1745-1812) and later Ippolito Monighetti (1819-1878). Decorated with lapis lazuli and a luxury silk wall lining from Lyons (hence the name), the hall was finished by Cameron in the 18th-century Classical style in 1781-83. It was reworked in 1848-61 by Monighetti who treated Cameron’s work with great delicacy, intensifying the visual impact of the room by adding new furnishings: mirrors above the fireplaces, flanked by white marble cupids, and lapis-lazuli sconces on the walls. The room was filled with tables, jardinières, cachepots, screens, pedestals and desks.

Monighetti designed the gorgeous chandelier for 84 candles made of lapis lazuli and gilded bronze, which beautifully completed the now-lost exquisite ceiling décor.

The architect’s highlight for the Lyons Hall is the gilt-bronze and lapis-lazuli furniture set with such a unique feature as the monogram of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, spouse of Alexander II. The initials are an indication of the owner for whom these pieces were specially commissioned in 1856 from the Peterhof Lapidary Works to spruce up the empress’s favourite interior of the palace. Its Afghan lapis lazuli of rich deep colour with golden speckles is superbly set off by the gilded bronze surroundings.


Newly upholstered chair, made with unique silk for the Lyons Hall
© Государственный музей-заповедник Царское Cело

The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve are committed to completing the restoration of the Lyons Hall, with plans to open it to the public by the summer of 2019. The first stage of the restoration has already been completed by the upholstery of the three original armchairs with unique silk made from old samples and sketches. The next stage – the production of this material for walls and curtains, as well as the restoration and installation of the ceiling and floors.

Click HERE to read more about the restoration of the Lyons Hall in the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo 

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 24 May 2018

Angels Return to the Catherine Palace Chapel


Original 18th century angels discovered in the Catherine Palace Chapel
Photos © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve

This article has been edited from its original by Paul Gilbert, Founder of Royal Russia © 2018

The ongoing restoration of the Catherine Palace Chapel (Church of the Resurrection) is full of some interesting finds and discoveries.

A few months ago the restorers uncovered 182 fragments of carved gilt décor carefully hidden in the altar section of the chapel. It is believed that this was probably done by museum workers during the Soviet years, in hopes that the 18th century architectural masterpiece would be revived someday.


Angel figures fitting with details of Altar Canopy in the Catherine Palace Chapel
Photos © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve

Painstaking work was carried out to identify the fragments and find out their original places in the church interior. One wing of the Tsar’s Gate was assembled from 54 of the fragments.

The hidden treasure also contained some joyful gems: two angel figures from the altar canopy, with their hands and feet detached and preserved. These crippled victims of World War II have been waiting to see the light for decades. Restorers note that the angel figures fit perfectly into the surviving details on the canopy, allowing the restorers from the Tsarskoye Selo Amber Workshop a wonderful opportunity to restore what was destroyed during the war.


A sample of the 182 fragments of carved gilt décor found hidden in the Altar
Photos © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve


The Palace Chapel was looted during the Nazi occupation of Tsarskoye Selo in the 1940s. Its frescoes and icons were almost completely lost and its gilt carvings scattered throughout the park.

The interior underwent conservation during the Soviet period. Back then the primary task was to restore the Golden Enfilade of the palace. Alexander Kedrinsky, the museum’s head architect was dreaming of the day when he could begin to revive the Chapel. He initiated the restoration project, but full-scale works did not begin until 2015 with financial assistance by Gazprom.

Click HERE (13 September 2017) and HERE (5 June 2015) to read more about the history and restoration of the Catherine Palace Church, and HERE (5 September 2017)to watch a video (in Russian). 

© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve / Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 12 April, 2018