My first visit to the Alexander Palace was on September 5th, 1997. I have returned every year to discover new aquisitions, speak with the curators and staff, and to soak up the ambiance of this historic residence, its adjoining park and numerous pavilions. In the past few years my interest has been piqued even further with interesting new exhibitions and the initiation of long awaited restoration work on the palace.
After the departure of the Russian navy in 2009 the palace was officially handed over to the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve. The palace's new custodians wasted no time implenting their plans to convert the neglected monument into a multi-use museum and exhibition complex. They restored the 3 State Rooms in six months, and turned the former children's rooms of Tsar Nicholas II into exhibition rooms. This was only the beginning!
My Russia is a series of articles which I write for Royal Russia, a unique publication that celebrates the Romanov dynasty and Imperial Russia in words and photographs. In the current issue I write about the history of the Alexander Palace as a museum since 1917, including restorations since World War II. Further, I provide details on the restorations which will continue through to 2018. I also offer a two-page study of the Restoration of the Alexander Palace Master Plan by Studio 44, the architectural studio in charge of the restoration of the Alexander Palace.
My Russia: The Rebirth of the Alexander Palace appears in Royal Russia Annual No. 3 (2013). The article is 11 pages in length and illustrated with numerous black and white photographs which I took myself during my visit to the Alexander Palace last summer. It is one of nine articles on the Romanovs, monarchy and Imperial Russia that appear in this issue.
The Alexander Palace captures the interest and imagination of Russophiles and Romanovphiles around the world. My article is the most current and up-to-date on the restoration and future of the last residence of Tsar Nicholas II and his family.
Faberge at the Yale Center for British Art Topic: Faberge
A Fabergé bell push, in exhibit at the Yale Center for British Art. Photo Credit: The Royal Collection/Queen Elizabeth II
The three sumptuous objects, studded with gemstones and embellished with gold, are too large to be worn as jewelry; they’re too small to serve as display pieces. If they were boxes, they might hold stamps or face powder; but they don’t open. Their exquisite workmanship implies instead that they exist only to be beautiful.
But the labels at the Yale Center for British Art reveal them to be bell pushes, fashioned by Carl Fabergé at the turn of the 20th century for the newly electrified system for summoning servants at Buckingham Palace. That an item so utterly utilitarian, and so emblematic of modernity, would also represent the height of handmade luxury is one of the many contradictions that ripple through the center’s splendid new show, “Edwardian Opulence: British Art at the Dawn of the 20th Century.”
“Edwardian Opulence: British Art at the Dawn of the 20th Century” consists of 170 items arrayed on two floors at the Yale Center for British Art, 1080 Chapel Street, New Haven, through June 2. Information: britishart.yale.edu or (203) 432-2800.
Dallas Auction Gallery to Sell Imperial Porcelain Vases Topic: Auctions
On April 17, the Dallas Auction Gallery in Texas will sell a pair of extremely rare and exquisite 19th century vases made by the Imperial Porcelain Factory for the Russian czar. The vases will sell as a pair, and their estimate is $1 million to $1.5 million.
The precious vases mysteriously disappeared after the communists seized power in 1917 and plunged Russia into civil war, but a decade later they found their way to an American collection. In circumstances not fully clear, the 1.3-meter high vases probably left Russia during the sell-off of Imperial treasures that was the policy of the new Soviet government. In the mid 1920s the vases appeared for sale at the famous Bernheimer Gallery in Munich, Germany, and were subsequently purchased by American oil magnate, Frank Buttram, and his wife, who were touring Europe. The couple’s travel diary clearly lists their purchase of the Russian vases.
Mr Buttram (1886-1966) was born into a family of native American famers from the Chickasaw Nation. He eventually became one of Oklahoma’s famous “oil kings,” creating Buttram Petroleum Company, one of America’s largest oil companies before World War II. His heirs, who also reside in Oklahoma, are selling the vases.
Russian Imperial vases are some of the most valuable porcelain items ever made, selling for as much as $5 million for a pair. Their great value owes to the fact that they were made for the Czar and the empire’s most powerful aristocrats. The vases are large and difficult to produce, and they were made by the leading porcelain artists and craftsmen of the period.
"The rediscovery of these two Imperial vases is very exciting, first and foremost because they are of extremely high quality and date from the reign of Nicholas I, the golden era of Russian porcelain production" said Ekaterina Khmelnitskaya, curator of Russian porcelain at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, the former Imperial capital where the vases were made. "In addition, it’s an incredible surprise to find Russian Imperial vases in the heart of the American "Wild" West, which Soviet propaganda told us was a brutal and lawless place."
In September Ms Khmelnitskaya studied the vases in an independent private capacity, and confirmed their authenticity.
The bodies of both bandeau shaped vases have a rich plum colored ground, and are decorated with handles shaped as acanthus scrolls. The superb execution of the raised ornamentation creates an illusion of gilded chased metal or bronze. One vase is decorated with a copy of a painting from the collection of the Hermitage Museum -- "The Concert" by Dutch painter, A. Palamedes (1600-1673).
"Based on archival records, we know that this painting was sent from the Hermitage to the Imperial Porcelain Factory in 1832 in order to make a copy on a vase," said Ms. Khmelnitskaya. "The painting on this vase was created by Semyon Golov (1783-1849), who was one of the best copyists, specializing in historical paintings and painting figures."
The painting that was copied on the second vase cannot be identified. According to Hermitage experts, we know that this 17th century Dutch painting is no longer in the Hermitage. It probably was sold abroad with other artworks in the 1920s. But we do know that Vasily Meshcheriakov (1781-?) was the author of the porcelain copy of this painting. He was one of the factory’s best copyists, who frequently reproduced pictures on vases, many of which can still be seen in the Hermitage porcelain collection, and in other major Russian museums.
Experts are very excited by the fact that the Imperial vases in Dallas are close relatives of a pair that is still in the Hermitage Museum.
"The Hermitage has a pair of the same bandeau-shaped vases with a blue background and with the same gilded décor," said Ms Khmelnitskaya. "They were created in 1831 and based on our archival research they were presented to Emperor Nicholas I as an Easter gift. The paintings on these vases were also made by the artists Golov and Meshcheriakov. Most likely after they finished the pair still in the Hermitage they began to paint the pair of vases at the Dallas Auction Gallery."
Russian Imperial porcelain – a brief history
The Imperial Porcelain Factory was founded in 1744 by Empress Elizabeth I, the daughter of Peter the Great. It is one of oldest porcelain factories in the West, and was the personal property of the Russian royal family, primarily working to outfit imperial palaces with the finest tableware and items for interior decoration.
During the reign of Nicholas I (1796 - 1855, emperor since 1825), the Imperial Porcelain Factory achieved an unprecedented level of production. Professional masters, benefitting from an improved production cycle, perfected the artistic quality of the factory’s output. Large porcelain vases were the most prized items, and they were given the best spots in palace interiors: placed above fireplaces, rested on special pedestals in the center or corners of rooms, and flanked grand staircases.
The IPF has survived revolution, nationalizaton, and war, and today it still produces porcelain, owned by Moscow businessman, Nikolai Tsvetkov and his wife, Galina. The factory’s museum, however, is owned by the State Hermitage Museum, and thus we have a near complete history of Russian Imperial porcelain.
Faberge Imperial Jewelry at TEFAF Maastricht Topic: Faberge
A stickpin and a golden brooch with diamonds purporedly given to Russian ballerina Anna Pavlovna
New-York based art and antique gallery A La Vieille Russie (ALVR) is preparing to exhibit a cross-section of its inventory at the world-renowned European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in the Netherlands.
Among the works to be shown will be is a selection of unique pieces by Fabergé including a 19th century presentation charger, a range of jewelry created for the Romanov family, and a collection of miniature hardstone carvings of animals and insects crafted from semi-precious stones.
The highlight is a set of precious gifts — both Fabergé creations — that famed Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova received for her performance at the Imperial Hermitage Theater in 1898: a stickpin and a golden brooch with diamonds.
A La Vieille Russie will also showcase ornamental objects and jewelry crafted for the Russian Imperial family, including a round platter made of gilded silver, which was commissioned to celebrate the planned coronation of the Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich of Russia in 1825, which never took place since Konstantin had secretly renounced his claim to the throne in 1823.
“We want to show the lavishness, the sophistication of design, the quality and the beauty of antique jewelry,” says Mark Schaffer, a partner in A La Vieille Russie.
Established in 1851 in Kiev, and now located in New York on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, the dealers have participated in TEFAF Maastricht for 21 years.
Hermitage Museum Society Welcomes Paul Gilbert Topic: Paul Gilbert
Paul Gilbert was the guest speaker at the Women's Art Association of Canada in Toronto last night. The event was hosted by the Hermitage Museum Society of Toronto.
Gilbert offered a powerpoint presentation in two parts. The topic of Part I (40 minutes) was entitled Far from the Fatherland: The Romanovs in Exile. Guests were introduced to members of the Russian Imperial family who escaped Russia after the Revolution. A series of slides were presented with discussion on the grand dukes and grand duchesses and their life in exile.
The topic of Part II (20 minutes) was entitled The Russian Succession. Gilbert discussed the Russian succession laws laid down Emperor Paul I in 1797. He went on to explain the legitimist claims of Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich, and the current Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna.
The event was held in the Gignam Gallery of the Women's Art Association of Canada and was well attended by members of the Hermitage Museum Society, as well as supporters of Royal Russia.
Paul Gilbert has dedicated the last 20 years to the full time study of the Romanov dynasty. He is the founder of Royal Russia, a web site that received more than 1.2 million visitors in 2012, and the publisher and editor of more than 30 books on the Romanovs and the popular magazine Royal Russia Annual.
Earlier this year he was elevated to the Imperial and Royal Order of St. Stanislav, III Class in recognition of a lifetime of service to the Russian Imperial House.
The edict was signed by HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna on January 7th, 2013. The date for the presentation ceremony is expected to take place in Russia later this year.
It is truly a rare privilege for non-Russians to receive one of the historic Imperial orders of knighthood.
Moscow Hosts First Meeting of Russian Military History Society Topic: Museums
The first meeting of Russia’s Military History Society has begun in Moscow. The Head of the Voice of Russia’s Russian-language service, Armen Gasparyan has been on its board as a co-founder and author of several books on the history of Russian warfare.
Attending the board meeting is Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, head of the Central Elections Committee Vladimir Churov, head of Russia’s Ingushetia region and an active service officer Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, as well as a famous Russian film director Stanislav Govorukhin.
The Imperial Russian Military Historical Society was originally founded in 1907. The first meeting was held in April, its charter was approved by members in August. Tsar Nicholas II was appointed Honourary Chairman in September, granting the society with Imperial status.
President Vladimir Putin is expected to take part in the fund’s meeting that will continue the tradition of the Emperor’s Military History Society established in 1907 and disbanded a decade later.
The society will promote the study of Russia’s military history to commemorate the fallen, maintain historical monuments and explore ancient battlegrounds, the Kremlin said.
Prominent historians from all over the world have gathered in Moscow to discuss the history of the Romanov dynasty, which marks its 400th anniversary this year. The conference aims to break stereotypes, reconsider perceptions, and root out "unprofessional" ways of looking at history.
Voice of Russia's Anastasia Fedorova reports from Moscow.
The historians met at the Russian State University for Humanities to discuss the legacy of the royal family.
A Russian Moment No. 8 - Constantine Palace, Strelna Topic: A Russian Moment
An equestrian statue of Peter the Great stands guard in the courtyard of the Constantine Palace at Strelna.
In 1797, the Constantine Palace at Strelna (near St. Petersburg) was granted to Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich (the second son of Emperor Paul I) and his wife Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna. Constantine did not have any direct heirs and therefore upon his death in 1831, his brother Emperor Nicholas I presented the palace to his son, Grand Duke Constantine Nicholayevich who was only three years old at the time. After his death in 1892, the palace devolved to his son, Grand Duke Dmitri Constantinovich. His brother, Grand Duke Constantine Constantinovich "KR" and his family were frequent visitors to the palace inbetween stays at their other residences of Pavlovsk and the Marble Palace.
Many years back I visited the palace when it was in a terrible state of disrepair. Several years later, it was announced that in preparation for the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the founding St. Petersburg, the Russian government decided to restore the palace and its grounds as a state conference center and presidential residence.
I returned in 2005 and met Galina Nicholayevna Eregina, who offered me a private tour of the newly restored palace. I was shown the grand halls and the private study of Grand Duke Constantine Constantinovich. My hostess held the former poet in high regard and was the custodian of a small museum dedicated to the Konstantinovichi branch of the Romanov family.
It was during this visit that Mrs. Eregina presented me with a copy of the English edition of her book, Strelna: Konstantinovsky Palace and Park Ensemble and Historic Places which she personalised for me.
Amsterdam Examines Peter the Great, the Inspired Tsar Topic: Exhibitions
Prince Willem-Alexander at the Peter the Great exhibit, Amsterdam Hermitage
On March 8, Prince of Orange Willem-Alexander presided over the opening ceremony of the exhibition “Peter the Great, the Inspired Czar” at the Hermitage Amsterdam. The exhibition paints a picture of this unconventional, inspired and inquisitive Russian tsar, who by the time he took power at the age of 17 was determined to transform his country.
Peter is credited with reforming the military and the church, expanding trade and industry, and improving education and public health. He turned Russia into a great European power with a brand-new capital city: St Petersburg, his “window on the West.” With historical artifacts, paintings, gold jewelry from the ancient world, weapons and unique documents, the exhibition will sketch the life of this peerless ruler. From his youth Peter collected art, including a Rembrandt, planting the seed for St Petersburg’s later Hermitage collection.
An enthusiastic traveler, he visited Western Europe, including the Dutch Republic. It was the city of Amsterdam, in particular, that inspired him to found his new capital. Peter befriended many leading figures in Dutch society, such as Nicolaas Witsen (mayor of Amsterdam), Christoffel van Brants (shipper, and grain and arms merchant), Albert Seba (apothecary and collector of natural curiosities) and Frederik Ruysch (physician, anatomist and botanist).
Like a sponge, he absorbed what they taught him about shipbuilding, making instruments, carpentry, etching, dissection, pulling teeth, making paper, gardening, bookmaking, and much more. Find out how this knowledge bore fruit in Russia during your visit to Peter the Great, an Inspired Tsar. You will also find many of Peter’s personal effects, such as his suits and one of his coaches, which show how profoundly he was influenced by Western tastes.
The exhibition will be based on the collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, with additional pieces from the collections of museums and institutions in the Netherlands and elsewhere.
In 2013, the Netherlands, Russia, and the city of Amsterdam are celebrating their special relationship. The two countries have been major trading partners since the Dutch Golden Age, and their ties grew stronger in the centuries that followed. When Napoleon was defeated in 1813, Russian Cossacks advanced as far as the gates of Amsterdam. One Dutch prince even married the sister of a tsar. The year 2009 saw a crowning moment in Dutch-Russian relations: the opening of the Hermitage Amsterdam, the only European satellite of the famous St Petersburg museum.