THE ROMANOV LEGACY
FINDS NEW LIFE
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A version of this article appeared in print on March 8, 2013, on page C28 of the New York edition with the headline: The Romanov Legacy Finds New Life by Eve M. Kahn
The Soviets, as brutally and thoroughly as any foreign invader, looted the Romanov collections of art, jewelry, furniture and books. In the 1920s and ’30s aged Russian scholars and curators were forced to catalog treasures, so that foreigners could browse and buy them from the Communist government.
When the Romanov goods for sale were laid out on tables in the Soviet Union, shoppers smirked and tried on crown jewels. “One would see the ridicule with which some of these sales were conducted,” the historian Edward Kasinec said during a lecture at a Columbia University conference last month, part of the year’s commemorations of the Romanov dynasty’s 400th anniversary.
Once the Soviets had finished the huge sell-offs, he added, the scholar guardians had outlived their usefulness and were executed or sent to gulags.
Curators are now tracking down scattered imperial possessions. More material has recently surfaced from palaces and even the Romanov family’s assassination site at Yekaterinburg, Russia.
At the Columbia conference Vladimir von Tsurikov, the director of the Foundation of Russian History at Holy Trinity Monastery and Orthodox Seminary in Jordanville, N.Y., showed an image of a pearl-and-diamond earring rescued in 1918 from the crime scene. It belonged to Czarina Alexandra. It was long kept at the Russian Orthodox Church on Park Avenue at 93rd Street, and a few weeks ago it was turned over to the foundation.
Just one earring was retrieved from the evidence trail of carnage in the woods.
A pearl earring of Czarina Alexandra, from Yekaterinburg. Photo: Vladimir von Tsurikov/Foundation of Russian History
The Foundation of Russian History also owns clothing, dentures and cuff links that Nicholas II’s family and staff wore in their last days, and cheap little religious icons that gave them some spiritual comfort. In October the Jordanville monastery will open an expanded museum for Russian Orthodox and Czarist material.
At Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library “Quartercentenary of the House of Romanov,” an exhibition through June 28, displays Alexandra’s lace parasol, a 1918 report on the Yekaterinburg crime investigation and correspondence among Romanovs who managed to escape the Bolsheviks.
In a 1928 letter Nicholas II’s younger sister Olga reported to a relative that the death of her mother, Maria Feodorovna, had deprived them of “everything that connected us with our childhood.”
The library’s Bakhmeteff Archive has acquired reams of imperial family writings over the years, some of them wrenchingly emotional. “I couldn’t even display some of them,” the exhibition’s curator, Tanya Chebotarev, said during a recent gallery tour.
She declined to disclose any secrets revealed in the pages. But she did point out an Imperial Army officer’s uniform from the 1910s that his longtime mistress had donated to the library.
“It’s like a mosaic,” Ms. Chebotarev said of the process of reassembling artifacts from Romanov era life. “You talk to people, and they bring you something, and you piece things together.”
Through June 8 the Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens in Washington is filling a 1960s log dacha replica on the grounds with an exhibition, “Pageant of the Tsars: The Romanov Coronation Albums.” The curators gathered luxury objects produced for ceremonies throughout Russia’s dizzying series of new leaders taking over for assassinated predecessors.
As they came to power the Romanovs would commission souvenir portraits, diamond badges, linen handkerchiefs and porcelain cups. Menus with colorful folk motifs were printed for feasts of turtle soup and truffled chicken.
The family’s former possessions regularly turn up on the market as well. In November, at a sale of Romanov books and memorabilia at Christie’s in London, a heartbreaking batch of 1910s postcards that Nicholas and Alexandra’s four daughters sent to a friend brought $30,000.
On Feb. 10 a miniature silver chaise longue with Maria Feodorovna’s monogram sold for $14,000 at the Main Auction Galleries in Cincinnati. On Feb. 17 Clars Auction Gallery in Oakland, Calif., sold a 19th-century gilded side chair bearing Winter Palace inventory markings for $1,800.
From next Friday to March 24 at the Tefaf Maastricht show in the Netherlands, the London dealer Shapero Rare Books will offer Alexander II’s album of watercolors depicting artillery. A La Vieille Russie, the New York gallery founded in Kiev in 1851, is bringing gold and silver jewelry and vessels that the Romanovs gave to one another and dignitaries. A Fabergé seal at the London dealer Wartski’s booth was made from a bullet that went astray in the crowd during a 1905 gun salute to Nicholas II but did not injure anyone.
On April 15 Christie’s in New York will offer a pink porcelain vase with silver Fabergé trim (with an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000) that was listed in Nicholas II’s ledger books.
On April 6 the Skinner auction house in Boston will offer a cluster of Romanov objects, including a creamy leather baby shoe ($3,000 to $5,000) said to have belonged to the Tsarevich Alexei, the son of Nicholas II who also died at Yekaterinburg, at 13.
Source & Copyright: The New York Times