Alexander II at Tsarskoe Selo: 'Home at last…' is our exhibition dedicated to the 200th birth anniversary of Emperor Alexander II.
It occupies the former private rooms of Alexander II on the first floor in the Zubov Wing of the Catherine Palace.
Lost during WWII, those interiors survived only in watercolours by Luigi Premazzi and Eduard Hau, as well as in illuminated works by photographer Steinmueller and other photographs from 1930s. Our display attempts to “reconstruct” a few of the rooms with some of their original furnishings (see pictures above).
About 200 artifacts such as paintings, furniture and porcelain pieces, weapons, bronzes and uniforms which belonged to the emperor and his family members and were used by them at Tsarskoe Selo, are presented by our Museum and by Moscow’s Ostankino Estate Museum. The latter loaned to the exhibition 25 furniture pieces from Alexander’s Office in the Ostankino Palace.
The highlights include the arms from the non-restored Asiatic Room of the Catherine Palace (pic.3 above), some personal effects – his clock, briefcase and portraits of his grandchildren – from Alexander’s desk (pic.2 & 5), and some pieces of the famous Lyons furniture set from the sitting room of Alexander’s wife, Empress Maria Alexandrovna (pic.4).
Catherine Palace, Zubov Wing, 1st floor
May–Sep: Entrance from Private Garden Closed during rain
Oct–Dec: Entrance from Palace Vestibule (no fast-track entry to the palace, sorry)
10:00 – 18:00 (tickets and entry until 17:00)
Closed Tuesday and Last Monday of each month
Audio guides in English or Russian included
Adults – free (+Rub 50 for audio guide if needed)
Students (with hard copy ID), Schoolchildren above 16 – free (+Rub 50 for audio guide if needed)
Visitors under 16 – free (+Rub 50 for audio guide if needed)
As the favourite summer residence of Alexander II and his family, Tsarskoe Selo was a place where many private and formal events happened in different periods of the Emperor’s life.
Alexander spent part of his childhood summers and autumns together with his parents at the Alexander Palace, which had a children’s house on a small island in a nearby pond for the children of Nicholas I to play and boat. They also enjoyed a playground in the Alexander Park near the White Tower, with an earth bulwark, a gym, a maze, a swing and a mast with a rope ladder. Besides games and entertainment, the young Alexander’s life at Tsarskoe Selo was full of studies. His tutor Karl Merder, Captain of the Life-Guards Izmailovsky Regiment, and his mentor Vasily Zhukovsky, a poet, enlightener and a close friend of Alexander Pushkin, were the teachers Alexander loved and highly regarded all his life.
His wedding to Maria Alexandrovna (the Orthodox name of Princess Maximiliane Wilhelmine Auguste Sophie Marie of Hesse and by Rhine) took place at the Winter Palace of St Petersburg in April 1841. After two weeks of wedding celebrations, the newlyweds retired to the Alexander Palace but soon moved to the Great Palace of Tsarskoe Selo, where the future Emperor occupied the first floor rooms in the Zubov Wing and his wife the former rooms of Catherine II upstairs.
With their springs and autumns spent at Tsarskoe Selo, the Tsesarevich and Tsesarevna’s early marriage years were filled with mutual warmth and understanding. The Grand Ducal couple usually began their day with morning tea in Maria Alexandrovna’s dining room after Alexander took a walk around the Great Pond in the Catherine Park. Then they paid a daily visit to his mother, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, at the Alexander Palace. According to contemporaries, “the almost daily gatherings at the young couple’s were dominated by joviality and ease; all were engaged in reading, music, playing whist; the most august host and hostess charmed their guests with amiability and sympathetic benevolence.”
Alexander alternated days of rest and entertainment at the residence with days in St Petersburg where he participated in the State Council, the Committee of Ministers, the Senate and the Synod and in military parades and reviews. In love with Tsarskoe Selo too, without her husband Maria spent her time in long walks around the park with a maid of honour.
Their first child, Grand Duchess Alexandra (1842–49), was born at Tsarskoe Selo in August 1842. Her baptismal ceremony took place at the Palace Chapel and her godfather was Emperor Nicholas I.
With Alexander’s succession to the throne in 1855, his lifestyle at Tsarskoe Selo changed. Like in St Petersburg, he had to receive ministerial reports and convene meetings in his office at the Zubov Wing of the Catherine Palace, where he deliberated on the future reforms, made his decisions and signed the most important documents. It was there that the meetings of the Commission for the Emancipation of the Serfs were held. One of Alexander’s favourite pastimes in the scarce hours of rest was to draw military uniforms — his “infatuation” since young years. He also spent his free time in the alleys of the Catherine Park, strolling with his dog in the morning and riding in a carriage in the evening. Heading off on trips across Russia and abroad, Alexander II would often start them from his favourite residence, where he always returned afterwards.
At Tsarskoe Selo Alexander II experienced the tragedies and the joys of his family’s life. His sister, Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna, died at the Alexander Palace on July 29, 1844. His mother, Dowager Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, died there on October 20, 1860. In spring 1865, the news from French Nice told the Emperor of the fatal illness of his eldest son Nicholas, the heir apparent; Alexander left Tsarskoe Selo to be with the dying “Nixa” and then came back to spend here the mournful days before the son’s burial at the cathedral of the Peter and Paul Fortress. On May 22, 1880, Empress Maria died after a long and serious illness; Alexander received the bad news at Tsarskoe Selo and returned here immediately after her funeral.
On May 6, 1868, Alexander’s first grandson, the future Emperor Nicholas II of Russia, was born at Tsarskoe Selo to his younger son Tsesarevich Alexander and Tsesarevna Maria Feodorovna.
In 1868 Tsarskoe Selo celebrated Alexander’s 50th anniversary as Patron of the Life-Guards Hussar Regiment. A regimental patron of many units, his ceremonial position with the Hussars was of special significance to him because he was appointed by Emperor Alexander I on April 27, 1818, when he was only 10 days old. That is how his 50th birth anniversary coincided with that of the patronage.
One of the last important events in Alexander’s life at Tsarskoe Selo was his morganatic wedding to Princess Catherine Dolgorukova (1849–1922) on July 6, 1880. A secretive ceremony was held in front of a mobile altar set in a room in the Great Palace of Tsarskoe Selo. Then Catherine was given the title of Princess Yurievskaya.
Alexander II had love and devotion for Tsarskoe Selo until the end of his life. He watched over the condition of the palaces and parks, which held many special memories for him. Already formed by that time, the imperial summer residence underwent no significant changes during his reign, except for a few new rooms and some new decorative elements in the old ones.
The new splendid interiors in the Great Palace of Tsarskoe Selo were the Moorish-style Asiatic (Turkish) Room, the Main Staircase in Neo-Rococo and the Lyons Drawing Room “in the Louis 14th style”.
The Asiatic Room, designed by the artist Heinrich von Mayr, came to being after the Crimson Sitting Room was rebuilt in 1851, when Alexander was the heir apparent. Its main decorative element was a collection of Oriental weapons consisting of gifts from diplomats and courtiers and items brought from the East. The Oriental style of the interior was complemented by sofas with velvet cushions, coffee tables inlaid with mother-of-pearl, a variety of oriental jugs, trays, coffeepots, censers, and kumgan pitchers for beverages. Its centerpiece was a fountain.
The Main Staircase in the center of the palace was rebuilt in 1860–63 to the design of the court architect Ippolito Monighetti. Executed in marble and decorated with openwork carved balustrades and figured vases, it had stucco molding walls with eighteenth-century Chinese and Japanese porcelain vases and dishes and with monograms of Maria Alexandrovna and Alexander Nikolaevich on the balconies and above the door portals.
The Lyons Drawing Room, redesigned by Monighetti in 1857, became one of the most spectacular interiors in Empress Maria Alexandrovna’s quarters in the Great Palace. Following the customer’s taste and the fashion trends, Monighetti created a new architectural décor and new furnishings, such as a lapis-lazuli and gilt-bronze set of furniture and lighting fixtures made to his design in the early 1860s, with the monogram of the empress who considered lapis lazuli her favourite semiprecious stone. The décor and furniture were the emperor’s present to his wife on their 25th wedding anniversary.