Alexander III (1845–1894) was a born conservator; his father’s assassination by terrorists only assured him that Russia was not ready for a more liberal society. He turned Russia back to the old ideals of patriotism and populism protected by autocracy. Under the reign of Alexander III, Russia’s prestige was enormously high, and the country lived peacefully and orderly. Keeping Russia from war conflicts, he went down in Russian history as Tsar the Peacemaker whose reign gave the country a powerful upsurge in economic and cultural activity at the turn of the twentieth century.
An enthusiastic art lover and one of the major patrons of Peredvizhniki (The Wanderers or The Itinerants, a group of Russian realist artists), Alexander III gathered a remarkable collection of Russian paintings which formed the nucleus of fine art holdings of Alexander III’s visual arts museum at the Mikhailovsky Palace (now the State Russian Museum). Noted for his immense height and physical strength, the nearly 50-year-old Emperor died of nephritis at his favourite Livadia Palace in the Crimea, amongst his loving wife and children.
Emperor Alexander III spent his childhood and youth at Tsarskoe Selo. He and his brothers liked to play on the Children’s Island or in the Private Garden: they planted flowers and vegetables, exercised upon the net with ladders and ropes, stormed and defended by turns a toy fortress. In 1848 the whole imperial family spent the summer interruptedly at Tsarskoe Selo to avoid the cholera epidemic that was raging in St Petersburg. While the Grand Duke, he always celebrated his name-day – 30 August, St Alexander’s Day – in the Catherine Palace. On the year he turned sixteen the celebration was held in the Chinese Hall. It was Alexander’s first grown-up reception.
In 1866 he had to marry Princess Dagmar of Denmark (later Empress Maria Fiodorovna), the fiancée of his elder brother Nicholas who suddenly died young. After the wedding the couple moved into the Anichkov Palace in St Petersburg, but in the summer they always followed the tradition of living at Tsarskoe Selo where they were given personal apartments in the Alexander Palace. It is to Alexander III that we owe the appearance of brass bands in Russia; he himself played helicon. In 1872 a professional band was formed and the famous Thursday musical soirees began in the palace. The Emperor took great interest in Russian art: he bough only Russian artists’ works and hung them on the walls in his rooms. Maria Fiodorovna made cigarette-cases, then a novelty, a fashionable accessory. Alexander III, Maria Fiodorovna and their elder son, later Emperor Nicholas II, were keen collectors of cigarette-cases, lighters and cigarette-holders, which were a permanent feature of their studies in the palaces.
Deeply saddened by the death of his mother and the secret marriage of his father and Catherine Dolgorukova (Princess Yurievskaya) in June-July 1880, Alexander III and his family immediately left Tsarskoe Selo, moving to Peterhof for the remainder of the summer. They never returned to the Alexander Palace.