Emperor Alexander I of Russia (1777-1825) deemed the Great Tsarskoe Selo Palace his favourite home, where he spent his childhood and youth summers together with his most august grandmother, Catherine II.
Although in 1776 Alexander, then Grand Duke, received his own palace (a wedding present from Catherine II, subsequently named after him), when he ascended to the throne he still preferred to live in his old rooms in the Great Tsarskoe Selo Palace, where Alexander, being fond of peaceful suburban solitude, at times stayed even in winter months during the 1820s. Alexander I’s personal rooms were located north of the Picture Hall and included the Drawing-Room, the Small White Dining-Room, the Dressing Room, the Bedroom, the Study, and the “Hermitage Dining-Room.” The latter and several unnamed small rooms were rebuilt in 1817 by the architect Vasily Stasov into the State (Marble) Study, the Oval Anteroom, the Vaulted Passage Room, and the Reception or ‘Papel’ (poplar) Room. Those interiors became perfect examples of the Russian Empire Style.
Designed by the Italian architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli for Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, the Bedroom was finished only after her death. It was occupied by Elizabeth’s successor, Catherine the Great, who in 1782 handed it down to her beloved grandson, the future Emperor Alexander I, after her personal rooms were built in the southern part of
the palace. In a letter to her mother dated January 10th, 1822 the spouse of Alexander I, Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna (Louise of Baden), remarked that “the Emperor loved his Bedroom like something animate.”
The Working or Small Study of Emperor Alexander I retained its mid-eighteenth-century design until the early 1800s. Between the Study and the Bedroom there were two other interiors: the Valet’s Room, and the Library with bookcases holding books and magazines and with portraits of the Emperor’s favourite relatives. Much of Alexander I’s occupied daily life was spent in the Study, where he liked to work far from the capital and the noisy Court. He often said, “One day at Tsarskoe Selo is more effective for me than a whole week in Petersburg.”
Events of the later years of Alexander I’s reign were closely connected with Tsarskoe Selo as well. Here he spent the last night before his fatal voyage to Taganrog in 1825. Here, in the early spring of 1826, the imperial family saw Alexander’s remains brought back and mourned him at a quiet intimate memorial service in the Palace Chapel.
It was Alexander’s brother and successor, Nicholas I, who proposed to preserve Alexander I’s rooms at Tsarskoe Selo intact and thus to immortalize the memory of the Emperor. The family members never lived in those interiors again but kept the furnishings in the same state and condition as they were when Alexander I left his home for the last time.
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of Alexander I’s death the spouse of Emperor Alexander II, Empress Maria Alexandrovna, ordered from the painter Luigi Premazzi a watercolour depicting “the bedchamber of the Sovereign Emperor Alexander Pavlovich in the old palace of Tsarskoe Selo.” The 50th anniversary his death was commemorated with the watercolour The Working Study of the Emperor by Eduard Hau. The interior decor remained untouched after the palace was turned into the museum in 1918.
Alexander I’s rooms were seriously damaged during World War II. When the palace temporarily accommodated a naval school in the 1950s, the Reception Room was divided into a smaller room and a stairway.
The palace restoration, which began in 1954 and is in progress now, has not yet started in these interiors where art objects of different epochs from the museum collections were on display during the last over 30 years.
The current exhibition features Alexander I’s personal belonging, memorable gifts and other interesting and important early-19th-century items originating from the private rooms of the Emperor, saved through evacuation in the early days of the war, many of which are on display for the first time. The showpieces include briefcases, books, drafting and writing tools, small telescopes, stamps, lorgnettes, a mahogany camp bureau with folding cloth-lined desk inside, a bust of King Frederick William III of Prussia (Alexander’s friend and associate), a travelling weapon set with accessories made by Niсоlаus Noei Boutet (according to legend, presented to Alexander I by Napoleon in Tilsit in 1807), and a Faber cased tea service with views of Brussels and its suburbs, presented to the Emperor by his sister Anna Pavlovna, Queen of the Netherlands. Among the most remarkable pieces, which still keep memory of their crowned owner, are the Emperor’s bed with furnishings and his uniforms.
The exhibition is open during the museum hours; during the high season available only for group tours prebooked by travel agencies.