As if the Last Tsar exhibition at the Science Museum wasn’t enough of a treat, London is now getting a Romanov double whammy with a new exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs has glitz, it has glamour, and it has a generous helping of Russian bling. The exhibition celebrates the 300-year dynastic and diplomatic relationship between the British and Russian royal families. The Queen’s Gallery is decked in decorative objects, paintings, jewellery, clothing, books, letters and photography, some of these on public display for the first time.
In 1698, Tsar Peter I, or Peter the Great as he was known, arrived in London. He was the first Russian ruler to set foot in England. By 1816, Russian emperors and grand dukes and duchesses had visited Britain. The future Nicolas I dropped in on the Prince Regent in 1816 during which time he attended a 100-course banquet at the Brighton Pavilion.
Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Albert, married Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Her sister would become Empress Maria Feodorovna in 1866, thereby linking the British and Russian royal family for the first time. But it would be Prince Alfred, her second son, who would directly intertwine the two royal dynasties when he wed Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna in 1873.
Tsar Nicholas II would marry Alix of Hesse, one of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters. He and his family would visit Cowes for the annual regatta in 1909, when the royal families dined on each other’s yachts. It would be their last visit.
Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs: Exhibition Highlights
Queen Victoria’s reign would span four Russian emperors. Standing at three and a half-metres tall, this painting of Nicolas I was commissioned by the Tsar as a gift for Victoria. Although Russian monarchs visited Britain and also with British monarchy in Europe, it was not until 1994 that a British sovereign (Queen Elizabeth) would set foot on Russian soil.
A Russian-style dress worn by Princess Charlotte of Wales for portrait sittings in 1817. The princess was pregnant when she wore this. She would later die in childbirth, much to the chagrin of the nation.
Set in the Green Drawing Room of Windsor Castle, this painting illustrates the formidable size of Queen Victoria’s family.
This luminous painting of the marriage of Nicholas II and Princess Alix of Hesse was commissioned by Queen Victoria. The wedding took place inside the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. The artist, Laurits Tuxen, described how he was “intoxicated by the beauty of the scene…the richness of the colours, the light and the golden fabrics.”
Winterhalter painted this 1859 portrait of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh’s great grandmother, the Grand Duchess Alexandra Iosifovna. The portrait hung in the Marble Palace at St Petersburg. In 2016, it was bequeathed to Her Majesty the Queen.
The Duchess of York commissioned this portrait of herself in 1923, the year of her marriage to the future King George VI. The painter is the Russian artist, Savely Sorine who grew up in St Petersburg but moved to Paris. 25 years later, she would commission him to paint a portrait of her daughter, the Princess Elizabeth.
The handmade Fabergé Mosaic egg (left) was commissioned by Tsar Nicolas II and crafted from platinum mesh, with sapphires, diamonds, topaz and rubies concealed inside. When the egg is opened, a “surprise” is revealed. On Easter morning when the egg was gifted to Alexandra, she would have found an enamel portrait inside with her five children. King George V and Queen Mary were Fabergé fans, purchasing the Basket of Flowers, Colonnade and Mosaic eggs in the 1930s. The elephant in the foreground is an automaton with a moving head. It is an unusual piece as Fabergé did not normally work with ivory.
The Vladimir Tiara was originally made for the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna by the Romanov court jeweller, Carl Edvard Bolin. The tiara was smuggled out of Russia during the Russian Revolution and eventually purchased by Queen Mary in 1921 for £28,000. She passed it on to her granddaughter, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 1953.
A Fabergé brooch made of Siberian amethyst was gifted to the Princess of Wales (later Queen Mary) during Nicolas II’s last visit to Britain. Following the 1918 massacre of the Russian royal family, King George V and Queen Mary put together a collection of art to commemorate their Russian family. I won’t say no to taking this little baby home with me!
Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs is on until 28 April 2018. You can buy tickets here.
Note: if you purchase your ticket directly from the Royal Collection Trust, you gain free re-admission for 12 months into any exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery.
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Images: Royal Collection Trust, © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018