The Winter Palace. Ages and Styles
The Age of Historicism. Second Half of the 19th
- Early 20th Century
In the words of the famous Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, the architecture of the time lacked "wilfulness". The thirst for diversity of architectural forms and more comfortable interiors satisfying the tastes and needs of the inhabitants gave rise to a new artistic trend, Historicism, that drew inspiration from the rich inheritance of the past. Alexander Briullov (1798-1877), a brilliant master of interior design, was one of the leading representatives of the new style. His contemporary Alexander Bashutsky wrote: "We were surprised by his unusually harmonious and magnificent ideas, pure taste, that was consistent to the slightest detail, and his rich inventions, manifested in numerous, always successful architectural motifs..."
Briullov created that acknowledged masterpiece of Russian interior design, the Malachite Room of the Winter Palace, which connected the suite of rooms along the Neva with the rooms of Alexandra Feodorovna, the wife of Nicholas I. Contemporaries were struck by the lavish facing of the columns and fire-places with precious malachite from the Urals in combination with gilded doors and elaborate ceiling ornamentation.
The Great (Blackamoor) Dining Room, that got this name because blackamoor servants stood there by the doors on official occasions, was designed in the style of Classical architecture. Briullov's visit to the excavations of the Roman town of Pompeii, which had been destroyed by an eruption of Vesuvius, inspired him to design the Small (Pompeian) Dining Room. The decor of this room was changed later but some objects from the furniture set made to Briullov's design were preserved.
Before the wedding of Grand Duke Alexander Nikolayevich (the future Emperor Alexander II) and Maria Alexandrovna (Princess of Hesse-Darmstadt) the architect decorated the rooms for the bride on the first floor in the south-western part of the building. Bright expensive upholstery, elegant patterns in the Bedroom, Boudoir, Study and the Golden Drawing Room produced an impression of delicate comfort. The refined design of the ceremonial White Hall that belonged to the suite of private rooms of Maria Alexandrovna was based exclusively on tones of white and thus contrasted with the handsome decoration of her living rooms.
One of the most impressive state rooms designed by Briullov is the Alexander Hall, with Gothic-style variations that determined its architectural appearance. Stucco decor with motifs of military glory, 24 medallions with allegorical representations of the most significant moments of the Patriotic War of 1812, and a bas-relief portrait of Alexander I depicted as a warrior of Old Russia reminded visitors that it was a memorial hall.
In the 1840s-1860s Andrei Stakenschneider, an extraordinarily erudite architect, worked in the Winter Palace, in the Small and Large Hermitages. In the Pavilion Hall of the Small Hermitage he exquisitely and naturally combined Renaissance, Gothic and Oriental motifs to form one of the most attractive interiors. In the Winter Palace Andrei Stakenschneider decorated the rooms of the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in the then fashionable Rococo style. He used the same style to decorate a new dining room in the suite of rooms of Princess Maria Alexandrovna and gave a more festive appearance to several rooms originally designed by Briullov, by refreshing the gilding and changing the furniture. The luxuriously embellished boudoir of the wife of Alexander II was made to the design of the architect Bosset in the same fashionable neostyle that combined so organically with the baroque interiors of the Winter Palace.
On 5 February 1880 a bomb planted by terrorists intent on killing Emperor Alexander II exploded in the Winter Palace. Fortunately the Emperor was at that moment far from the place of explosion and nobody was injured. But a year later, on 1 March 1881, Alexander II, who had abolished serfdom, liberated the peasants and given Russian society hope for reasonable reforms to the state, was assassinated by another bomb. His son Alexander III learned from this experience. He would never trust either his own subjects, who showed themselves capable of murdering their monarch, or the walls of a palace that could hardly defend him. He avoided living in the official royal residence and spent summers in Gatchina and winters in the Anichkov Palace in St Petersburg. Nevertheless, in 1894 rooms for the heir to the throne, Nikolai Alexandrovich, started to be redecorated in the Winter Palace. Two years later after the death of Alexander III, the new Russian Emperor would settle down here with his young wife Alexandra Feodorovna (Princess of Hesse-Darmstadt).
The rooms meant for the future Emperor and his family were decorated in accordance with the latest turns in the Historicism style, then characterized by a tendency to intimacy and comfort. The architect responsible for redecorating the rooms for the new royal couple, Alexander Krasovsky, replaced vaults by flat ceilings and used fashionable materials such as wall-paper, chintz and leather upholstery, and wooden panels. The Study of Nicholas II and the Library designed in the Gothic style and preserved to this today were finished with wood. The rooms of Alexandra Feodorovna were decorated modestly in the style of Classicism of Louis XVI. The Small Dining Room intended for family dinners has an intimate and refined rocaille design. The decor of this room has been preserved without any alterations.
In 1904 the last Russian Emperor left the Winter Palace forever and settled in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. The Winter Palace became the place for official ceremonies.