Alexander II (1855-1881)
After coming to the throne, Alexander II, Nicholas's son, remained in the apartments that he had occupied as heir - a suite of rooms in the western wing overlooking the Admiralty. After the 1837 fire, Alexander Briullov recreated the austere decoration of these interiors devised by Giacomo Quarenghi. The rooms were regarded as memorials as two future emperors, Alexander I and Nicholas I, had grown up in them.
Alexander II's rooms adjoined those of his wife, which were sumptuously decorated, and the shared state rooms. The decoration of these apartments that occupied the entire south-western corner block, was completed in April 1841, in time for the marriage between Alexander and Grand Princess Maria Alexandrovna. With time, in keeping with the dictates of fashion, the rooms were refurbished in pursuit of greater luxury and comfort to the plans of Briullov, Andrei Stakenschneider, Harald Bosse and other architects.
The role of state rooms was preformed by the majestic White Hall and the magnificent Gold Drawing-Room (architect: Alexander Briullov). The hall with two rows of windows was finished in the manner of Ancient Roman architecture and struck contemporaries as "colossal". The prototype for the second interior was found in the grand chambers of the Moscow Kremlin with their vaulted ceilings and richly decorated walls. At Christmas time the tree with gifts for all the members of the imperial family and their retinue was set up here. One of the maids of honour recollected that "the whole of the large 'gold hall' was turned into an exhibition of toys and all manner of enchanting knick-knacks".
Under Alexander II social life at the palace was not especially lively. Empress Maria Alexandrovna suffered from consumption and lived within the orbit of her own "court", rarely appearing at receptions. The Emperor had a second family with Princess Yekaterina Dolgorukova. In 1879 she and their children were installed in a small apartment located above Alexander II's rooms. In July 1880, after Maria Alexandrovna's death, Princess Dolgorukova became the Emperor's morganatic wife with the title of Illustrious Princess Yuryevskaya.
On 5 February 1880 the Winter Palace was shaken by an explosion. Stepan Khalturin, a member of the secret society calling itself "People's Will", blew up a charge of dynamite beneath the dining-room where Alexander II was supposed to be. This was one in a series of attempts on the Tsar's life planned by this terrorist organization. On that occasion the Tsar was far away from the scene of the attack and the only casualties were among the palace guards. On 1 March 1881, however, the Emperor was fatally wounded by People's Will bombers on the embankment of the Catherine Canal. Alexander II was rushed back to the palace, where he died in his study.