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Vases by Emile Gallé in the personal apartments
of Nicholas II and Alexandra Fiodorovna
in the Winter Palace

Nicholas II and Alexandra Fiodorovna were married on
14 November 1894. Immediately afterwards work began on the creation of private apartments for the couple in the Winter Palace. The design of the interiors was entrusted to the court architect Apollinary Krasovsky. It is clear from the Emperor's diary that the future occupants were actively involved in planning the rooms and choosing the materials for decoration. The finishing touches - hanging paintings, placing small ornaments on a host of cupboards and shelves - were also personally supervised by Nicholas II and Alexandra Fiodorovna. On the day they moved into the apartments, Nicholas wrote in his diary, "We went straight from the station... to the Winter Palace to our new rooms... After two hours of work I had settled in and placed all the things in their proper place." From that moment right up to 17 April 1904, throughout the period when the couple lived in the Winter Palace, further items kept appearing in the rooms. The details of the decoration of the private apartments are known to us now mainly from photographs. We also have a thorough description of the things that surrounded the imperial couple in their daily lives. This "inventory of items belonging to Their Imperial Majesties and kept in their private rooms in the Winter Palace" was drawn up by Nikolai Nikolayevich Dementyev, custodian of the property in the rooms of the palace and the Hermitage, a post he occupied from 1888 to 1920. The manuscript catalogue he produced precisely indicates the location of the objects as well as describing them in detail. Among the glassware kept in the personal apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Fiodorovna, pride of place was given to the vases produced by the celebrated French master Emile Gallé. They all came into the Winter Palace between 1896 and 1900. Among the items adorning the Empress's Silver Drawing-Room, mention is made of a pair of vases presented to Nicholas and Alexandra during their state visit to Paris in 1896 at the head of an official delegation. The vases had been made in 1889-90 and number among Gallé's masterpieces. Depicted against a grey-green background are the pink flowers of two varieties of exotic orchid, Emile Gallé's favourite bloom. Dementyev's detailed description provides us with a unique opportunity to precisely picture the original composition of the vases. A major part of their decorative impact was due to the silver mounts of the base featuring depictions of lizards that were created by Lucien Falize, a leading Parisian jeweller. Sadly these have not survived. Alongside the description, we find the terse pencil comment "no bases". We can judge what the vases looked like with them only from an 1896 photograph.

In that drawing-room, on "the oval table by the large sofa" there was one more vase "of dark green crystal" that Gallé had made in 1898. The body of the vase, shaped like a piece of bamboo, bears depictions of dahlias. Gallé produced several vases like this and all of them, except for the one in the Hermitage, have identical bronze settings at the base. The Winter Palace vase has been set in silver by Julius Rappoport, one of the noted jewellers who worked for Fabergé.

Leaving the drawing-room, we move to Her Majesty's Study. From Dementyev's inventory it emerges that Alexandra Fiodorovna's desk was adorned by a Gallé vase with a depiction of clematis (1896) that was also mounted in silver by the Fabergé company. On the Empress's table there was a vase "glass, two-layered... orange in colour" that has been identified with the piece bearing lotus flowers and leaves that was made in 1897 and is now in the Hermitage. On "the small round mahogany table" by the entrance to the Study there was a vase bearing anemones that is also now in the museum collection. Possibly this was the vase that Gallé presented to Alexandra Fiodorovna in 1896 when she was visiting her relatives in Darmstadt in 1896.

Gallé's pieces did not only adorn the Empress's apartments. Several works bearing his signature could also be found in the Emperor's study. Some of them may have been among the presents given to him by the French government in 1896.
Of the signed works by the master that were in the private apartments of the Emperor and Empress, only four were transferred to the museum, and three of those are in silver Fabergé settings. Perhaps it was this fact that played a decisive role in the recognition of their museum value at a time when the art of Emile Gallé itself did not receive due attention and was indeed considered an example of bad taste.

The items mentions in the inventory are evidence that the imperial couple collected the finest examples of Art Nouveau applied art. Gallé's vases came to decorate the living rooms of the Winter Palace in the late 19th century at the time when the master himself was at the height of his creative activity and his fame.

 


Pair of vases
1889-90

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Vase with a lid and depiction of an orchid
1889-90

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The Winter Palace. The personal apartments of Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna
The Silver Drawing-Room

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The Winter Palace. The personal apartments of Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna
The Silver Drawing-Room

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The Winter Palace. The personal apartments of Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna
The Study

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Vase featuring a flower, leaves and twining stems of clematis
1896

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Vase featuring anemones growing in water and flying dragonflies
Circa 1889

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Vase featuring dahlia leaves and flowers
Circa 1898

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Vase with a lid featuring lotus flowers and leaves
1897

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