L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, April 12, 2020

House proud - photographs of Mathilde Kschessinskaya and her mansion... and her son

These portraits were taken in 1916 - while the war raged on and only months before the start of the Revolution - the year Kschessinskaya turned forty-four. (It's possible they were taken on or near her birthday - the portraits and the photograph of her birthday presents were apparently both taken by Yakov Vladimirovich Steinberg in that year - but I haven't been able to confirm that.) Her son Vladimir - "Vova" - had turned fourteen that June. His father was a Romanov; exactly which one was the question. She had famously been the mistress of the future Nicholas II at the beginning of her career, a liason that only ended with his marriage. She then began a relationship with one of his cousins, Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich. He was devoted to her and did much to further her position within the Mariinsky company, but only a few years later she fell in love, beginning a relationship with yet a third Romanov cousin, Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich. Sergei managed to accept the situation, and the ménage à trois endured for almost two decades. Things became much more complicated in 1902, though, when Kschessinskaya gave birth to a son, both men convinced that they were Vova's father. Sergei, who had remained close to both mother and son, was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Kschessinskaya and Andrei were married in Cannes in 1921 and Vova was legitimized as Andrei's son. The latter was later given the title Prince Romanovsky-Krasinsky, and though he probably did in fact resemble Andrei more than Sergei, even he admitted that he was never quite sure which was his true father.

In these images the lady of the house is posing in the white hall and the adjacent winter garden.
With Vova in the winter garden.
Kschessinskaya's birthday presents, 19/31 August 1916.


This image looks to have been taken before the ironwork was added to the top of the fence posts and on the arch of the gate.

Still standing on Troitskaya Square in St. Petersburg, Kschessinskaya's mansion was built between 1904 and 1906 to the designs of architect Alexander von Gogen and his assistant Alexander Dmitriev, in close collaboration with their client:

“I commissioned the plan from a very famous Petersburg architect, Alexander Ivanovich von Gogen, and placed him in charge of construction. Before designing the plan we discussed together the arrangement of the rooms according to my mind and life style. I outlined the interior décor of the rooms as well. The hall was supposed to be tailored in Russian Imperial style, a small corner salon – in Louie XVI style, the rest of the rooms I left to the architect’s taste and then chose what I liked most of all. I ordered the bedroom and the closet in English style with white furniture and cretonne on the walls. Some rooms, such as the dining room and the salon next to it, were designed in an art nouveau style. All the period furniture and furniture for my private rooms and for the rooms of my son I ordered from Melzer.”

Built on a not terribly grand scale, it was still a notable example of St. Petersburg Art Nouveau. Kschessinskaya fled the building in the revolutionary turmoil of Februay 1917; the following month, the ascendant Bolsheviks requisitioned the mansion, making it their headquarters. After his return from exile in April, Lenin would work there, and from its balcony make some of his best-known rabble-rousing speeches. It later became home to the Museum of the October Revolution which has been, since the fall of the Soviet Union, renamed the Museum of Political History, just a handful of its rooms restored to their pre-Revolutionary glamour.

The bedroom.
The bathroom. (Two images.)
The nursery.
The Louis XVI-style salon.
A corner of the drawing room.
The buffet and dining room.
The white hall.
The winter garden.

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