Russian Museum at Mikhailovsky Palace
The Russian Museum is housed at the Mikhailovsky palace. This palace, called after its owner, Grand Duke Mikhail, was built by Carlo Rossi. It is one of the finest specimen of Russian Empire style.
When he saw it the English diplomat Grenville wrote in his diary in 1828 that it was a triumph of the latest architecture and not only excelled everything he had seen in the Tuileries and other royal palaces on the continent, but was positively one of its kind.
The building took from 1819 to 1825. The main, south façade is adorned with a central portico of eight columns placed on a ground floor arcade. The broad staircase is guarded by lions which are copies of the ones in front of the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence. Three-quarter columns separate the windows of the side wings. Their movement is restrained by slightly protruding sections. Under the roof parapet along the whole façade are 44 reliefs of mythological scenes of military valor. The domestic buildings protrude sharply to form a cour d’honneur. It is divided from the street by elegant railings. Two powerful pylons crowned with military arms guard the gate in the center.
In 1895 Nicholas II decided to create a museum of Russian national painting
When the Grand Duke’s family moved into the new palace the occasion was marked by an official dinner and ball at which Alexander I was present. The following morning the Emperor visited the monks at the Alexander Nevsky Lavra. After that he left Petersburg for Taganrog where he died shortly afterwards. The palace was a center of Petersburg cultural life. This was largely thanks to Mikhail’s wife, Grand Duchess Elena. Even Nicholas I, who considered himself the cleverest ruler of them all, called her “our family scholar”.
The Grand Duchess’s salon was visited by many famous writers, musicians and scholars. It was here that the decision was taken to found Russian Music Society, the Petersburg Conservatoire and a music theater on the square in front of the palace. The theater, called Mikhailovsky at first, still exists now under the name of the Small Academic Theater.
In 1895 Nicholas II, who had just ascended the throne, decided to immortalize the memory of his father, Alexander III, by creating a museum of Russian national painting. The Exchequer acquired the Mikhailovsky Palace, and the architect Vasily Svinin rebuilt its interiors to suit the museum’s requirements.
The Russian Museum opened in 1898
The Russian Museum opened in 1898. The White Drawing Room, which remained unchanged in the middle of the first floor, became the Alexander III memorial room. It contained gifts received by the late emperor and also his portrait and portraits of his children painted by his wife, Maria Fyodorovna. The other rooms were hung with canvases by Russian artists. Some were collected by Alexander III himself and others were presented to the Academy of Arts. The newborn museum received many presents from collectors. Princess Tenisheva, for example, donated several hundred watercolors. Prince Lobanov-Rostovsky presented his collection of Russian historical portraits. By its opening date the museum already possessed 445 paintings, 111 sculptures and 981 drawings and watercolors.
After the revolution the museum’s collections were greatly augmented. First, by nationalized private collections and, secondly, thanks to numerous purchases. Today the museum is known throughout the world as one of the major centers for the study of Russian art.