English Français
from 04.09.2020 to 23.12.2024

The Rooms of Nicholas I in the Gatchina Palace

Nicholas I became the owner of the Gatchina Palace in 1828 according to the will of his mother, Empress Dowager Maria Feodorovna.

In the 1830-1840s the imperial family regularly visited Gatchina, especially in the summer and autumn. In most cases the visits coincided with military manoeuvers and farewell parties for relatives departing to Europe along the Dynaburg high-road. In the daytime men took part in military manoeuvers and women went for walks and attended charitable institutions. In the evening all of them gathered in the Palace, had dinner, danced and watched theatrical performances.

The Emperor and his wife stayed in the Arsenal Wing, in the rooms of the first floor that were furnished in the outdated style of the 1810s. Courtiers lived in tiny rooms of the third floor with windows near the floor. Some of the rooms featured kitchenettes, which were very dangerous the terrible fire of 1837 in the Winter Palace was still well remembered. Floors in the Gatchina Palace were caved in, stoves were faulty, walls and ceilings were covered with soot, doors and windows needed to be replaced. In December, 1844, after the Court had spent two long autumn months in the Gatchina Palace, the Emperor signed a decree ordering to rebuild the Kitchen Wing. Reconstruction of the Arsenal Wing began in 1846. Obviously, all the faults became more evident after a long stay.

When selecting a supervisor for reconstruction works, the Emperor choose Roman Ivanovich Kuzmin, an architect of the Hoff Intendant Office of the Ministry of the Imperial Court. By that time Kuzmin was already famous in St. Petersburg.

Nicholas I was very strict and demanding. He wanted the reconstruction to be cost-effective, yet he expected the residence to be worthy of the imperial family. It was not always easy to meet both requests. The architect was once taken into custody because some cracks in plaster were found. There were even attempts to make the architect pay for the changes that were not personally approved by the Emperor.

As the reconstruction works proceeded, more and more challenges arose, and the Emperor tried to reduce the budget at the expense of décor. Initially all window frames and portals were to have been made of oak, all parquets of valuable wood species, all stuccowork was to have been gilded and in some rooms the lower parts of the walls were to have been covered with oak panels. But in the end the parquets were made of oak alone and the doors were made of painted pine. Oak window frames were installed only in the rooms of the imperial couple, while the stuccowork was partially gilded only in Maria Feodorovnas rooms. The interiors were made less luxurious than it had previously been planned.

However a new heating system (a structure of air ducts in the walls) was installed as well as a water supply system and water closets. Even an elevating machine was constructed for the Empress. The Palace became much more fire safe, because domes now contained clay cavities (also making ceiling structures lighter) and attics were equipped with fire walls and fire hoses.

The architect Roman Kuzmin did a stellar job of preserving the appearance of the Palace while reconstructing the Arsenal Wing, introducing modern conveniences and creating fashionable interiors. When designing the rooms he often used as reference architectural styles of previous centuries Gothic, Renaissance, Classicism, etc.

The rooms of Nicholas I were arranged on the ground floor. Their design reflected preferences and tastes of the Emperor who managed to combine oriental opulence of the Court and official ceremonies with simplicity and austerity of his personal life. He wanted to use the old furniture for the new rooms and simple Putilov limestone for window boards. The architect had a hard time persuading the Emperor to substitute limestone with marble to make the rooms look presentable. All these efforts resulted in creation of a set of rooms where the Emperor could work and relax. The rooms of Nicholas I included two studies Small and Grand Military Studies Valet de Chambre Room, Presence Chamber and additional  rooms for servants.