Nicolas Benois

Born: 1813, St Petersburg
Died: 1898, St Petersburg

Architect. Born in St Petersburg to French émigré and imperial pastry-chef Louis-Jules-César-Auguste Benois (1770–1822) and imperial midwife Anna-Katharina Groppe (1777–1835) with Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna as his godmother (1813). Father of Albert Benois, Léon Benois and Alexander Benois, grandfather of Yevgeny Lanceray and Zinaida Serebryakova, great-grandfather of actor Sir Peter Ustinov (1921–2004). Studied architecture under Vasily Glinka and Christian Meyer at the Imperial Academy of Arts (1827–36). Awarded a minor silver medal (1834), major silver medals (1834, 1835) and a major gold medal and the title of fourteenth-class artist (1836). Trained under Konstantin Thon, working on the chapel of the Semyonovsky Life Guards Regiment in St Petersburg (1836–38) and the Church of Christ the Saviour in Moscow (1838–40). Fellow of the Imperial Academy of Arts in Italy (1840–46), visited Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France and Great Britain. Appointed court architect to Tsar Nicholas I (1846), who asked him to design the Imperial Stables at Peterhof in the Gothic Revival Style (1847). Academician (1848), professor (1858). Married Camilla Cavos (1848), daughter of Alberto Cavos (1800–1863), architect of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow (1853–56) and the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg (1859–60). Appointed principal architect of Peterhof (1850), where he built the post office (1850), court hospital (1850–57), Ladies-in-Waiting Block (1854), Waiters’ House (1856), Ministers’ House (1861–68) and the railway stations of New Peterhof (1854), Sergievo (1855–57), Strelna (1856) and Krasnoe Selo (1858). Worked in Peterhof Park, reconstructing the Lower Grotto and Grand Cascade (1859–61), Marly Cascade (1870) and Chessboard Hill (1875). Principal architect of the Imperial Theatres (1863–73) and St Petersburg (from 1872), chairman of the St Petersburg Society of Architects (1880–93). Built the Church of the Visitation at the Vyborg Roman Catholic Cemetery (1857–58, 1877–79), Svenska Teatern in Helsinki (1864–66), Pavlovsk Theatre (1875–76) and various banks and tenement blocks in St Petersburg (1869–95). Died in St Petersburg and buried in the Church of the Visitation at the Vyborg Roman Catholic Cemetery (1898).

Nicolas Benois was born in St Petersburg in 1813. Like Joseph-Jean Charlemágne, he was also a Frenchman by birth – the son of a French émigré chef called Léon Benois. Benois studied at the Imperial Academy of Arts and trained abroad. In 1850, he was appointed the principal architect of Peterhof, where he began his career by building the Imperial Stables in the Gothic Revival style. In the 1850s, alongside the Grand Palace, he designed two buildings for ladies-in-waiting. Constructed in a Neo-Baroque style, they formed the perfect counterpart to the creations of Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli. The Post Office was built in a similar style.

The most famous example of Benois’s “Peterhof Gothic” architecture was the New Peterhof Railway Station. Built in 1857, it combined the grandeur of a medieval castle with the modern functionality of a railroad station. Benois designed many other buildings, but did not feel any loyalty to one particular movement. He created tenements in the Neo-Baroque style, and churches, railway stations, manorhouses, theatres (in Helsinki and Pavlovsk) and the Petrovskoe-Razumovskoe Palace in the Neo-Russian style. Almost all of his creations are masterpieces of the eclectic style of the second half of the nineteenth century. Benois died in St Petersburg in 1898.

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