Yussupov Palace

The Yussupov Palace stands on the bend of the River Moika. The building was constructed by Jean-Baptiste-Michel Vallin de la Mothe (1770). Countess Alexandra Branitskaya sold the palace to Prince Nikolai Yussupov, master of ceremonies at the Imperial court (1830). The new owner commissioned Andrei Mikhailov II to reconstruct and enlarge the palace (1830–36). The interiors were redecorated in the late Neoclassical style. The walls and ceilings were painted by such foreign masters as Antonio Vighi, Barnaba Medici, Pietro Scotti and Fridolino Torricelli and the little-known Russian decorator Alexei Travin. The marble work was commissioned to Vincenzo Maderni, Jacob Fratti and Alessandro Triscorni. As the Yussupov Palace was later reconstructed by Ippolito Monighetti (1859–60), such interiors as the marble staircase have no longer retained their original appearance.

The Banquet Hall or White-Columned Room is one of the most impressive apartments in the Yussupov Palace. The ceiling was painted by Fridolino Torricelli. The Banquet Hall was used for balls and charity bazaars.

The private theatre in the Yussupov Palace was designed in the late Neoclassical style by Andrei Mikhailov II (early 1830s). The interior was painted by Alexei Travin. The theatre was reconstructed on two occasions in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The stretch of land where the Yussupov Palace now stands can be seen even on the first maps of the young city of St Petersburg. At the start of the eighteenth century, it was the site of a small wooden palace belonging to Tsarevna Praskovia Ioannovna, niece of Peter the Great and younger sister of Empress Anna Ioannovna. In 1726, Praskovia presented her estate to the Semyonov Life Guards, who remained billeted there until 1742. That year the Semyonov sloboda was constructed and the regimental headquarters were sold into private hands. Part of the land was acquired by Count Pyotr Shuvalov, a general-in-chief and influential aristocrat serving under Empress Elizabeth Petrovna.

Count Shuvalov built a two-storey stone palace with a high socle half-floor, a flight of steps leading up to a main entrance and a portico with a colonnade supporting a wide balcony. The windows had figured casings, jambs and lintels; the facade was further adorned with intricate moulding, sculptural compositions and vases on the roof. Beyond the facades, a garden stretched as far as Officers (now Decembrists) Street. Here exotic flowers, pineapples, grapes and other rare plants were grown in hothouses. Count Shuvalov often held magnificent parties, balls, receptions, and firework displays at the palace and members of the Imperial family were frequent guests. The Russian chamber-fourriers record that Empress Elizabeth dined there in 1752. In 1754, the imperial family celebrated the birth of the future Paul I at the palace.

The name of the architect who built Count Shuvalov’s palace has unfortunately not been preserved for posterity. Mikhail Makhayev’s drawing View from the Kryukov Canal up the River Moika (1757–59) does, however, record the outer appearance of the mansion. It can justifiably be considered one of the most interesting examples of mid-eighteenth century Russian Baroque in civilian architecture. On the drawing, a modest two-storey fifteen-axis building stands next to the Shuvalov Palace. This is the future Yussupov Palace.

The chronicles for 1755 report that the building was home to General-in-Chief Pyotr Shuvalov, his wife Mavra and their fourteen year-old son Andrei, a sub-lieutenant in the Preobrazhensky Regiment. Ten years later, shortly after the death of his parents, the young count redrew the borders of his father’s estate and sold the old-fashioned palace and part of the garden to his neighbour, Count Zakhar Chernyshev. The French architect Jean-Baptist-Michel Vallin de la Mothe, an adherent of Neoclassicism and a professor at the Imperial Academy of Arts, was commissioned to reconstruct the other house, located further up the Moika. He built a palace in the early Classical style with a passage-way leading to a central Roman courtyard. It was surrounded by a colonnade and had a garden, pond and pavilion. The owner of the house relates that the cost of its construction and expenditure on its interior decor “came to two hundred thousand roubles” – no small sum in the eighteenth century. A picture of the building at the time of its reconstruction can be seen on an axonometric plan of St Petersburg (1767–74).

Andrei Shuvalov received a brilliant education in France. He was a well-known patron, senator and honorary member of the Academy of Arts. Prince Pyotr Vyazemsky quotes Mikhail Speransky as saying: “Count Andrei Shuvalov was an illustrious member of Catherine’s court and a friend of Voltaire and La Harpe. He himself wrote French poetry that was often mistakenly attributed to the best contemporary French poets.” Andrei Shuvalov was well acquainted with many of the leading men of his day and age. Gavrila Derzhavin, Nikolai Novikov and Denis Fonvizin were frequent guests to his house on the Moika. Mikhail Lomonosov often read his odes and treatises there.

Andrei Shuvalov (1744–89) died before he reached old age. His house was inherited by his children – his daughter Alexandra (a maid-of-honour to Catherine the Great) and his son Pavel.

In 1795, Catherine the Great bought the estate on behalf of the crown. In a letter to the Russian chancellor, Count Alexei Bezborodko, she mentions who is to be the new owner of the house: “We have bestowed the house lying on the Moika in St Petersburg, bought at our will from the heirs of the late actual councillor Count Shuvalov, on our lady-in-waiting Countess Branicka as her perpetual and hereditary property. I remain your affectionate Catherine.”

Countess Alexandra Branicka (née Engelhardt) was the favourite niece of Prince Grigory Potemkin and a personal friend of Catherine the Great. Surviving portraits of Branicka depict a woman of rare beauty and charm. Despite receiving such a valuable gift from the Empress, she made practically no use of it. After Catherine’s death in 1796, Branicka left St Petersburg. The house was occupied by her daughters, who served at the court as maids-of-honour. Alexandra lived for many years on the estate of her husband, Ksawery Branicki, crown hetman of Poland, at White Church near Kiev. To the end of her days, Alexandra worshipped the memory of Catherine the Great, copying her tastes and habits and even imitating the clothes that she wore. Contemporaries who knew the countess during this period called her “a dilapidated monument to Catherine.”

The palace on the Moika remained in Branicki hands for thirty five years. There is no evidence of any reconstruction work carried out on the house during this period.

Alexandra sold the palace to Prince Nikolai Yussupov on 5 March 1830 for a quarter of a million roubles. Nikolai Yussupov was married to Alexandra’s sister, Tatyana, which may have been what prompted her to sell the house to the Yussupovs.

Prince Nikolai Yussupov’s purchase of the house marks the start of the brightest and most interesting chapter in the history of the palace. Its new owners could trace their roots back over a thousand years of Russian history to the mighty rulers of the Tatar Nogai horde. Ever since the days of Ivan the Terrible, the Yussupovs had served both the Russian crown and state.

Nikolai Yussupov was a sparkling example of the golden age of the Russian nobility. He was one of the richest and most highly educated men in Europe. A prominent dignitary who loyally served Catherine the Great, Yussupov was decorated with the highest orders of the Russian Empire and officiated as supreme marshal at the coronations of three Russian emperors – Paul I, Alexander I and Nicholas I. Besides his official duties, the prince was also a leading patron of the arts, a bibliophile and a clever and subtle diplomat fluent in five languages. His main passion in life, however, was collecting. Contemporaries acknowledged Nikolai Yussupov as a leading connoisseur of art and noted his excellent taste and feeling for authenticity. It is therefore not surprising that both Catherine the Great and Paul I entrusted him with the task of building up the collections of the Hermitage and the suburban imperial residences of Tsarskoe Selo, Pavlovsk and Gatchina.

Although custodian of the Imperial art collections, Prince Yussupov did not neglect his own. He created one of Russia’s largest private collections of painting, sculpture and artistic rarities. Yussupov left the Russian Army to travel round Europe, listening to lectures by famous professors and visiting royal courts and aristocratic mansions. He made the acquaintance of such outstanding Europeans as Voltaire, Pierre Augustin Canon de Beaumarchais, Denis Diderot, the artists Jacques-Louis David, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Antoine-Jean Gros, Hubert Robert, Angelica Kauffmann and the sculptor Antonio Canova.

Nikolai Yussupov was also a friend of Alexander Pushkin. The poet dedicated to him his Epistle to a Grandee, first published in the Literary Gazette in May 1830 under the title “To N. B. Yu.”: “Crossing your threshold / I’m taken back to Catherine’s days / The pictures, statues, libraries / The trim, lined gardens talk to me / Of muses in serenity.”

In the margins of the manuscript, Pushkin drew the figure of a bent yet still majestic old man in a camisole and curled wig. This is the eighty year-old Prince Yussupov, “urbane descendant of Aristippus,” who had since retired to his beloved Archangel. There, among devoted servants, his beloved books, pictures and objects of the distant past, he gave himself up to the memories of his youth.

Nikolai Yussupov’s house in St Petersburg passed to his only son and heir, Boris Yussupov, a steward of the Imperial court. Boris and his wife Tatyana thus became responsible for the palace and its subsequent fate.

The new occupants found the old Shuvalov mansion, built in the 1760s, cramped and old-fashioned. They therefore embarked on a course of complete reconstruction and modernization. Work was entrusted to Andrei Mikhailov II, a talented academician of architecture. His project is dated 14 August 1830. When reconstructing the palace, Mikhailov approached the creativity of his predecessors with especial tact. He retained the dimensions of the old building, with its central six-columned Tuscan portico. He built the one-storey side wings up by an extra two floors and removed the elements of the decor from the roof and the walls. The facade of the building acquired the monumental Classical outer appearance which it retains to this day. In place of the entrance to the inner courtyard, a vestibule was built with a grand staircase leading to the rooms on the first floor.

Further up the Moika embankment, the architect built alongside the main building a new three-storey complex with a large White Columned Room. An enfilade of six state rooms was created in the refined decorative style of Russian Empire.

Nikolai Yussupov passed away in the summer of 1831. His son Boris decided to transfer the greater part of his art collection from Archangel to St Petersburg. This necessitated the further expansion of the building, even though the decorative work was at that time still in process. All further possibilities of building along the embankment were exhausted, so Mikhailov added yet another building to the eastern facade of the palace (1832–34). Its five new rooms were intended to accommodate the Yussupov art treasures and a unique private theatre.

It took seven years to reconstruct the palace. The archives of Yussupov’s “domestic chancery” contained documents which record the names of the masters who helped to created one of the finest townhouses in all of St Petersburg. Mikhailov was assisted by Pyotr Shestakov, “private architect to his Highness Prince Yussupov.” Italian artists were invited to execute the murals in the new rooms, among them Antonio Vighi, Pietro Scotti, Barnabe Medici, Fridolino Torricelli and the Russian painter Alexei Travin. Maderni, Triscorni and Fratini sculpted works in marble. Other names to work on the Yussupov Palace were the talented modellers Pyotr and Timofei Dylev, Kiprian Balin, the gilt masters Mikhail Kropotov, Andrei Galanin and Xenophont Kuznetsov and the bronze workers Goede and Dalboum.

The extant rooms of the Yussupov Palace conjure up an image of the life of a rich aristocrat in the first third of the nineteenth century. In this way, it is possible to gain a better picture of the tastes and passions that prevailed in the Russian art and society of the time.

The layout of the interiors represents an achievement almost unparalleled in art. Even today, one is left awestruck by the scintillating rooms of the first floor enfilade and the combined effect of the monumental painting, refined moulding, noble marbles, patterned silks, Venetian mirrors and patterned parquet floors.

The Large Rotunda is covered by a cupola and enclosed by a ring of Ionic columns. Their surfaces are worked in imitation of blue marble and look especially effective against the background of the light matt walls. The cupola is decorated in the middle with an elegant painted reproduction of the vault of heaven and stars of gold. The fittings consist of a white Italian marble fireplace, a Venetian mirror and a bronze candelabrum specially manufactured for the room in the workshop of the Parisian master Pierre-Philippe Thomire. The Yussupov family coat of arms is depicted on the base of the standard lamp.

The enfilade is continued by the Blue and Red Drawing Rooms. Although united by a common compositional scheme, each room still manages to retain its own unique emotional image. The walls are covered with damask fabrics from the Kupavin manufactory outside Moscow. The light and elegant murals do not overload the planes of the plafond. The parquet floors were made from rare species of wood, while the fireplaces and bronzes were made by Russian, Italian and French masters.

The decor of the Ball Room is especially noble and elegant. The murals of Scotti’s plafonds recall the intention of the room, with nymphs floating through the air in billowing ancient attire intertwined with ribbons, flower garlands, wreaths and palm leaves. The smooth walls of the room are adorned with Ionic pilasters made from artificial marble. The enormous mirrors enclosed within elegant crystal balusters create the impression of even more space.

No less dazzling in terms of artistic finish is the White Columned Room, which completes the enfilade of rooms running along the Moika embankment. The impressions of splendour and simultaneous artistic harmony are created by the Corinthian colonnade enclosing the walls, the sculptural entablature, the delicate and elegant painting covering the vaults of the ceiling and the enormous gilt papier-mâché chandeliers.

When the reconstruction work was completed, Boris Yussupov transferred a sizeable part of his father’s unique art collection to the Moika. Among the several hundred works of painting moved to St Petersburg were many works by such famous French, Italian, English, Dutch, German and Spanish masters as Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Rembrandt, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Jacques-Louis David, Hubert Robert and François Boucher. Their canvases were hung in the enfilade of interiors known as the Nikolai Room, the Préciosité Room, the Rotunda, the Canova Room, the Ancient Room, the Roman Room and the Belozerov Gallery. Family portraits were hung in the residential and state apartments of the palace, among them portraits of Nikolai Yussupov by Friedrich Heinrich Füger and Johann Baptist Lampi I, a portrait of Boris Yussupov in childhood by Antoine-Jean Gros, a portrait of Eudoxia Yussupova made by Pietro dei Rotari and several portraits of Tatyana Yussupova by Christina Robertson, Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Jean-Laurent Mosnier, Angelica Kauffmann and Jean-Louis Voille.

The paintings on the walls of the palace were supplemented by magnificent works of sculpture. The Nikolai Room, named after Nikolai Yussupov, the founder of the collection, was home to the official marble statues of Nikolai and Boris Yussupov (Ivan Vitali) and a bust of Tsar Nicholas I in the image of an Old Russian knight (Fyodor Tolstoy).

Cupid and Psyche and Cupid with Bow and Arrows stood in the Canova Rotunda. They were personally acquired by Nikolai Yussupov from the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova. Canova also lent his name to the small round hall in the enfilade of art gallery rooms.

The palace was adorned by the works of other famed sculptors, such as Étienne-Maurice Falconet (Sitting Girl), Paolo Triscorni (Wrestlers) and François Girardon (The Rape of Proserpina), and a bronze statuette by sixteenth century Italian master Giambologna. The palace also contained rarities like the six ancient marbles of Mercury, Hermes, Ganymede, Boy and Goose, Satyr Resting and Head of an Athlete.

The first catalogue of the Yussupov Gallery – Musée du Prince Youssoupoff: contenant les tableaux, marbres, ivoires et porcelaines qui se trouvent dans l’hôtel de son excellence à Saint Pétersbourg – was published in St Petersburg in 1839. By this time the collection numbered 483 works of painting and 31 marble sculptures.

The unique art treasures of the Yussupov collection and the famed hospitality of this educated and cultured family attracted to the palace the flower of the Russian and European aristocracies. The secular and cultural life of the Yussupov Palace thus became synonymous with the names of Gavrila Derzhavin, Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Karamzin, Ivan Krylov, Prince Pyotr Vyazemsky, Vasily Zhukovsky, Nikolai Gnedich, Victor Hugo and Pierre Augustin Canon de Beaumarchais.

Performances at the Yussupov private theatre evoked the invariable interest of guests to the palace. An important event in Russian musical history took place in the theatre on 1 February 1836 – the premiere of the first act of the first ever Russian national opera, Mikhail Glinka’s A Life For The Tsar. Mikhail Glinka and Alexander Dargomyzhsky rehearsed with the Yussupov serf orchestra.

“Although the orchestra was bad,” the composer remembered, “it did, however, play quite well. They did not perform the choruses and in some places it was I, Barteneva and Volkov who sang. Nevertheless, the effect of the instrumentation was pleasant enough.” Boris Yussupov no longer owned a company of serf actors, as his father had granted them their freedom in his will. The thirty or so musicians, however, remained. Decked out in cherry and silver-embroidered jackets, starched Dutch shirts and wide-brimmed feathered hats, they serenaded the Yussupovs with their singing and horn music when out sailing on the canals and rivers of St Petersburg.

The heart and soul of the art salon in the Yussupov Palace was Tatyana Yussupova (1768–1841). A charming and hospitable woman, she in actual fact led a fairly secluded lifestyle. Gavrila Derzhavin wrote the following lines in her album: “Displaying feelings of the heart / You do not judge the ways of men / Embracing science and the arts / You bear and raise such fine children / An angel in redolent temple / You live in modest solitude / And order one and all adore you / Spreading light and shining good.”

An acknowledged art expert with an immense fortune at her disposal, it was perhaps not surprising that Tatyana Yussupova was an avid collector of jewels. Among her possessions were the 40-carat Polar Star brilliant, the Aldebrandt diamond, an enormous sapphire and the Pelegrina pearl. La Pelegrina was the size of a walnut and merits a chapter all to itself. At the start of the seventeenth century, it belonged to King Philip IV of Spain. In 1660 he presented it to his daughter, the Infanta Maria-Teresa, on the occasion of her marriage to King Louis XIV of France. La Pelegrina remained the property of the French kings right up to 1792. In 1826 it was acquired in Moscow by Tatyana Yussupova and belonged to the Yussupov family for over 130 years. It was auctioned at Christie’s in Geneva in May 1957 and was sold to an anonymous bidder. Besides La Pelegrina, Tatyana Yussupova also owned a diamond and pearl tiara that had once belonged to Napoleon’s sister, Queen Caroline of Naples, a necklace of 42 black pearls and a set of onyxes, carnelians and chalcedonies bearing carved mottos composed by friends of the family.

A ball was given on 26 February 1837 to mark the completion of reconstruction work on the palace. The splendour of the ball was described at length in the city’s newspapers and remained long in the memories of contemporaries. The undisputed queen of the ball was Zinaida Yussupova (nee Naryshkina), Boris Yussupov’s second wife.

The history of the Yussupov Palace in the 1840s is closely linked to the name of the Swiss architect Bernard Simon. Simon was commissioned to reconstruct the flower conservatories lying to the right and left of the main staircase. He created two stunning new interiors – the Winter Garden (unsurviving) and the Gobelin Drawing Room. The Gobelin Drawing Room employed the motifs of the French Renaissance.

The creation of these two new interiors was marked by another grand ball on 8 February 1846. One of the guests was the Russian journalist and writer B. M. Fyodorov. He wrote a detailed account of the ball, which makes fascinating reading today as the report of an eyewitness lucky enough to see the palace at the height of its splendour. Fyodorov compares the Winter Garden to a scene from the Arabian Nights.

No less inferior in terms of beauty and grandeur was the Gobelin Drawing Room. Family legend has it that Prince Nikolai Yussupov was once presented with four unique carpets that had previously graced the palaces of King Louis XIV of France. The subjects of three of the gobelins were taken from the ancient Greek myth of Prince Meleager and the wild boar of Calydon. They were manufactured in the seventeenth century in Brussels, at the workshop of Jan Leyniers, after sketches by the artist Charles Lebrun. The fourth gobelin, Children Gardeners, was executed in France by royal commission at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. “It hardly needs to be said that Prince Yussupov’s ball was especially splendid and sumptuous,” Fyodorov writes, “witness of this was the fact that His Majesty the Emperor and all the Imperial family honoured it with their presence.”

The following major reconstruction of the palace took place in the 1860s. This overhaul was commissioned by the following owner of the house, Nikolai Yussupov the Younger. A writer and philosopher, musician and composer, Nikolai Yussupov was an honorary member of the conservatoires of Paris and Rome and an avid collector of precious stones and rare musical instruments.

The Russian architecture of this period was dominated by historicism. Artists turned to the experiences of the past and stylistic motifs borrowed from various eras and nations. Nikolai Yussupov’s search for a master to turn his artistic dreams into reality eventually led him to Ippolito Monighetti, an academician of architecture. As he wrote to Monighetti in late 1857, “I desire an architect who is reliable and who has taste, for possible work on my house in St Petersburg.” Monighetti anticipated an interesting and rewarding commission and readily accepted Yussupov’s offer: “Out of the desire to offer you satisfaction and for the sake of honour, I agree to be called your architect, not troubling to ask whether my labours will be adequately compensated.” On 3 January 1858, the architect signed a contract to complete work on the alteration of the house over a period of two years for the sum of three and a half thousand roubles. “As far as the facade is concerned,” Monighetti wrote to the prince, “even without alteration it is one of the most beautiful and imposing in the capital, in both its artistic merits and its location.”

Prince Yussupov sent Monighetti from Paris his project in the form of ready plans “on forty seven large sheets and many small ones” made by a French artist. In the course of work, however, Monighetti made several changes to the Parisian projects. He was assisted by the architect Rusca, the serf architect Alexei Sotnikov, the academician of chiselry and joinery Vasily Shutov, the painter Auguste Rouilly and the sculptors Jensen and Botta.

Monighetti proved himself to be a brilliant master of the interior. When working on the finish of each room, he always bore in mind its specific functional purpose. The lower vestibule was designed with laconic brevity and restraint. The former sensation of over-compressed space was replaced by the spacious and energetic curve of the marble steps of the main staircase. Monighetti decked the walls in a magnificent attire of decorative moulding, imitating French specimens from the time of Louis XIV. The ornaments were manufactured in Croucher’s sculptural workshop in France, which also supplied the staircase of Carrara marble.

The stylistics of the orient were actively employed in palace decor in these years. The architect paid tribute to this fashion in the 1890s when he created the exotic Oriental Drawing Room, supplemented by Moresque motifs. The elegant arcade on the marble columns, the refined Arabic ornamental script and gilt on the walls, the carved oriental ornament of the octahedral bath and the onyx fireplace are all reminiscent of the magical Alhambra. They seem to instantly transport one to the residence of a sultan or maharajah.

In Prince Yussupov’s chambers, Monighetti altered the finish to a series of rooms (Henri II Room, Turkish Study, Buffet Room, Musical Room and Caryatid Room). An extremely interesting ensemble of original architectural miniatures appeared in the apartments of Princess Yussupova. Her enfilade of rooms began with the Pompeii Corridor, which was adorned with an ornamental design in the Neo-Pompeian style. The architect introduced an intricate gilt Rococo decor to her boudoir and the drawing room facing south. The furniture and the decor of the Persian Room are saturated with the aroma of exotic foreign lands.

The architect’s eclectic approach to the layout of these rooms did not, however, destroy the harmony of the composition or the unity of the scales and proportions. The interiors are united by the common elegance and subtlety of Monighetti’s architectural and artistic designs. The architect also employed a number of technical innovations, such as the sliding doors on metal chutes in one of the small rooms off the boudoir. These permitted the size of the premises to be varied as required.

The interior of the theatre was essentially changed. It was redesigned by Monighetti in the style of Second Baroque.

The Yussupovs acquired a number of items in France and Italy for their house in St Petersburg. These included carved marble, onyx and malachite fireplaces, a magnificent staircase of white Carrara marble, chandeliers, sumptuous suites of period furniture, musical instruments and a ready-made Turkish study. On completion of work, the architect Rusca drew up a life plan of the palace, indicating the names of all the rooms. The artist Andrei Redkovsky depicted the main interiors in thirty watercolours. These and the watercolours and drawings made earlier by Vasily Sadovnikov constitute an extremely valuable historical source on the Yussupov Palace and convey a graphic picture of the lavish finish of the palace.

Another major restoration of the palace was effected in the 1890s by the architect Alexander Stepanov. This project affected the entire complex of premises. In place of the Winter Garden to the right of the main staircase, Stepanov created the Oak Dining Room, finished with carved panels of water-seasoned oak. The architect applied all his artistic talents to the palace theatre. The stalls were deepened by a whole floor, a staircase of Carrara marble with a red balustrade was installed and the decor was made even more splendid.

The private theatre of the Yussupov Palace is an outstanding work of art and merits special attention. Small in volume, it was intended for a select circle of domestic viewers. The finish is deliberately imposing and strictly followed the established canons for musical-opera theatres. In his design, Stepanov employed the motifs of Rococo. The boxes and balconies were richly adorned with an elegant moulded gilt ornamental design. The pictorial composition of the plafond takes the form of an allegory of night turning into day. Aurora, goddess of the dawn, soars through the clouds in a chariot. Ernst Liphart painted the plafond, the circles and the curtain, which depicts the Yussupov palace on their Arkhangelskoe estate outside Moscow.

The small golden theatre is in many ways similar to a precious casket, created with intricate virtuosity. Over the years, it has been the setting for many important events in Russian cultural life. Mikhail Glinka, Alexander Dargomyzhsky, Eduard Nápravník and Ludwig Minkus all stood behind the conductor’s stand at one time. Among artists to give concerts here were Franz Liszt, Frédéric Chopin, Fyodor Chaliapin, Leonid Sobinov and Antonina Nezhdanova. The poets Alexander Blok, Sergei Yesenin and Vladimir Mayakovsky all read their works in the theatre.

The final stage in the artistic formation of the palace fell on the years 1911 to 1916. The alterations were made by the last owners of the palace, Prince Felix Yussupov and his wife Irina. Felix Yussupov was the son of Count Felix Sumarokov-Elston and the society beauty Princess Zinaida Yussupova, daughter of Prince Nikolai Yussupov the Younger. Count Sumarokov-Elston had been granted permission to take his wife’s name of Yussupov and the title of prince. In 1914, Felix married Irina Romanov, granddaughter of Alexander III and niece of Nicholas II.

The wealth of the Yussupovs was by this time so great that their annual income was estimated at 1,258,000 roubles. They owned seventeen estates scattered throughout Russia, as well as a mine in the Donbass, eight tenement blocks in Moscow and St Petersburg and dozens of factories and firms.

The architects Andrei Weitens and Andrei Beloborodov were invited to design Felix and Irina’s apartments on the ground floor of the palace. They choose the then-fashionable style of Neoclassicism. Vladimir Konashevich, Nikolai Tyrsa and Sergei Chekhonin, artists whose names are more commonly associated with book graphics and applied art, received interesting commissions for works of painting. The examples of their experimentations in the field of monumental-decorative art surviving in the palace are therefore unique. Members of the second generation of the World of Art, their aesthetical ideals were reflected in Irina’s superbly refined Silver Boudoir and the painting of the plafonds and the walls of the drawing rooms. Unfortunately, their work was interrupted by the revolutionary events of 1917 and only partially completed in the Soviet period, on the basis of their original designs and drawings.

The various stages in the construction and reconstruction of the Yussupov Palace coincided with the establishment of the main trends over a century and a half of Russian architecture, from the middle of the eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. The Yussupov Palace was subjected to constant reconstructions and thus shared the fate of the majority of aristocratic townhouses in St Petersburg. This did not, however, mean that it lost its own personal face and unique charm. The various individuals who created the architectural ensemble displayed both multi-faceted talent and subtle taste and delicacy when working on the palace. They approached their commissions with tact and discretion, taking care to retain all that was best in the creations of their talented predecessors. Such amazing integrity in the face of multiple stylistic resolutions is what makes this monument to the architecture of three centuries so unique. This was confirmed in the 1960s when the Yussupov Palace was featured by Weidenfeld & Nicholson in their catalogue of the finest stately homes of Europe.

On the eve of the revolution, the apartments of Felix Yussupov were the scene for one of the final episodes in the history of the Russian monarchy. One dark night in December 1916, members of the local aristocracy lured Grigory Rasputin, the Siberian peasant notorious for his scandalous proximity to the imperial family, to the Yussupov Palace and murdered him in the basement. A peasant from Pokrovskoe in Tobolsk Province, Rasputin had arrived in St Petersburg in 1904. He soon acquired the reputation of a “man of God,” a starets, and eventually assumed the role of spiritual mentor to Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. Rasputin enjoyed the especial trust of Alexandra, thanks to his ability to relieve the suffering of her haemophiliac son, Alexis. Not content with interfering in the private affairs of the imperial family, Rasputin began to meddle in the running of the Russian state, with disastrous consequences, thus setting the scene for his own ultimate removal.

For his part in the murder of Rasputin, Felix Yussupov was exiled to his Rakitnoe estate in Kursk Province. Later, he and his wife made their way from there to the Crimea. After the October Revolution they left Russia forever.

The Yussupov Palace was left in the care of friends. Soon, however, official documents testifying to its diplomatic immunity appeared on its doors. In 1917, the Communist government decided to use the deserted palace to accommodate the Swedish and German consulates and the German commission for the exchange of prisoners of war.

On 22 February 1919, the Northern Commune newspaper published the following decree of the Soviet government, signed by Anatoly Lunacharsky, People’s Commissar of Education: “The palace of the former Prince Yussupov, address 92/94 River Moika Embankment, as an artistic-historical monument containing a collection of pictures and objects of artistic importance, is hereby declared the property of the state, under the jurisdiction of the Department of Museums and Protection of Monuments of Art and Antiquity, People’s Commissariat of Education.”

A special commission was formed to inspect the palace and inventorise its contents. In the secret storerooms of the palace, the workers came across over a thousand paintings by such masters as Jacques-Louis David, Jean- Honoré Fragonard, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Guido Reni, Hubert Robert, Diego Velázquez, Anthony van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt. Just as unique was the collection of over a hundred rare musical instruments, including violins that had once belonged to such famed Italian masters as the Amati brothers and Antonio Stradivari. Rare objects of applied art – miniatures, cameos, jewels, works of gold, silver and porcelain – were also discovered in the palace caches. Just as rich were the collections of old weapons, coins and medals and the collection of tapestries and gobelins.

A number of especially valuable manuscripts were also uncovered. These included letters and autographs by famous writers, philosophers and political figures, among them Gavrila Derzhavin, Prince Pyotr Vyazemsky, Nikolai Gogol, Nikolai Yazykov, Alexei Khomyakov, Friedrich Schiller, Victor Hugo, Prosper Mérimée and Pierre Augustin Canon de Beaumarchais. The literary archives of the Yussupov Palace also contained the original drafts of many of the works of Alexander Pushkin, the original copy of Epistle to a Grandee, the poet’s letters and his article on the death of Anton Delvig.

On 26 September 1919, 111 rare manuscripts from the Yussupov Palace were handed over to Boris Modzalevsky, senior curator of the Pushkin House of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Six years later, on 12 October 1925, twenty six letters written by Pushkin to Elizaveta Khitrovo, daughter of Fieldmarshal Kutuzov, and one to her daughter, Countess Ekaterina von Tiesenhausen, were found bricked up in the wall behind the bookshelf in Prince Yussupov’s study. This discovery was an important landmark in the history of the study of Russian literature. The letters were published in 1927 in a separate volume with detailed commentaries.

More than eight thousand books from the Yussupov library were awarded to the Public Library. The library of the Academy of Sciences received a unique manuscript of the Bible, printed on parchment paper in 1462.

The Yussupov Palace was used to host first an exhibition of art, opened on 20 September 1919, then a museum depicting the life of the former nobility. A catalogue of the works of art from the Yussupov Gallery was compiled by the State Museum Fund in 1920. It offers an intriguing excursion through the palace rooms and is convincing proof of the uniqueness of the Yussupov family collection, which was comprised of works of various schools and periods. The museum was eventually closed down in 1925 and the collection broken up. The paintings, sculptures and other unique works of art were distributed among the Hermitage, Russian Museum, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and other state collections. The subsequent fate of the art collection put together over the years by Nikolai Yussupov and his descendants was decided by an evaluation commission headed by Maxim Gorky, set up “to save the art treasures of the Republic from pillage and destruction.”

In July 1925, the Yussupov Palace “and all the structures belonging to the aforementioned ensemble, its apparatus and essential property” were awarded to the provincial branch of the All-Russian Trade Union of Education Workers. The intention was to transform the palace into a “cultural, socio-political, pedagogical and professional centre for teachers,” a function which it still fulfils to this day.

On 20 March 1935, by decree of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, the palace was taken under state protection as an historical and artistic monument of national importance.

The Yussupov Palace thus enjoyed a relatively happy historical fate. It was spared the revolutionary maelstrom of political changes that scattered so many of the treasures of other Petersburg mansions, as a result of a never-ending stream of new owners. The palace was for many years administered by the one department, which helped to ensure both its conservation and the systematic nature of any restoration work. The only exception was during the Second World War, when the building was subjected to the merciless onslaught of German shells and the cold and disorder brought on by the Siege of Leningrad. Evacuation Hospital No. 67 was set up in the palace at the start of the war to treat wounded soldiers and officers.

The White Columned Room and Princess Yussupova’s Study suffered direct hits in September 1941. The Préciosité Room later perished in a fire. The Green Drawing Room, the wall of the Ball Room and the state drawing rooms on the ground floor were also destroyed. Neither did the foundations, the railings in the central courtyard and the Moresque Room escape damage. In December 1941 an unexploded shell crashed through the roof of the theatre and lodged itself between the walls of the old fire-bars. The main facade of the palace also suffered serious damage.

The Yussupov Palace thus shared the fate of the city, experiencing the same privations and seemingly irreparable losses. Nevertheless, even during the fiercest fighting, the City Board of Architecture and Planning was still able to organize an Inspectorate for the Protection of Monuments, bringing together architects, artists and art historians. Despite the appalling destruction, an attempt was still made to minimize all damage, scrupulously fixate the losses and effect their systematic scientific research.

Architectural measurements headed by O. N. Shilina and B. D. Boldyrev began in the Yussupov Palace as early as autumn 1941. In 1943, the architect Kratirova carried out measurements of the destroyed Green Drawing Room. Isaac Lizak made fixative drawings of the Large Rotunda and the Green, Red and Blue Drawing Rooms. Conservation of the surviving fragments of the finish in all rooms suffering damage was effected at the same time.

The architectural restoration studios of Leningrad resumed work in July 1945. In 1946, the Yussupov Palace was awarded a million roubles towards its first post-war restoration. The Préciosité Room, Green Drawing Room, Ball Room, Vestibule, Marble Staircase, Roman Room, White Columned Room, Ancient Gallery and the theatre foyer were all restored between 1946 and 1955. Work was headed by the architects I. N. Benois and V. M. Sivkov and the artist N. V. Pertsev.

In 1949 the question arose as to how to extract the unexploded bomb from the wall of the palace theatre. Originally, it was intended to detonate the bomb, even if that meant sacrificing the interior of the theatre. It was only the personal intercession of a sapper lieutenant, Yury Trofimov, that saved the theatre. The Soviet Minister of Defence granted him permission to remove the shell manually and he himself carried it out into the palace garden. Years later, as an elderly man, Trofimov told the palace workers how he had been assisted by captains Laptev and Stepanov and private Rassokhin and that they had been proud to save the theatre from destruction.

The Moresque Room lost all its fantastic lustre in the war. Stone-carving masters headed by P. N. Mitrokhin restored the multi-coloured mosaics on the walls, the carved basin of the fountain and the unique onyx fireplace. A group of artists headed by F. F. Vasilyeva restored the intricate design of oriental ornamental script on the gold-covered walls and the gilt and oil painting of the ceiling and cornices.

Restoration work in the palace acquired a planned complex character in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A thorough clearing and fastening of the original elements of the finish, observation of scientific methods and technologies and the employment of all possible means of recreating the original decor – these were the principles that the master restorers followed when restoring to their former beauty the White Columned Room, the theatre, the state enfilade, the main staircase, the art gallery and the former residential quarters. The team of gilt masters headed by E. G. Shishalova thus strove to bring out the tone of old gilt when restoring the theatre. The application of “green” leaf-gold created the effect of authenticity and lent the interior an especially noble harmony of colours.

The original colouring was restored to the walls of the Large Drawing Room in the apartments of Felix and Irina Yussupov. The gilt was also restored to the doors in accordance with the original plans of Andrei Beloborodov, the last architect to work at the commission of the former owners.

Further interesting episodes in the history of the rebirth of the palace occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. The decor was restored to the walls of the Gobelin Drawing Room in imitation of wood carvings, as was the moulding on the ceiling in imitation of porcelain, harmonizing with the blue Sèvres porcelain of the chandeliers. Cabinet-makers restored the wooden details to the finish of the drawing room – columns, cornices, walnut panels and frames that once contained rare gobelins.

The restoration of the Study of Prince Nikolai Yussupov was headed by N. V. Bychkov. His team of artists removed several later layers of oil painting and recreated the original composition and colourlit of the plafond, as executed by the French artist Auguste Rouilly more than one hundred years ago.

The small interior of the Buffet Room is noted first and foremost for its nobility and originality of artistic finish. The built-in cupboards are veneered in the marquetry technique with rare species of wood. The walls are adorned with stamped patterned leather. At the start of restoration, the room was considered to be past saving. But when the oil coating on the surviving pieces of leather were inspected and cleared, a layer of silver was unexpectedly discovered under the painting, imparting a rich and deep shine to the dark decorative attire of the room.

Such complicated restoration work was entrusted to the artists N. V. Bychkov and O. R. Kozhukhovsky. They were joined by experts from the Leningrad Association of Artificial Leathers, who helped to develop the following method. The plaster form was removed from the preliminary restored fragment of original leather upholstering. A mixture of semi-vinyl acetate emulsion, chalk and dry pigments was then poured into this form. The form was firmly bound by tight canvas on a stretcher for twenty four hours. The texture and the pattern of the stamped leather were thus faithfully reproduced on the facial side of the canvas. The stamped design was then covered with leaf-silver, painted in oil and covered with tinted varnish. The result was so successful that the artificial upholstery is now virtually indistinguishable from the original.

Many rooms in the palace, such as the Ball Room, could only be restored in stages. The figured ornamental painted design of the plafond, created in the 1830s by Pietro Scotti and Barnabe Medici, was the first to be restored in 1946. The following restoration of the room was effected between 1983 and 1989. The original patterned parquet floor was recreated with the application of oak, mahogany, walnut and birchwood, following the surviving original design. The crystal balusters enclosing the old mirrors, decorating the planes of the walls of the room and increasing the spatial resolution, were also restored. The work of the gilt masters proved to be particularly complex and required a large number of subsequent operations. A special polyment and heavy books of foil-gold, each weighing forty grains, were employed. The lighting appliances play an important role in the decor of the Ball Room. They too were subjected to a complex restoration by the experts of the Restavrator association headed by G. N. Yakovsky.

The complex scientific restoration of the palace rooms continues to this day. Besides the interiors, unique musical instruments, furniture, lamps and other fixtures and fittings are also being renovated. There are ambitious plans to restore the entire complex of the Yussupov estate, one of the finest Russian aristocratic mansions of the eighteenth–twentieth centuries.

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