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New exhibition explores 300-year relationship between British and Russian royal dynasties

Release date: Thursday, 8 November 2018

Fabergé, Mosaic Egg and Surprise, 1914 ©

A fashionable Russian-style dress worn by Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV; three of Fabergé’s celebrated Imperial Easter eggs; and some of the earliest-known photographs of Moscow and St Petersburg are among almost 300 works in the new exhibition Russia: Royalty & the Romanovs, opening tomorrow (9 November) at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace.

The exhibition examines familial and diplomatic links between Britain and Russia and their royal houses over a period of 300 years, beginning with Peter the Great’s visit to Britain in 1698.  Russia: Royalty & the Romanovs is the first exhibition from the Royal Collection to explore these historic links through decorative arts, paintings, jewellery, costume, books, letters and photographs, many of which are on public display for the first time.

Emperor Alexander I visited London in 1814, and his presence may have influenced a fashion for Russian clothing.  A Russian-style dress belonging to Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV, has a drawstring waist to accommodate the Princess’s pregnancy, as seen in her portrait by George Dawe of 1817. Princess Charlotte died during childbirth and was widely mourned by the British public. The dress is thought to have survived as it was particularly treasured in the tragic circumstances. 

Works by Carl Fabergé illustrate the shared patronage of the renowned jewellery house by the British and Russian royal families in the early 20th century, when pieces were often exchanged as gifts. The most significant additions to the group of Fabergé in the Royal Collection were made by King George V and Queen Mary, who purchased the Basket of Flowers, Colonnade and Mosaic Eggs in the 1930s. The eggs were originally commissioned by Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia, for his wife Alexandra Feodorovna. 

The Mosaic Egg is one of the most technically sophisticated of all Fabergé’s creations. The ‘shell’ is made from a platinum mesh into which are fitted tiny diamonds, rubies, topaz, sapphires, garnets, pearls and emeralds to form a floral motif.  Within the egg sits a ‘surprise’, a medallion painted with the portraits of the five children of Nicholas and Alexandra. An Elephant Automaton, recently discovered to be the missing surprise from the Diamond Trellis Egg, is also shown in the exhibition. 

Queen Victoria’s 63-year reign spanned the reigns of four Russian emperors. After his visit to England in 1844, Nicholas I commissioned a vast portrait of himself dressed in the uniform of the Russian Cavalier Guard as a gift for the Queen.  The painting is almost three-and-a-half metres tall and is set within a highly ornate frame with a Russian imperial eagle at each corner. Two years later, Franz Xaver Winterhalter painted a portrait of the young Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales, her future heir.  Five-year-old ‘Bertie’ wears a loose-fitting overshirt, described as his ‘Russian dress’, which is thought to have been a gift from the Emperor during his visit.

In 1859 Winterhalter painted Grand Duchess Alexandra Iosifovna of Russia, sister-in-law of Alexander II and great grandmother of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh.  The portrait hung in the Marble Palace in St Petersburg in the early 20th century. In 2016 the painting was bequeathed to Her Majesty The Queen for the Royal Collection by Jane, Lady Abdy from the collection of her late husband Sir Robert Abdy.

The coronation of Alexander II at the Kremlin in 1856 was attended by Lord Granville as Queen Victoria’s representative.  Irish Corporal James Mack accompanied Granville to make a photographic record of the places visited by the diplomatic party during their stay in Russia.  Mack’s images, some of the earliest-known photographs of Moscow and St Petersburg, were shown in the first exhibition of the Photographic Society of Scotland in 1856 at the request of the Society’s Patron, Prince Albert.

Russia: Royalty & the Romanovs is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 9 November 2018 – 28 April 2019, with Shadows of War: Roger Fenton's Photographs of the Crimea, 1855.

The accompanying publication, Russia: Art, Royalty & the Romanovs, is published by Royal Collection Trust, price £29.95.

A selection of images is available from For further information and photographs, please contact the Royal Collection Trust Press Office, +44 (0)20 7839 1377, [email protected].


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