Mobile menu
Press release

Russia, Royalty & the Romanovs at The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse

Release date: Thursday, 4 April 2019

Couple being married in front of a crowd of dignitaries


For more than 300 years Britain has been linked to Russia through exploration and discovery, diplomatic alliances and, latterly, by familial and dynastic ties. Russia, Royalty & the Romanovs, opening at The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse on 21 June 2019, explores the relationship between the two countries and their royal families through more than 170 works of art in the Royal Collection, many of which were exchanged as diplomatic gifts or intimate personal mementos.

The first Russian ruler to set foot on English soil was Tsar Peter I, known as Peter the Great. In 1698 he visited London for three months and met with the British King, William III, as part of a diplomatic and fact-finding tour of Western Europe. On his departure Peter presented the King with his portrait, painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller. The young Tsar is depicted wearing the mantle of a ruler and the armour of a warrior, looking to the West and hoping to establish a new, ‘open’ Russia.

During the reign of the Empress Catherine II (Catherine the Great), Russia’s borders expanded to the south and west, and the country was established as one of the great powers in Europe. The Empress’s coronation portrait by Vigilius Eriksen, c.1765–9, is a clear statement of magnificence and power. It was recorded as hanging in the Privy Chamber at Kensington Palace in 1813, and may have been a diplomatic gift to George III. On many occasions throughout her reign, Catherine looked to Britain for ideas and skills, inviting doctors, architects, artists and military experts to bring aspects of the Enlightenment to Russia. As part of this cultural exchange, the Scottish architect Charles Cameron created two of the finest 18th-century palaces in Russia, at Tsarskoe Selo and Pavlovsk.

The year 1815 saw final victory in the Napoleonic wars by the allied forces, including those of Great Britain and Russia. George IV commissioned Sir Thomas Lawrence to paint portraits of the central figures in the defeat of Napoleon for the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle, a room created to celebrate the achievement. The series included portraits of distinguished Russian military leaders, recognising Russia’s important contribution to the victory.

In the years that followed, a steady stream of Russian emperors, empresses, grand dukes and grand duchesses were entertained in Britain. The future Emperor Nicholas I visited in 1816–17, when he attended a banquet of more than 100 courses, hosted by the Prince Regent at his seaside residence, Brighton Pavilion. In gratitude for the hospitality shown to the future Emperor, his mother, Empress Maria, sent the Prince Regent’s daughter, Princess Charlotte, the insignia of the Order of St Catherine, the most prestigious award for women in Imperial Russia. The Princess is shown wearing the badge and a Russian-style dress in a portrait painted around 1817. The dress is one of a small number of garments that belonged to Princess Charlotte to survive in the Royal Collection.

Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), married Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863. Three years later, Alexandra’s sister, Princess Dagmar, married Tsesarevich Alexander, the son of Emperor Alexander II, linking the English, Russian and Danish royal houses. In 1874, Queen Victoria’s second son, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, married Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, the daughter of Alexander II, as recorded in Nicholas Chevalier’s painting of the ceremony. This first direct dynastic marriage between the two families was followed by the marriage of two of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters, the Princesses Elizabeth and Alix of Hesse, to Grand Duke Sergei, son of Alexander II, and the future Nicholas II respectively.

The English, Russian and Danish royal families regularly visited one another and marked these occasions in paintings and photographs, and through the exchange of gifts. The Danish artist Laurits Regner Tuxen was commissioned to record significant family events, includingThe Marriage of Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia, 26th November 1894 and The Family of Queen Victoria in 1887, celebrating the Queen’s Golden Jubilee that year. A great number of works by Carl Fabergé entered the Royal Collection as a result of the close relationship and shared tastes of the Danish sisters Queen Alexandra and Empress Maria Feodorovna (formerly Princess Dagmar). Among them are a framed portrait miniature of the Empress and a gold cigarette case, given to King Edward VII as a 40th wedding anniversary present in 1903.

In October 1896 Queen Victoria’s granddaughter Alexandra Feodorovna (formerly Princess Alix of Hesse) and her husband Emperor Nicholas II visited the Queen at Balmoral Castle, in a family reunion that was documented in a watercolour by Orlando Norie, and in the first ever film footage of the royal family. The Emperor and his family made their last visit to Britain in August 1909, when they attended the annual regatta at Cowes on the Isle of Wight. A double portrait taken by a local photographer shows the strong family resemblance between the Prince of Wales (later King George V) and his cousin Emperor Nicholas. During the visit the Princess of Wales (later Queen Mary) was given a Fabergé brooch made from a Siberian amethyst. Following the deaths of the Imperial Family in 1918, King George V and Queen Mary assembled a collection of works of art that had belonged to their Russian relations as poignant reminders of happier times.

In 1923 the Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother) commissioned a portrait of herself from the Russian artist Savely Sorine. Twenty-five years later she commissioned Sorine to paint a portrait of her daughter Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh, the future Queen Elizabeth II. During an official visit in 1956, First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev and Premier Nikolai Bulganin presented Her Majesty The Queen with a number of gifts, including the oil painting A Winter’s Day by the prominent painter, publisher and art historian Igor Grabar.

Russia, Royalty & the Romanovs is at The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, 21 June – 3 November 2019. Exhibition tickets cost £7.20 for adults, £3.60 for under-17s and £18.00 for families (two adults and three under-17s). 

A selection of images is available from


Press release_Russia, Royalty & the Romanovs

Contact sheet_Russia, Royalty & the Romanovs