Russia, Royalty & the Romanovs
- Susan Mansfield
- 9 July 2019
New exhibition celebrating the connections between the Russian and British royal families from the late 17th century
Two full-length portraits flank the stairway to the Queen's Gallery: on one side Peter the Great, the first Russian ruler to set foot on British soil in 1698, and on the other Tsar Nicholas II, the last. They bookend more than 200 years of diplomatic and familial connections between the two royal families.
This exhibition, drawn entirely from the royal collection, celebrates this relationship, a treasure house of portraits and objects exchanged as diplomatic gifts, or collected later: King George V and Queen Mary, particularly, bought up Romanov memorabilia after 1918 as a tribute to the family they had known.
Yet for all the beautiful things on display here – the portraits of dashing Russian officers and dark-eyed princesses, the gorgeous objects made by Faberge, even a Russian-style dress worn by Princess Charlotte in 1817 – the exhibition seems unclear about the story it's telling. While individual objects are described thoroughly, any overview is sparse, and the (free) audio guide a must.
Ultimately, it's a story of how two royal houses, initially suspicious of one another, became intimately entwined, mainly thanks to Queen Victoria's detemination to marry her offspring into Europe's most important families (one son and two granddaughters married Romanovs). Rare cine footage survive of the visit paid to her by Nicholas II and his wife, her granddaughter Princes Alix of Hesse ('little Alicky'), at Balmoral in 1896.
Even if you (like me) spend much of your time trying to disentangle the dynastic connections (a family tree would help a lot) and work out who was first cousin to whom (answer: most people are), there is something incredibly poignant about the family photographs of Nicholas and Alix enjoying the regatta at Cowes in 1909 with their cousins, and the tiny Cossack general's uniform made for Prince Alexei, while tragedy loomed just around the corner.
Queen's Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 3 Nov.