The Mikhailovsky Palace - The Benois Wing
The Mikhailovsky Palace
The history of the Palace begins when Grand Duke Mikhail was born. In 1798 Emperor Paul I ordered to save several hundreds thousands of roubles to built later a palace for his younger son. The palace should suit the grandeur and tastes of the Emperor's Family.
The august father did not manage to see the fruition of his plans — in three years his life and reign were tragically cut off by the palace coup. However, the Emperor's will was carried out properly and the sums were being allotted regularly. When Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich reached the age of 21 and the sum was 9 millions the construction of the palace was started. On 17 April 1819 Alexander I put a stone ark with silver coins in the basement and laid a silver plate with a memorial inscription.
The palace was designed and built by Carlo Rossi (1775-1849) — a brilliant architect who created the largest Empire architectural ensembles which completed the building-up of the central part of St Petersburg in the 1810s-20s.
The city complex with the Mikhailovsky Palace in the centre is a pearl among creations of the great architect. The architect managed to reach the harmony between the palace building and the landscape and architecture surrounding. The fundamental reshaping of the vast territory, that was only partly built up by wooden greenhouses of the Third Summer Garden near the St Michael's Castle, allowed Rossi to lay the Mikhailovskaya street and to connect the square in front of the Mikhailovsky Palace with the central artery of the city — the Nevsky Prospect. Thus a spectacular view of the main palace façade with a well-shaped elegant eight-columned Corinthian portico was opened.
The opposite façade that overlooks the Mikhailovsky Garden is less known though not less beautiful. It unites a parade solemnity of the palace and chamber park construction, harmonious proportion of all parts and magnificent and a little bit heavy monumentality that reminds us of Carlo Rossi's teacher — the architect Vincenzo Brenna who built the St Michael's Castle.
The sculptural, figurative, plastic, carved and other kind of décor were created by prominent sculptors Vasily Demut-Malinovsky and Stepan Pimenov, painters Pietro and Giovanni Batista Scotti, Antonio Vigi, Barnaba Medici, Fyodor Brullo, masters of plastic Nikita and Sergei Sayegin, carvers Vasily Zakharov and Vasily Bobkov, famous craftsmen Tarasovs (carvers, parquet masters, woodmen) and many others.
Carlo Rossi made detailed plans of everything: from a cast iron grating with his favourite military attributes on the gate to the planning of the park, from the solution of the city building task to draughtsmanship of patterns on glued-laminated parquet in palace premises.
The facade of the main building and the western wing remained almost unchanged. Among the interiors only two may give a complete idea of the architect's gift and his original plan — the main vestibule of the palace and the White Room. These are masterpieces of the classic interior art.
The main vestibule includes a broad front staircase with two flights. It leads to the gallery on the next floor that is decorated by 18 great Corinthian columns.
The architect developed every detail of the interior in strict accordance with the general principle of the White Room — symmetry and harmony. The wooden walls have two doors (one of which is fake) flanking a mantelpiece. The magnificent gilt fretwork forms a striking element in the interior decor. The recesses above the doors are adorned with figures of muses on gilded theatrical masks.
Sculpture is employed in the decor of the mantelpieces. The decor was sculpted by Stepan Pimenov. The model of the White Room (1/8 of the original) was given as a present to the English King George IV.
The Mikhailovsky Palace was also famed for the salons and musical evenings held by Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna. Born Princess Helene Charlotte von Württemberg, she married Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich in 1824. A highly educated woman, she was the life and soul of the parties at the Mikhailovsky Palace. Her musical classes paved the way for the foundation of the St Petersburg Conservatoire.
When Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna died in 1873, the Mikhailovsky Palace was inherited by her daughter, Duchess Meklenburg-Strelitskaya, who in turn left it to her children — sons, Princes George and Mikhail of Meklenburg and a daughter, Princess Elena of Sachsen-Altenburg.
Tsar Nicholas II later decided to acquire the palace for the state and use it to house the Emperor Alexander III Russian Museum. The price was 4 million silver roubles.
The director of the museum was appointed by the Emperor. He had to belong to the Emperor's Home. Nicholas II appointed Grand Duke Georgy Mikhailovich.
There was also a special committee arranged to study the scope of restoration work and to supervise the process.
Between 1895 and 1898, Vasily Svinin transformed the Mikhailovsky Palace into a museum. A. Polovtsov, the author of one of the first guidebooks in the Russian Museum appreciated domesticity and assiduity of Vasily Svinin who helped to save money and to restore the palace and to preserve the integrity of its architectural decor.
V. Pushkarev, director of the Museum in the 1950s-70s, wrote: «Svinin was often reprimanded for changes in many premises in order to adapt them to the museum needs. However, he faced a very complicated task. He had to transform private palace rooms into public places convenient to exhibit pictures and sculptures. We must admit that the architect attacked the problem correctly…»
Still, after all alterations made by Vasily Svinin that preserved the unique interior and the complete architectural outlook of the building the Mikhailovsky Palace remained a truly precious frame for precious collections.
The Benois Wing
The project of the Benois Wing was created in 1910 – 1912 by the architects Leontiy Benois and Sergey Ovsyannikov. The original building was designed for exhibitions of different artistic communities and unions. The foundation of the Benois Wing took place on June 27, 1914. The First World War interrupted the process of building and Benois Wing was completed only in 1919.
The Benois Wing was handed over to the State Russian Museum in the early 1930’s. Since that time the halls for the permanent and temporary exhibitions of Russian art of the late 19th – early 21st centuries are have been placed there.
In the post-war time Rossi’s buildings were connected with Benois Wing by a special link building.