Nicholas II (1894-1917)
On his accession, Nicholas II was keen to return to the residence in the capital. The palace architect, Alexander Krasovsky, was entrusted with creating private rooms for the Emperor and his wife, Alexandra Fiodorovna. In December 1895 they moved into the Winter Palace and lived there permanently in the winter. In 1904, after the birth of their incurably ill son Alexei, the imperial family moved to the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, visiting the Winter Palace only for formal ceremonies, banquets and receptions.
Receptions were rare events. Those who attended them unanimously agreed that Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna was stunningly beautiful in a dress sprinkled with diamonds, but everyone also noticed how burdensome she found the performance of her public duties. The imperial couple were not fond of the high life. "Extremely modest and simple in his private life, the Tsar was obliged to submit to the demands of etiquette. The ruler of one sixth of the globe could receive guests only in an atmosphere of extravagant luxury," wrote the historian Grand Prince Alexander Mikhailovich.
In 1915, during the First World War, the state rooms of the Great Enfilade were converted into a military hospital named in honour of the heir to the throne. Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna and her daughters worked in the hospital as nursing assistants.
The personal apartments of Nicholas II and his wife were created in the second storey of the north-western corner block, beyond the Malachite Room that was among the state rooms of the palace whose historical appearance was preserved. The rooms that Briullov had decorated for Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna in 1838-39 were converted for the young imperial couple. Later they had been occupied by Maria Fiodorovna, the wife of Alexander III, who had a few minor changes made there.
The rooms were a sort of self-enclosed complex, a separate apartment. They were supposed to embody the young couple's domestic ideal, a cosy, welcoming home. The Emperor's diaries show that they both devoted much attention to the fitting out of their apartments.
Krasovsky, the architect, showed himself to be a master with immense erudition and superb taste. The combination of brilliant historical stylization with Moderne (Art Nouveau) elements made the apartments of the last Russian Emperor's family a unique work of art. Sadly, the majority of the interiors have not survived and today we only have a few photographs, architect's drawings and archive documents. Each room that Krasovsky created is an elegant paraphrasing of the style of a particular historical era.
Nicholas II's Study and Library were finished in wood in imitation of the English Middle Ages. All the details of the interior and the furniture are decorated with Gothic-style carving. An important element in both interiors were the Gothic fireplaces embellished with griffons and lions, heraldic figures from the arms of the Romanov House and the Hesse-Darmstadt House, to which the Empress belonged. The interior of the Library has survived, as has the Small Dining-Room with decor that combines features of Classicism, the Baroque and Rococo. The dining-room contains some genuine 18th-century items - tapestries made in St Petersburg, an English chandelier and a mantel clock.
The hands of the clock are stopped at 2.10, the time early in the morning on 26 October 1917 when the ministers of the Provisional Government were arrested in the Small Dining-Room. The Winter Palace had been the seat of the government since July 1917. The workplaces of its members and officials were located in the former apartments of the last Russian emperor, the Malachite Room and a few adjoining state rooms.