Russian art of the 18th and 19th centuries is often noted for possessing a unique combination of western art idioms with Russian style. The uniquely Russian aspects can be seen in a certain exuberance, use of luxurious materials and a love of saturated colors. Also, scale often sets Russian design apart, since most major commissions of art and building were Imperia propaganda pieces intended to express the power and culture of the Russian state in the palaces, streets and churches where the court ceremony was played out.
Catherine the Second, in whose reign Cameron worked in Russia, came to Russia a child bride for the Romanov heir remained there throughout her life -eventually eliminating her husband and reigning alone. Although she was born abroad and her youth was indelibly stamped with the mental outlook and culture of her German homeland, as the years passed Catherine became more and more Russian. Proud, overscale in her dreams and luxuriantly sensual, Catherine earned her title "the Great" for her Russian aspects of her personality as much as the accomplishments of her reign..
Before her time Russian rulers imported art and culture wholesale, sometimes with a limited ability to distinguish what constituted fine design and quality of workmanship. Catherine was quite unlike her predecessors in this regard. She was extremely well read, particularly in the classics. From massive deluxe portfolios filled with exquisite engravings she studied design and architectural styles. She had an excellent education in of the classical orders and could spot a Corinthian or Ionic capital that was 'off' in scale or detail on sight.
Having learned classical architecture from engravings rather that seeing the monuments first-hand she acquired a taste for architecture that was crisply and precisely drawn. She judged an architect's skill by his ability to draw well. A big, sharp and delicately colored building design was a delight for Catherine, a patron for whom the planning of a building project was almost a more enjoyable that seeing it built. Architects like Cameron and especially Quarenghi, who realistically peopled their designs with miniature people were especially popular with her.
While foreigners thought Catherine the possessor of unlimited money and resources to build whatever she wanted, in truth she was often strapped for funds. During her reign the country grew and became involved in expensive wars that drained the treasury. Many of the projects Catherine conceived with her architects on paper had to be scaled back when actually built.
Sometimes, particularly late in her reign, a building would go up only to find that there wasn't enough money to complete their interior decoration according to plan and the completion of the interiors of some palaces and public buildings could take a number of years.
However, Catherine was unrestrained (within the bounds of reason and respectability) when it came to her own personal needs. She needed a certain type of living space and a circle of friends to help her bear the stress and burden of government and private life. In Catherine's world the public and private aspects of her life were blurred and overlapped. From throne room to the private boudoir she lived under the eyes of her subjects, foreigners and lovers. Catherine went to great lengths to promote the myth and reality of her greatness for she was highly conscious of the high level of her own culture and the failings in her personal life, which were subject to great criticism at home and abroad. Wanting to 'rise above it all' - so to speak - Catherine used impressive buildings and interiors that reflected her own glory and, by their size and richness made her shortcomings appear trivial in contrast to such accomplishments of intellect and power. It was also her goal to create a permanent legacy of herself on the Russian landscape that no one could eliminate.
Being a sensual person, having a keen appreciation for the direct physical experience of beauty, color and taste, Catherine had a natural desire to create buildings and interiors which appealed to the senses as well as the intellect. In this desire she was fortunate in securing the services of the Scott, Charles Cameron (1740-1812), who was able to translate Catherine's ideas into reality.
This book on Charles Cameron was published in England in 1943, in the midst of World War II. The palaces described here were behind enemy lines and were in the hands of the Nazis and their Spanish allies. Reports of the destruction of Pavlovsk and Tsarskoe Selo were then circulating and the survival of Cameron's work was in doubt. The book was almost an prayer for the survival of Charles Cameron's masterpieces in Russia.
George Lukomski was in an exceptional situation to describe the monuments and their history, for he had known them first-hand as the first curator of the Alexander Palace in 1918, taking his job immediately after the exile of the Romanovs to Tobolsk. His heroic efforts, along with those of dozens of intellectuals and palace workers, saved these monuments from probable destruction by the Bolsheviks. Once the palaces were in the hands of their curators and workers they were resolutely defended by them, otherwise the Bolsheviks would have destroyed them as useless relics of the old order. The story of this struggle and the fate of the palaces under Soviet rule and the results of the German occupation has been brilliantly told by Suzanne Massie in her book "Pavlovsk, Life of a Russian Palace".
We wanted to present this book on the Internet because it is virtually unavailable to the general public, with the few available copies going for up to several hundred dollars a piece on the book market. It is a wonderful monograph on one of the greatest contributors to neo-classical architecture and decoration. Cameron's work strongly influenced Quarenghi. This can been seen in his design of the Alexander Palace, the finest example of neo-classical architecture in Russia and the quintessential expression of Catherinian intellectualism expressed in brick, mortar and painted stucco.
When you have completed reading this online book we hope you will visit other sites sponsored by the Alexander Palace Associated and built by Pallasart listed below. We encourage you to fill out the form on the APA site for notifciation of our activities and updates to our sites.
Above: The Alexander Palace from across the Kitchen pond, facing the rooms of Alexandra Feodorovna.
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