History - Large Library
The Empire style furniture seen in this view of the Great Library of the palace was made of mahogany and dates from the reign of Nicholas I. The walls of this room were also covered in chaste, white artificial marble. Three great glass, crystal and gilded bronze lanterns hung in a row down the center of the Library and were from the reign of Catherine II. They were are original to the palace and are now in the Egyptian Vestibule in Pavlovsk Palace.
On the top of the bookcases are models of mounted cavalrymen made by Gazenberger and returned to the palace after 1917 from the Arsenal in the Alexander Park. They had originally been in the rooms of Nicholas I, but have been removed to the Arsenal when the English Suite was created.
This room was originally two stories with a hanging balcony. This two story room was impressive, but it cut the left hand wing off from the rest of the palace. During the reign of Nicholas I it was altered and the ceiling was lowered with new rooms inserted above. Nicholas I made many changes to the Alexander Palace. It was his family's home in Tsarskoe Selo and he lived there for extended periods of time every year . He took great interest in the palace and its grounds. Nicholas had his own flower beds outside the Formal Reception Room where he planted favorite bulbs and bedding plants with his own hands.
There were many bronze statuettes and ship models in the room. The collection of books included part of the Private Library of Paul I, which was sent here after his death.
In the reign of the last Tsar, Nicholas II had two, full time librarians on his staff to look after the collection of the Alexander Palace, which was a unique collection of both rare and historical books. The collection was broad and reflected the personal tastes of succeeding generations of Romanovs who lived in the palace. Serious scientific volumes sat alongside plays, albums of watercolors, early Orthodox theological works and historical books. Many books were splendid editions-deluxe covered in expensive hand tooled leathers with gilt and silver fittings. The size of some of these volumes was amazing and they required two people to lift onto tables and turn the pages. The palace collection also included rare magazines and pamphlets from the late 18th through the early 20th centuries which document everyday life and changing tastes in daily life, dress and fashion. The libraries included early fashion 'magazines', which documented the history of style during the first decades of the 1800's and these were a source of amusement to Aleksandra and her daughters in the last years of the monarchy. They had been collected by successive reigns of Tsaritsas and their daughters - all carefully cataloged and store away by dutiful Imperial librarians. After the revolution a part of the library's collection was sold by the Soviet Government, which was looking for convertable currency to finance Communist parties in foreign countries. A large number of these books now reside at Harvard University and in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. The New York Public Library also cherishes a collection of Imperial books from the Alexander Palace.
Above: Nicholas I, Tsar of Russia, the Alexander Palace was one of favorite residences.
During the Second World War the curators of the Palace-Museum were forced to leave most of the library behind. There were not enough packing materials, crates, nor transport or time to pack the library in advance of the German troops. In the vain hope that they might be overlooked by the Germans, the books were stacked in out-of-the-way basement rooms and inconspicuous closets. Unfortunately, art specialists and professional appraisers travelled with the German Army and they poured over the Alexander Palace treasures, picking out choice pieces for Nazi officers and officials back home. What was left over was picked at by soldiers, who sent books and art objects back home to their families. As a result thousands of volumes from the library were stolen or destroyed by the Germans and their Spanish allies. Most of the stolen books and art objects still remain in private hands in the West and have not been returned. Almost no effort has been made in recent times to locate and return them to Russia.