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The Children's Floor - Grand Duchesses's Dining Room

Private Dining Room for the Imperial Children and Their Staff

This photograph was taken during the First World War. On the left is Tatiana, who is dressed in a nurse's uniform and is seated on a simple bentwood chair. Behind her is Tatiana's sister, Maria. The table is set for tea and behind it is a large built-in cupboard for the storage of glassware, china and silver. A cord with a button for calling a servant hands from the light at the center of the room. On the walls are watercolors by the artist Elizabeth Bem, who was a favorite of the family. Here can also be seen a small thermometor. The room also had a white-painted piano.

The Dining Room opened off of a landing which lead to a wooden staircase leading via a mezzanine bathroom and closets to their mother's bathroom downstairs. The Imperial children most often dined separately from their parents.

Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, a Lady-in-Waiting to the Empress was quite close to the Grand Duchesses. She wrote eloquently about them:

 

"From an early age the children came down to luncheon with their parents, even if there were guests present in addition to the members of the Household. While they were still babies, their table manners were very good and they talked quite easily to strangers. They changed into romping clothes for the afternoon, but appeared again at tea time in their best frocks with their toys. Later the toys were replaced by needlework, for the Empress would never allow them to sit about idle. They were perfectly at ease with their parents, looking upon them, not only as parents, but as delightful companions. When they grew up, they laughed and joked with them, the Empress joining in when the Emperor teased his daughters.

The girls were all four remarkably healthy, though they had the usual children's complaints - croup, measles and chicken-pox. Anastasia had diphtheria also, and Olga and Tatiana typhoid. Their mother nursed them through all these illnesses, isolating herself with the sick child, and sitting up for whole nights to soothe and comfort the restless little patient. They had, of course, a staff of nurses; an English head-nurse in charge, with Russians under her, while the Tsarevich had a Russian head-nurse of his own.... For a long time the Empress did not want her daughters to have a regular governess. She did not like the idea of a stranger coming between herself and her children... the Grand Duchesses had no one especially attached to them. Mlle. Schneider took the charge of the two youngest, Marie and Anastasia, while the elder ones went about with one or other of the Empress's ladies-in-waiting.

The Empress really brought up her daughters herself, and her work was well done. It is not possible to imagine more charming, pure and high-minded girls. She could exercise her authority when necessary, but not in such a way as to interfere with the perfect confidence that existed between mother and daughters. She understood the high spirits of youth, and never put a check on laughter or wild pranks. She liked, too, to be present at their lessons, and to discuss with their teachers the line their studies should follow.

The girls were all very good-looking. The eldest, the Grand Duchess Olga Nicolaevna, was fair and tall, with smiling blue eyes, a somewhat short nose, which she called "my humble snub," and lovely teeth. She had a remarkably graceful figure and was a beautiful rider and dancer. She was the cleverest of the sisters, and was very musical, having, her teachers said, an "absolutely correct ear." She could play by ear anything she had heard, and could transpose' complicated pieces of music, play the most difficult accompaniments at sight, and her touch on the piano was delightful. She sang prettily in a mezzosoprano. She was lazy at practising, but when the spirit moved her she would play by the hour.

Olga Nicolaevna was very straightforward, sometimes too outspoken, but always sincere. She had great charm, and could be the merriest of the merry. When she was a schoolgirl, her unfortunate teachers had every possible practical joke played on them by her. When she grew up, she was always ready for any amusement. She was generous, and an appeal to her met with immediate response. "Oh, one must help poor so-and-so. I must do it somehow," she would say. Her more careful sister, Tatiana, would suggest practical measures, would note names and details, and come back to the subject later out of a sense of duty.

Olga Nicolaevna was devoted to her father. The horror of the Revolution told on her more keenly than on any of the others. She changed completely, and all her bright spirits disappeared.

Tatiana Nicolaevna was to my mind prettier than her sisters. She was taller even than the Empress, but she was so slight and well-proportioned that her great height was not remarkable. She had fine, regular features, recalling pictures of ancestresses who had been famous beauties. She had dark hair, a rather pale complexion, and wide-apart, light-brown eyes, that gave her a poetic far-away look, not quite in keeping -with her character. This was a mixture of exactness, thoroughness and perseverance, with leanings towards poetic and abstract ideas. She was closest in sympathy to her mother, and was the definite favorite of both her parents. She was completely unselfish, always ready to give up her own plans to go for a walk with her father, to read to her mother, to do anything that was wanted. It was Tatiana Nicolaevna who took care of the little ones, and who -was a constant help to the Household, always willing to help them in arranging that their official duties should not clash with their private engagements. She had the Empress's practical mind and love of detail. She planned and arranged everything in the " Children's quarters " as it was called. She had a less strong character than Olga Nicolaevna, whose lead she would always follow, but she could make up her mind in an emergency quicker than her elder sister, and never lost her head.

When her brother was ill, Tatiana Nicolaevna could take her mother's place, following the doctor's directions and playing with the sick boy for hours. Out of a sense of duty, she undertook more thin her share of public appearances. She was shy, Eke all her sisters, but her natural friendliness made her want to say pleasant things to people. She became much better known than her cleverer elder sister, as she took more trouble about the people she met. Tatiana Nicolaevna loved dress. Any frock, no matter how old, looked well on her. She knew how to put on her clothes, was admired and liked admiration. She was sociable, and friends would have been welcome, but no young girls were ever asked to the Palace. The Empress thought that the four sisters should be able to entertain one another. They were close friends when they outgrew the squabbles of childhood. The two elder shared one bedroom, the two younger another, while their schoolrooms and dining-room were in common. The little Tsarevich had his own rooms, in which M. Gilliard ruled.

Marie Nicolaevna was like Olga Nicolaevna in colouring and features, but all on a more vivid scale. She had the same charming smile, the same shape of face, but her eyes, "Marie's saucers," as they were called by her cousins, were magnificent, and of a deep dark blue. Her hair had golden lights in it, and when it was cut after her illness in 1917, it curled naturally over her head. Marie Nicolaevna, alone of the sisters, had a decided talent for drawing, and sketched quite -well, always with her left hand. "Mashka," as her sisters called her, was ruled entirely by her youngest sister, Anastasia Nicolaevna, nicknamed by her mother "the imp."

Perhaps Anastasia Nicolaevna would have grown up the prettiest of the sisters. Her features were regular and finely cut. She had fair hair, fine eyes, with impish laughter in their depths, and dark eyebrows that nearly met. These combined to make the youngest Grand Duchess quite unlike any of her sisters. She had a type of her own and was more like her mother's than her father's family. She was rather short even at seventeen, and was, then decidedly fat, but it was the fatness of youth. She would have outgrown it, as had her sister Marie.

Anastasia Nicolaevna was the originator of all mischief, and was as witty and amusing as she was lazy at her lessons. She was quick and observant, with a keen sense of humour, and was the only one of the sisters who never knew the meaning of shyness. Even as a baby she had entertained grave old men, who were her neighbors at table, with her astonishing remarks.

All the Grand Duchesses were very Russian in their outlook and ideas. Their only experience of foreign countries had been in short visits to Darmstadt, and once to England, and they preferred life in their own country to anything else. They always spoke Russian among themselves and to the Emperor, English to their mother, and French to M. Gilliard. The elder girls had a smattering of German, but spoke it with difficulty; the younger ones and the Tsarevich did not know it at all. "

Bob Atchison
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