Luncheon at Vladimir Palace, St. Petersburg, hosted by Their Imperial Highnesses Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna and Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia
Opinion seems divided on the character of Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna - also known as Grand Duchess Vladimir on account of her husband - but there is a consistent view that her entertainment was amongst the best of the imperial family.
At this lunch in 1884 the Grand Duchess offers her guests saddles of marinated elk dressed in a rich ragout of truffles and goose-livers. A diplomatic wife at the time recounted how "the entertainments at her house are the most original and dashing of the season. They are so small and exclusive that they give a cachet second only to a formal acceptance by the Empress".
Similarly Lili Dehn, a confidant of the last Tsarina, remembered how "each Grand Ducal Court has its own particular clique and that of the Grand Duchess Marie, wife of the Grand Duke Vladimir, was perhaps specially joyous”.
Indeed when her husband died in February 1909, the obituary in The Times reflected that "the Vladimir household was ever noteable for lavish hospitality, which often taxed the Grand Ducal resources".
The Grand Duchess was Aunt to Queen Marie of Romania who, from childhood, called her "Aunt Miechen".
"It was not without a certain satisfaction", recalled the Romanian Queen, that 'Aunt Miechen' "became the social centre of Petersburg. It must be admitted that she was an incomparably amiable hostess and knew to perfection how to receive all manner of men. All through life she had been cherished, adulated, spoiled. She could spend what she would, every luxury, every comfort, every honour, every advantage were hers and she was one of the best-dressed women of her time: her clothes were superlatively smart and she had the great art of knowing exactly what to wear for each occasion," remembered Queen Marie.
Princess Catherine Radziwill had equally fond memories recounting how the:
“Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna gave several fancy-dress balls, one of which excited a good deal of talk owing to the magnificence of the costumes displayed for the occasion, and especially on account of the marvellous appearance of the Empress Marie Feodorovna in the dress of a Russian Tsarina of olden times, literally covered with the pick of the splendid crown jewels. One might have thought that this heavy attire would crush her”.
This 1884 luncheon took place at the Vladimir Palace, next door to the Emperor’s Winter Palace, on the embankment of Saint Petersburg’s Neva River. In the summer months the Grand Duchess resided on the outskirts of Saint Petersburg where a former diplomat recounted that luncheon “with the Grand Duchess Vladimir [was] in a tent in her garden, where all her meals are served in the summer”.
The Grand Duchess was married to Grand Duke Vladimir, a brother of Tsar Alexander III. She was of German birth and was one of few marrying into the Romanov family who steadfastly refused to give up her Lutheran faith and convert to Russian Orthodoxy (until the outbreak of World War I).
Her Germanic background, as the daughter of the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, likely explains the Germanic spelling of Vladimir, with a ‘W’, in the crest on the menu card. The crest also features the Romanov eagle.
Anna Vyrubova, Lady-in-Waiting to the last Tsarina, was not chartable at all to the Grand Duchess who was often accused of harbouring pro-German sentiments at the outbreak of World War I. She described the Grand Duchess’s character as resembling "a Russian grande dame of the old school” and accused her of being the “most active of the circle of intriguers which, from the safety of a foreign embassy in Petrograd [St. Petersburg], plotted the ruin of the Imperial Family and of their country”.
Such suspicions about the Grand Duchess's loyaties probably created mirth at the dinner table when her menus listed dessserts named after Prussia.
From the private Royal Menu Collection of © Jake Smith
Potage à la velours
Carrot soup based on a chicken consommé thickened with tapioca
Petits pâtés divers
Mixed small pies to accompany soup filled with savoury mousses
Timbale d’yerchis en bordure de pain
d’écrevisses, sauce remoulade
A timbale of sturgeon, caviar, chopped egg and celery surrounded with a border of a crayfish terrine and served with a remoulade made from mayonnaise flavoured with mustard, gherkin, capers, chopped egg and anchovy butter.
Selle d’élan marinè à la providence
Roast saddle of marinated elk served with a red-wine ragout of truffles, mushrooms and goose livers
Charlotte d’ananas à la Prussienne
A mould of ladyfingers soaked in rum syrup surrounding a bed of red jelly that has been topped with pineapple cream, made from whisking eggs and cream, with crystalized pineapple segments folded throughout.