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Menu

 

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

Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich

and Grand Duchess

Marie Pavlovna

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 notable 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 loyalties probably created mirth at the dinner table when her menus listed  desserts named after Prussia.

 

The detail of the Grand Ducal seal that appears on the menu-card (click to enlarge)

Memories of a visit to

Vladimir Palace​

by the wife of a US diplomat in the early 1900s

 

In 1912, five years before the Russian revolution, the wife of a former US diplomat published her reminiscences about the imperial and royal Courts they had been presented to.  She retained her anonymity and had her memories published under the title “Intimacies of Court and Society”. The following is a transcript describing a visit to the Vladimir Palace in Saint Petersburg: home of the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna and her husband Grand Duke Vladimir.

The Vladimir palace is on the Palace Quay, overlooking the Neva, and was built when the grand duke brought his German bride to Russia. Going up the broad stairs of Italian marble, with a marble nymph upon either side peeping from behind green foliage, and where long mirrors give you back your photograph framed in flowers, you pass some fine Gobelin tapestries at the top, and enter a spacious drawingroom. It is hung in rich red velvet and has a curious ceiling of oak, heavily encrusted with gold, and contains three large cabinets filled with the grand duchess's collection of jewelled flowers, the gold stems rising from tiny pots of rock crystal, the leaves formed of jade, and the petals of the roses, orchids, carnations, hyacinths, tulips, violets, etc., made of enamel laid upon gold with a  ruby, a diamond, or an emerald at the heart of the flower.

 

The family dining-room opens into the drawing-room where, upon the wall above the  comfortable American fire-places, there are a hundred or more plates of gold, upon which bread and salt have been offered as homage to the family in their journeys among the cities of the empire. And the walls are ornamented with a unique Russian design in gold, which is repeated upon the stamped leather of the furniture. In the different rooms there are  rare collections of old Russian things, but the banquet-hall is the only one entirely in the style of the country. There a porcelain stove reaches almost to the ceiling, elaborately painted in the half Eastern, half Western style of the Russian artists ; the ceilings and walls are covered with variegated woods from the Russian forests, and there are large paintings  of native scenes which are among the chief treasures of the house. But it is in the ball-room where the family have won their social triumphs with numerous bals masquerades organized by the bachelor son of the house, the Grand Duke Boris. The two ball-rooms are divided by a row of white marble pillars, and with the musicroom connecting, all decorated in white and gold, with painted Cupids upon the ceiling carrying garlands of roses and delicate draperies trailing in soft clouds around the crystal chandeliers. In the private apartments, which are thrown open for a ball, there is a winter garden, where the family generally gather for afternoon tea, and various sitting-rooms opening one into the other, one, however, particularly charming, which, I remember, was hung in pink brocade and furnished a la Pompadour, and which the mistress of the palace used as her boudoir. There the inquisitive guest might find the latest books on bridge and poker, with volumes of Russian poetry, and novels in German, French, and Italian, and not far away the Lutheran chapel, built for her as a bride when she deliberately refused to enter the Russian church.

 

Beyond the boudoir is a marble swimming-pool modelled after the celebrated ones at Peterhoff, where she takes a cool plunge every morning, and beyond that a studio, where she spends an hour or two every day. But her most intimate room is the Moorish room of the palace, where the fantastic domed ceiling and walls, inlaid with red and blue, paled in interest before the great collection of royal photographs filling one whole corner of the room, nearly every royal personage of the time, but not as one would see them at court or in their photographs sold in the shops the Czar smiling like a boy, and the Kaiser, moustache and military swagger subdued, lounging in a careless attitude ; the unhappy Queen of Portugal as gay as a girl ; even the melancholy, timid Czarina radiant and animated, the Grand Duchess herself as a tiny little girl with her mother, in a quaint German dress, and a big hat in her hand. At a fancy dress ball I remember seeing her for a few moments standing in the centre of this room, the thick fur of a white bearskin at her feet, with the ferocious mouth open and the terrible teeth hanging out, her luxuriant, regal figure clothed in the gorgeous blue robes of the native Russian costume, the gown and head-dress, kakoschnick, ablaze with jewels, and the long velvet train carpeting the floor behind her. She stood the personification of Russian femininity, enchanting in its touch of barbaric wildness and its tinge of Oriental voluptuousness the strong face calculating, yet careless, showing a nature swept by the hot fires of the South, yet as cold as the North one of the most remarkable women of her day, portraying a combination of contradictions best described as most Russian.

 

The Vladimir Palace

circa 1890s

(Photo: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021)

All rights reserved. Jake Smith © 2021