Rare large Cabinet photo of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia known as "Miechen" or "Maria Pavlovna the Elder" (1854-1920), at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Alexander Nevsky, at rue Darue in Paris in 1910, following a Panikhida (Prayer for the Dead), for her husband Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia who had died in 1909. She is standing next to Grand Duke Niicholas Nikolaevich (1856-1929).
She was born Marie Alexandrine Elisabeth Eleonore of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, daughter of Grand Duke Frederick Francis II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Princess Augusta of Reuss-Köstritz. A prominent hostess in St Petersburg following her marriage to the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia, she was known as the grandest of the grand duchesses and had an open rivalry with the Empress Maria Feodorovna.
She married the third son of Alexander II of Russia, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia (22 April 1847 – 17 February 1909), her second cousin, on 28 August 1874, being one of the very few princesses with Slavic patriline to ever marry a male dynast of the Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov. She had been engaged to someone else, but broke it off as soon as she met Vladimir. It took three more years before they were permitted to marry as she had been raised a Lutheran and refused to convert to the Russian Orthodox Church.
Tsar Alexander II finally agreed to let Vladimir marry her without insisting on her conversion to Orthodoxy. Upon her marriage she took the Russian name of Maria Pavlovna of Russia - the name she is best known by. Maria remained Lutheran throughout most of her marriage, but converted to Orthodoxy later in her marriage, some said to give her son Kirill a better chance at the throne. As a result of marrying a son of an Emperor of Russia, she took on a new style Her Imperial Highness the couple had four sons and one daughter.
During her life in Russia, she lived at her husband's beloved Vladimir Palace situated on the famously aristocratic Palace Embankment on the Neva River. It was there that she established her reputation as being one of best hostesses in the capital. It was often joked that she would deliberately try to outdo the Imperial Court at the nearby Winter Palace. In 1909, her husband died and she succeeded him as president of the Academy of Fine Arts.
Her Grand Ducal court, was in the later years of the reign of her nephew, Nicholas II the most cosmopolitan and popular in the capital. The Grand Duchess was personally at odds with the Tsar and Tsarina. She wasn't the only Romanov who feared the Empress would "be the sole ruler of Russia" after Nicholas took supreme command of the Russian armies on 23 August 1915 (O.S.), hoping this would lift morale. Robert Massie maintains that along with her sons, she contemplated a coup against the Tsar in the winter of 1916–17, that would force the Tsar's abdication and replacement by his son Tsesarevich Alexei, and her son, Grand Duke Kirill or Nicholas Nikolayevich, as regent.There is no documentary evidence to support this, though she famously told the Duma president Mikhail Rodzianko that the Empress must be "annihilated".
The Grand Duchess held the distinction to be the last of the Romanovs to escape Revolutionary Russia, as well as the first to die in exile. She remained in the war-torn Caucasus with her two younger sons throughout 1917 and 1918, still hoping to make her eldest son Kirill Vladimirovich the Tsar. As the Bolsheviks approached, the group finally escaped aboard a fishing boat to Anapa in 1918. Maria spent fourteen months in Anapa, refusing to join her son Boris in leaving Russia. When opportunities for escape via Constantinople presented themselves she refused to leave for fear she would be subjected to the indignity of delousing. She finally agreed to leave when the general of the White Army warned her that his side was losing the civil war. Maria, her son Andrei, Andrei's mistress Mathilde Kschessinska, and Andrei and Mathilde's son Vladimir, boarded an Italian ship headed to Venice on 13 February 1920.
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia encountered Maria at the port of Novorossiysk in early 1920: "Disregarding peril and hardship, she stubbornly kept to all the trimmings of bygone splendour and glory. And somehow she carried it off... When even generals found themselves lucky to find a horse cart and an old nag to bring them to safety, Aunt Miechen made a long journey in her own train. It was battered all right--but it was hers. For the first time in my life I found it a pleasure to kiss her..."
She made her way from Venice to Switzerland and then to France, where her health failed. Staying at her villa (now the Hotel La Souveraine), where she died on 6 September 1920, aged 66, surrounded by her family at Contrexéville. With the help of Albert Stopford, a family friend, her renowned jewel collection was smuggled out of Russia in a diplomatic bag. At her death her famous collection of jewels were divided up between her children; Grand Duke Boris gained the emeralds, Grand Duke Cyril gained her pearls, Andrei got her rubies and her only daughter Elena received her diamonds. This was one of most fabulous collections to have ever been assembled. It consisted out of a suite of emeralds which later came in possession of Barbara Hutton and Elizabeth Taylor (set in the Bulgari necklace and auctioned in December 2011) alike. There was a 100 carat emerald she got from her father in law upon her marriage and which was once part of the collection of Catherine the Great and another emerald drop of 23 carats. Her pearl tiara with open framework and free hanging drop pearls is today owned by Queen Elizabeth II. It is worn in the postcard together with the rest of her pearl parure. The tiara was of Russian origin and particularly important in the development of the garland style. The ruby parure contained the 5 carat Beauharnais ruby, bought from descendants of Josephine de Beauharnais, set in a Cartier tiara. that piece was later sold to Nancy Leeds, the later Anastasia of Greece. Yet another piece de légende for was the sapphire kokoshnik tiara made by Cartier in 1909 together with the rest of her sapphire parure. The head ornament was acquired by Queen Marie of Romania who wore it to her coronation in 1922. The grand duchess made many purchases at Cartier (including a diamond briolette aigrette, a pearl choker with imperial eagles,...) and was thus one of its major clients. She even persuaded the firm to open a St Petersburg shop during the holiday season every winter from 1909 until just before the first World War. A batch of cufflinks and cigarette cases were found in 2008 in the archives of the Swedish foreign ministry. She had deposited them at the Swedish Embassy in St Petersburg before she fled.
Grand Duke Nicholas was a Russian general in World War I. A grandson of Nicholas I of Russia, he was also Commander in Chief of the Russian armies on the main front in the first year of the war, and was later a successful Commander-in-Chief in the Caucasus. He was briefly recognized as Emperor of Russia in 1922 in areas controlled by the White Movement in the Russian Far East.
On 29 April 1907, he married Princess Anastasia of Montenegro, the daughter of King Nicholas I, her sister Princess Milica, had already married his brother, Grand Duke Peter. They had no children. She had previously been married to George Maximilianovich, 6th Duke of Leuchtenberg, by whom she had two children, until their divorce in 1906. Since the Montenegrins were a fiercely Slavic, anti-Turkish people from the Balkans, Anastasia reinforced the Pan-Slavic tendencies of Nicholas.
Nicholas was a hunter. Ownership of borzoi hounds was restricted to members of the highest nobility, and Nicholas's packs were well-known. As the Russian dogs perished in the Revolution of 1917–18, the borzoi of today are descended from gifts he made to European friends before World War I. In his lifetime, Nicholas and his dogs caught hundreds of wolves. A pair of borzoi were used, which caught the wolf, one on each side, while Nicholas dismounted and cut the wolf's throat with a knife. Hunting was his major recreation, and he traveled in his private train across Russia with his horses and dogs, hunting while on his rounds of inspection.
Following the revolution after a stay in Genoa as a guest of his brother-in-law, King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, the Grand Duke and his wife took up residence in a small castle at Choigny, 20 miles outside of Paris. He was under the protection of the French secret police as well as by a small number of faithful Cossack retainers. He became the center of an anti-Soviet monarchist resistance group, and headed the Russian All Military Union alongside general Pyotr Wrangel. The monarchists made plans to send agents into Russia. Conversely a top priority of the Soviet secret police was to penetrate this monarchist organization and to kidnap Nicholas. They were successful in the former, infiltrating the group with spies. (OGPU later lured the anti-Bolshevik British master spy Sidney Reilly back to the Soviet Union (1925) where he was killed.) They did not succeed however, in kidnapping Nicholas. As late as June 1927, the monarchists were able to set off a bomb at the Lubyanka Prison in Moscow.
Grand Duke Nicholas died on 5 January 1929 of natural causes on the French Riviera, where he had gone to escape the rigors of winter. He was originally buried in the church of St. Michael the Archangel Church in Cannes, France. In 2014 Prince Nicholas Romanov and Prince Dimitri Romanov requested the transfer of his remains. The bodies of the Grand Duke and his wife were re-buried in Moscow at the World War I memorial military cemetery in May 2015.
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox cathedral located at 12 rue Daru in the 8th arrondissement of Paris. It was established and consecrated in 1861, making it the first Russian Orthodox place of worship in France. It is the see of the Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe, under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. It was built in part through a gift of 200,000 francs from Tsar Alexander II.
Actual Photo Size: 22 x 17 cm approx
Size of Mount: 32 x 25 cm approx