|Sir Godfrey Kneller, Peter I, Tsar of Russia. Royal Collection Trust|
This sumptuous new exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery covers some three hundred years during which Great Britain was linked to Russia's ruling Romanov dynasty through exploration and discovery, diplomatic alliances and family ties. It begins with a monumental portrait by Sir Geoffrey Kneller of Peter the Great, who in 1698 was the first Russian ruler to set foot on English soil. He stayed for three months at the home of diarist John Evelyn in Greenwich, using paintings as target practice and wheelbarrows as go-karts but in between soaking up knowledge about shipbuilding and navigation that enabled him to build a mighty Russian navy from scratch. This portrait (above) depicts him as a young and vibrant ruler, looking to the West and hoping to establish a new, ‘open’ Russia. When he left, he presented it to the King, William III, beginning a tradition of gift-giving and exchanges that continued through the centuries.
|Franz Kruger Emperor Nicholas I 1796 - 1855. Royal Collection Trust|
After the defeat of Napoleon by allied forces, including those of Britain and Russia, a steady stream of Russian emperors, empresses, grand dukes and grand duchesses were entertained in Britain. The future Emperor Nicholas I (above) visited in 1816 – 17 and was guest of honour at a banquet of more than 100 courses, hosted by the Prince Regent at the Brighton Pavilion.
|After George Dawe, Princess Charlotte of Wales. Royal Collection Trust|
As a thank you, his mother, Empress Maria, sent the Prince Regent’s daughter, Princess Charlotte, the insignia of the order of St Catherine, the most prestigious award for women in Imperial Russia, and she was painted wearing it on a Russian-style dress (above). Later, two daughters of King Christian X of Denmark married into the Russian and British royal families, creating a close familial link.
|Laurits Regner Tuxen, The Marriage of Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia. Royal Collection Trust|
This bond was strengthened by a number of marriages. One of the rooms in this exhibition is devoted to these family links and portraits, displayed in opulent frames.
|Laurits Regner Tuxen, The Family of Queen Victoria in 1887. Royal Collection Trust|
To celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, a detailed painting of her surrounded by her extensive family was commissioned, emphasising how personal the political was.
|Fabergé, Mosaic Egg and Surprise. Royal Collection Trust|
The Royal Collection also includes a number of works by Carl Fabergé. On display is one of the famous bejewelled Easter Eggs, with its 'surprise' beside it. It was confiscated after the 1917 revolution and ended up in Cameo Corner in London, where it was bought by King George V in 1933, probably as a birthday gift for Queen Mary.
|Fabergé Chrysanthumums. Royal Collection Trust|
|Cossack uniform belonging to Tzarevich Alexei. Royal Collection Trust|
As in all families, things did not always go smoothly. There's a poignant reminder of the fate of the Romanovs after King George V declined to rescue them during the revolution – a little Cossack uniform once worn by the Russian heir, Alexei, who, with the rest of his family, was shot dead in a cellar. It was later found in a government shop in Leningrad. And in the mid 19th c, Britain was at war with Russia, trying, along with the French and Ottomans, to stop its expansionism in the Crimea. The stark realities of this conflict were captured on camera by the enterprising early photographer Roger Fenton when he visited the area in 1855.
|Roger Fenton, Cossack Bay, Balaclava. Pioneering nurse Mary Seacole had travelled there on one of these ships.|
His images of exhausted troops and desolate landscapes – including the scene of the Charge of the Light Brigade – brought the impact of war into public consciousness for the first time. An exhibition of these photographs, Shadows of War, runs alongside Royalty and the Romanovs, providing a stark contrast between the two worlds.
|Fabergé, Basket of Flowers Egg, 1901 Royal Collection Trust|
Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs, Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, until 28 April 2019, with Shadows of War: Roger Fenton's Photographs of the Crimea, 1855. £12 (concessions available).