The cover stamped (in Russian) VII Moscow Brassovo/Winter 1911. The album supplied by V. Chekato, Moscow
Containing one hundred and thirty-six photographs, including images of the following:
The couple’s country house of Lisino under snow, inscribed 14 February, including interior shots, one of the Countess’s desk with arrangements of photographs of her husband and flowers;
The Grand Duke in the yard of the house;
The arrival of the Grand Duke at his country estate of Brassovo;
The Imperial train with movable steps and red carpet;
Photographs of the estate of Brassovo and interior views with portraits, one of Paul I, lithographs of horses, a stuffed wolf and bear, billiard table and a profusion of potted palms;
At lunch: standing at the Zakuski sideboard and seated at table beneath an icon of the Kazan Virgin;
Countess Brassova at a tea table beneath a print of Alexander III, framed photographs of the youthful Nicholas II and his brother George;
Bear and wolf hunts;
A series of photographs showing Grand Duke Michael with his dog and playing with a pet bear;
By motorcar and sleigh to the station, accompanied by an unidentified man holding a camera;
At the railway station.
An important Group of three personal photograph albums compiled by H.I.H. the Late Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich and his morganatic wife Countess Brassova.
H.I.H. Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich (1878-1918) was the third son of Emperor Alexander III Alexandrovich. After the death of his elder brother George in 1899 he was heir presumptive to the Russian throne until the birth of the Tzarevich Alexis in 1904, and Regent thereafter in the event of Alexis not reaching maturity. With the haemophilia of Alexis and the almost constant possibility of the assassination of the Emperor, his role was considered crucial to the continuation of the imperial family, and any proposed marriage would have had to be approved by his brother, Nicholas II.
Michael was introduced to a number of suitable royal and aristocratic women and had had several affairs, but in December 1907 he met and fell in love with Natalia Wulfert, the divorcée wife of a fellow officer in the Blue Cuirassiers, and conducted a passionate affair with her, which scandalised Russia and Europe, with parallels to the later abdication crisis in Britain caused when King Edward VIII abdicated to enable him to marry the divorcee, Mrs. Simpson.
Along with many members of the imperial family, Grand Duke Michael was an avid photographer and throughout their life together he took many photographs of Natalia and asked others to take pictures of them both. These were carefully stuck into albums most of which were dated or identified in some way. A number of these are now in the library of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, London.
The offered albums record the lives of Grand Duke Michael and Natalia Wulfert in the years immediately before their secret wedding at the Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Savva in Vienna on 16th October 1912. During this period they were effectively banished from the court and forced to live on Grand Duke Michael’s estate at Brassovo, near Orel, several hundred miles south of St. Petersburg. As the albums suggest, their ‘internal exile’ was not entirely uncomfortable and they were frequently visited by their friends and relatives including Michael’s uncle, Grand Duke Vladimir, and the composer Sergei Rachmaninov and his wife, whom Countess Brassova had got to know during her first marriage to Sergei Mamantov.
Album XIII contains a small photograph of Michael and Natasha’s son, George, who was born on 24th July 1910, some eighteen months before their marriage, whilst she was still married to Wulfert. A complicated situation that required some ingenious and fanciful paperwork to ensure that the child did not carry the Wulfert name.
After their clandestine wedding, they were banished from Russia and only allowed to return for Michael to take up his commission in the army at the outbreak of the First World War. They lived as Count and Countess Brassov at various grand estates in England, including Kenwood House in Highgate, London.
Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich was also, for a brief period, the last tsar when in February 1917, at the height of the revolutionary crisis, Nicholas II abdicated, naming him as his successor and removing his sick son Alexis from the line of succession. Michael himself renounced the throne shortly afterwards.
On 7th March 1918, Grand Duke Michael was arrested by the Bolsheviks at Gatchina and imprisoned at the Smolny Institute in St. Petersburg. Several days later he was transported to Perm. On 12th June he was abducted under mysterious circumstances and at 2am the following morning he was taken to a wood outside Motovilikha where he was shot, together with his secretary Nicholas Johnson. The bodies were buried.
Natasha was eventually able to flee Russia aboard a British naval ship, arriving in England in March 1919 and moving to France in 1927. Things did not go well for Countess Brassova and she died in a Paris charitable hospital in December 1952 at the age of seventy-one. She had previously lived for some time in poverty, in a small attic room on the Left Bank. Her fellow Russian émigrés arranged for her to be buried at Passy in the same grave as her son who had been killed in a car crash just before his twenty-first birthday in 1932.
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