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Russian Art

Gifts from an Empress

One of the most intriguing objects included in the upcoming Russian Works of Art, Fabergé and Icons sale in London on 5 June is a ledger that once belonged to Alexandra Feodorovna, the last Empress of Russia.

Born the daughter of a German Grand Duke and Princess Alice, one of Queen Victoria’s daughters, she married Nicholas II in 1894 and became Empress of Russia. She was killed, along with her husband and five children, following the Emperor’s abdication during the Russian Revolution.

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The newly discovered ledger provides fresh insight into the life of the Empress, her relationships with friends and family, her generous nature, as well as her own personal shopping habits.

The whole of her and the Emperor’s extended families appear as recipients of gifts, including her grandmother Queen Victoria (always listed simply as ‘The Queen’).

There are also a number of entries for packages being sent to retailers across Europe, including 14 to Fabergé. The Empress was shopping on approval, returning things she did not wish to keep, as well as sending items for repairs. 

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Touchingly, she sent an annual package of goods to the hospital her late mother had founded, Princess Alice’s Hospital in Darmstadt, probably as part of a fundraising drive. 

There is of course a flurry of sending gifts around Christmas time, and the dates of many of the entries correspond to the recipient’s birthday. For example, there are three parcels to her grandmother Queen Victoria, two in May and one in December. Queen Victoria’s birthday was 27 May. One of these parcels may have contained a jewelled rock crystal desk clock in the Royal Collection, which is known to have been a gift from the Empress to her grandmother. 

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The last entry, on 22 December 1905, was to her mother-in-law who was in Copenhagen to avoid the unrest in Russia and spent Christmas there. The date corresponds with that of a letter, which was also enclosed in the parcel, from Alexandra’s husband Nicholas, who writes, ‘All my prayers are with you for the forthcoming holidays.  This is the second time that I have to spend Christmas without you.  The first time was when you were at home and we were away in India.  Very sad not to have your Christmas tree again this year; it used to be so cosy upstairs at Gatchina during these holidays’ (E. Bing, ed., The Letters of Tsar Nicholas and Empress Marie, London, 1937, p. 205). 

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