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THE KOCHUBEY FAMILY MANSION: ‘Home of the Gentry’ in Tsarskoe Selo, 16.07.2016 - 29.09.2017

The Kochubey Family Mansion: ‘Home of the Gentry’ in Tsarskoe Selo exhibition, which runs in the Zubov Wing of the Catherine Palace from 16 July 2016, is our Museum’s first attempt to bring out a ‘second background’ of the former imperial residence with the life of some close friends of the crowned family.

This joined project of Tsarskoe Selo and the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE) showcases over 100 objects of art gathered in post-revolution and post-war times at the former mansion of the Kochubey family at 4 Radishchev St in Pushkin town, which currently houses the HSE Management Training Centre.

The works of art from the Kochubey mansion have never been on public display before. The exhibition offers paintings, bronzes, furniture pieces, porcelains and sculptures quite typical for ‘homes of the gentry’ in Tsarist Russia, residences of old noble clans.

One of the highlights is a Rococo Revival bronze mantel clock (see picture at left, click to enlarge) by Felix Chopin whose factory was Russia’s largest fine-art bronze maker and received commissions from the imperial and grand ducal courts.

Another eye-catcher is a Russian porcelain vase with a winter landscape (right). The underglaze polychrome painting was probably produced by Grigory Zimin (1875–1958), a leading artist at the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory.

Also noteworthy is the Woman under a Veil, a marble sculpture (left) by Victor Brodzsky (1826–1904) possibly made in Rome in 1881. A marble virtuoso, he is also famous as the author of Cupid Sleeping and Cupid Awakening, two sculptures decorating the upper landing of the Main Staircase at the Catherine Palace.

A very special feature are some of the armchairs originating from the Playroom of Tsesarevich Alexei on the Children’s Floor of the Alexander Palace (right).

Visiting information

Vasily Kochubey’s mansion in Tsarskoe Selo

Vasily Petrovich Kochubey and his family moved to St Petersburg in 1910. He purchased a dacha plot on Veliovskaya (now Radishchev) Street in Tsarskoe Selo to build a stone mansion to Alexander Tamanian’s design, approved in June 1911 by Imperial Household Minister, Baron Vladimir Frederiks. Fond of Russian neoclassical architecture and designs by Charles Cameron, Catherine II’s favourite architect from Scotland, Tamanian created an elegant and comfortable mansion for the small family, whose head had unlimited funds.

The first or gala floor was occupied by the Front Hall, the Collection Room, the Library, the Study, the White Hall, the Great and Small Drawing Rooms, the Dining Room and several spare rooms. The second floor offered bedrooms, bathrooms, dressing and study rooms. The third floor had a kitchen, a pantry, a canteen and a number of servants’ rooms. A special feature was a basement floor with a number of facilities, such as a boiler room, a shower room, a bed linen heating room, store rooms and wine cellars, as well as a ‘secure store room’ for valuables. The house was fully electrified and equipped with heating and sanitation systems.

Vasily Kochubey wanted the gala floor to be decorated in different styles, from Classical in the strict Front and White Halls to Rococo in the detail-saturated Great Drawing Room.

In November 1912, Tamanian quit supervising works on the mansion and wrote to his successor, Nicolay Lanceray, ‘Dear Kolya, if this job smiles on you, then take it. I have nothing against you or any other architect taking over this job’.     

Lanceray, together with architects Vsevolod Romanov and Vsevolod Yakovlev, commenced interior decoration works in 1913 and finished in 1914, without departing from Tamanian’s original design.

The Front Hall was surrounded with decorative fluted pilasters. A staircase of white marble led to a gallery with three doors opening to the White or Great Hall, the largest room in the mansion with the most spectacular architectural treatment.  

Simple and strict, the Great Hall in the Empire style consisted of three parts: a dance floor without furniture, the Semi-Rotunda with large windows onto the garden, and the Antechamber for relaxation. The wide portals with Ionic columns divided and, at the same time, united the space. The room led the eye towards the far end with a fireplace and a tall mirror in an ornamental plaster frame made after a drawing by Lanceray. The geometric parquet floor was made after a drawing by Tamanian. Besides marvelous portraits from the picture collection of the Kushelev-Bezborodko and Kochubey families, the Antechamber was furnished with a furniture set of Masure (Karelian) birch, gilt bronze candelabra, a mantel clock, a white marble pair of lying lions, and a fine carpet on the floor.   

Adjacent to the opposite side of the White Hall was the Small Drawing Room in the style of Louis XVI. The main accent in the room was a flowerbed-like ceiling painting, surrounded with exquisite stuccowork on coving and wall panels.

The Great Drawing Room was embellished in the Régence style, which emerged during the Regency of Philippe d’Orléans in 1715–23 and was firmly established as Rococo under King Louis XV of France. The fine lines of Régence were seen in the gilt stuccowork of the coving and walls, on the mirror and door decorations and the panels painted by Leonid Yevreinov after Lanceray’s drawings. The parquet floor in the Great Drawing Room was laid in a herringbone design of contrasting colours, with an inlaid rocaille roundel in the centre. Elegant furnishings included tables, floral upholstered divans with curved backs, bronze clocks on the mantel and tables and 18th–19th century Russian portraits on the walls. 

The Study of the head of the household, placed symmetrically to the Great Drawing Room, was filled with decorative Renaissance elements, such as a coffered ceiling, a gilt stuccowork frieze, and a corner fireplace with ceramic tiles made after a drawing by Lanceray and a relief hearth showing pelicans and the date 1547. The Study was furnished with paintings by Western European masters and style-appropriate oak furniture carved in the fashion of Italian and French Renaissance.

The Dining Room had a coffered ceiling, plaster imitation oak panels on the walls, and an inlaid parquet floor. The Kochubeys furnished it with the ‘Hunting’ furniture set, made after Lanceray’s drawings in Helsingfors (Helsinki, Finland).

The Collection Room had no artistic finish. Its main decoration was the works of art Kochubey brought from his house at 69 Moika River Embankment in St Petersburg. The room was hung with paintings by Russian masters, such as Alexander Ivanov, Karl Briullov, Vasily Tropinin and Theodor de Moller. A massive canopy bed and different ornate chairs, probably dating to the 16th–17th centuries, belonged to the rich art collection of the mansion’s owner.

Vasily Kochubey admired his new home so much that he invited Alexander Tamanian to the housewarming party in January 1914 and asked his wife to save the first waltz for the original architect of the mansion. According to contemporaries, ‘the mansion was filled with music, children’s laughter, voices of guests and the extraordinary hospitality of the hosts.’  

The Kochubey family had to emigrate in 1918. Legend has it that Vasily would leave a note by the entrance to his house in Tsarskoe Selo that read, ‘From Russia I received it and to Russia I return it’. The mansion was nationalized and accommodated the House of 1905 Revolution veterans in 1927. It became a Gestapo office during the Nazi German occupation of Pushkin town in 1941–44. The building was restored in 1947–48 as a holiday centre for workers of the Leningrad Oblast Communist Party Committee.

The Noble Family of Kochubey

Vasily Petrovich Kochubey, the owner of the mansion in Tsarskoe Selo, descended from an old family deriving from a noble Tatar named Kuchuk Bey, who had left Crimea for Malo-Russia (now Ukraine) and adopted Orthodoxy under the name of Andrei.

The rise of the Kochubey family started under Peter the Great and was associated with Vasily Leontievich Kochubey (c. 1640–1708), Kuchuk Bey’s grandson, who gained many land grants near Poltava through successful military service. After he warned Tsar Peter about the Ukrainian hetman Ivan Mazepa’s treacherous intents in 1707, his allegations were investigated and found false. Vasily Leontievich was arrested and beheaded in July 1708. A few months later Mazepa defected to the side of King Charles XII of Sweden. Tsar Peter acknowledged Vasily Leontievich as a ‘man of honour, worthy of glorious memory’ and returned his confiscated property to his wife and children with a gift of additional lands. The old Kochubey coat of arms received a red heart with two golden crosses and the motto, ‘Elevor ubi consumor’ (I rise when destroyed).

Vasily Petrovich Kochubey’s noble ancestors were prominent military and state officials, philanthropists and art collectors. His father, Peter Kochubey, was born in Moscow in 1825, educated at home, successfully entered the Grand Duke Michael Artillery School in St Petersburg at 15, studied his favourite physics and chemistry in Paris, then taught chemistry and practical mechanics upon his return to the School. He married Count Alexander Kushelev-Bezborodko’s daughter, Varvara, and served as aide-de-camp to Alexander II, whose orderly he was before Alexander’s enthronement. Although expecting a brilliant military career, Peter moved to Poltava Province and resigned in 1857.

A deeply honest person, driven by a desire to serve his country, Peter Kochubey made sure the peasants in his estates were prepared for the forthcoming abolition of serfdom, helped them solve health issues, and wrote scholarly articles. One of the best experts in rare minerals with a large and rich mineral collection, he joined the Russian Imperial Mineral Society in 1860. In 1870 he was elected chairman of the Russian Technical Society, for which he established the Museum of Applied Knowledge later the same year and handed over his collection devices. Peter died in 1892. His grave is in the park of his Zgurovka estate, where his wife was buried later.

Vasily Petrovich Kochubey was born in Zgurovka (Ukraine) in 1868. He graduated from the St Petersburg University with a degree in natural sciences in 1892 and was fluent in seven (including five Asian) foreign languages. He had eight children from his wife and half-cousin, Varvara, and owned nearly 16,350 hectares of land in Poltava and Chernigov Provinces and more in others.

Vasily was appointed Master of Ceremonies at court in 1910. Next year he was granted Emperor Nicholas II’s personal permission to build a mansion in Tsarskoe Selo, where he settled down in 1914. He devoted himself to his MC duties and kept enlarging the collections of paintings, graphics, bronzes, furniture, minerals and books, inherited from his father. His wife worked as a nurse in the military hospital of Tsarskoe Selo.

After the 1917 Revolution, when a foreign affairs position was offered to him by Anatoly Lunacharsky, the first Soviet People’s Commissar of Education, his answer was, ‘I swore allegiance to the Emperor and will not work for a different government’. The Kochubey family was forced to leave Russia within twenty four hours.

Vasily Kochubey died in 1940 and was buried at the Orthodox cemetery in Warsaw, Poland.

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