[Kschessinskaya, Mathilde. (1872–1971)] Bulla, Karl. (1855–1929)

Important Collection of Photographs

An extraordinary archive of 14 original photographs from the ballerina who was mistress of the Czar Nicholas II (and two more Romanovs!) and the most famous of all Russian ballerinas of her time. She was the first Russian ballerina to dance the 32 fouettés in Swan Lake, and was the last to hold the official title "Prima Ballerina Assoluta."

From 1890, Kschessinskaya had been involved with the future Nicholas II, when he was a grand duke and she was just seventeen, having met him in the presence of his family after her graduation performance. The relationship continued for three years, until Nicholas married Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt—the future Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna -- in 1894, shortly after the death of his father, Tsar Alexander. During this time, Nicholas provided her with a small mansion near the northern border of Trinity Square in St. Petersburg. After he married, Kschessinskaya had relationships with two Grand Dukes of the Romanov family - Sergei Mikhailovich and his cousin Andrei Vladimirovich - and in 1902, she gave birth to a son, Vladimir (1902 -1974), later given the title Prince Romanovsky-Krasinsky, though his true father was never known. "Various grand dukes had followed, and she dined on Limoges china, kept up with the latest French fashions...A shallow and capricious woman, Kschessinska's demimonde escapades came to stand for the insularity and indulgence besetting the Russian Imperial court by the early years of the twentieth century." (Jennifer Homans, "Apollo's Angels," p. 491)

The Kschessinska Mansion is regarded as the greatest work of architect, Alexander van Gogen and a prime example of St. Petersburg Art Nouveau. The elegant mansion, which looks like a small palace with ingeniously designed suite of rooms, a winter garden, a grotto and a fountain, was destined to become an arena of major historical events. Kschessinska left Russia in March 1917 and the deserted building was occupied by the committee of the Bolshevik Party for several months. Their leader Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) addressed the revolutionary masses from the balcony of the mansion when he returned from Finland in 1917. Today Kschessinska's former mansion and the neighboring building house the State Museum of Russian Political History.

Two oblong binders from the estate of Kschessinskaya, having belonged to her, each in gilt-stamped red cloth, silk moire endpages, ornate brass clasps, pages edged in gilt. The first containing 9 original mounted photographs by Rentz & Schrader, each 22.5 x 17 cm. The second, including 5 original mounted photographs by Karl Bulla, each 22.5 x 17 cm. The images showing Kschessinskaya at her home, sometimes alone posing in rooms, sometimes with Nicholas and others, including a small child (possibly Vladimir), as well as 4 portraits of unoccupied rooms, their astonishingly rich decor on full display.

In very fine condition, with corners clipped on one photograph but otherwise intact and remarkably well preserved. Karl Bulla is often referred to as the father of Russian photojournalism. Born in Germany, he settled in St Petersburg as a child. He had at one time the most fashionable studio on Nevsky Prospekt. He was extraordinarily prolific and founded a photographic dynasty that was carried on by the work of his sons Viktor and Alexander.

These images apparently unique and otherwise hitherto unknown. (7392)

Signed Photograph
Autographs & Manuscripts
Photographs & Portraiture