The Last Days of the Romanovs – A Pierre Gilliard Photo Exhibition

When I heard about this exhibition I really wanted to see it. As I heard it wasn’t really a big one, I decided to do a tour and visited exhibitions in Dordrecht, Delft and The Hague last week. From 4 March to 11 June 2017 the Photomuseum in The Hague shows the exhibition: “Pierre Gilliard. The last days of the Romanovs” in cooperation with the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne. All photos are from the Lausanne museum’s collection.

To see the exhibition you first have to pass another one, then go down the stairs and then you find three rather small rooms with the pictures on the walls. There is also a small sheet with the most important dates from 1904 – the year Pierre Gilliard came to Russia to teach Duke Sergei of Leuchtenberg – to 1918, when the family of the Tsar was executed. From 1907 he also started educating the children of Tsar Nicholas II and in 1913 became the private tutor of Tsarevich Alexei. Gilliard stayed with the family until late June 1918, only weeks before the family was executed. The photos he took during his years in Russia show a rare insight into the everyday life of the Imperial family. Gilliard was able to get them out of Russia by entrusting them to the British consul and a French general. His photos and writings are preserved at the Cantonal and University Library and the Musée de l’Elysée in Lusanne, Switzerland.

The exhibition was created on the basis of unpublished materials from the archive, it is said. But I am not quite sure whether most photos are new at all. I recognised several of them, and I am not much of a Romanov expert. Still I really enjoyed seeing them, even when to my opinion the prints and the exhibition itself were too small. Unfortunately there weren’t any postcards and there wasn’t a catalogue either.

If you decide to go anyway, do combine it with other exhibitions in the area, or a nice visit to royal The Hague. Certainly don’t miss one of the other exhibitions at the Photomuseum though. I also enjoyed the main photo exhibition about Werner Bischof, “Point of View”, which will be on display until 7 May 2017. Also here far too small, but very impressive pictures. Werner Bischof (1916-1954) was a Swiss photographer. The exhibition shows picture he took in Europe just after World War II, showing destroyed buildings, devastated poor people who had lost about everything. There are photos of his travels through Asia, South America and the USA. When looking carefully I discovered some royal and noble themed photos, including some of a visit of the Japanese Emperor Hirohito and his wife in 1951 when they travelled from Tokyo to Hiroshima.

When I left the museum, the lady at the desk told me that earlier that day someone had visited, who had told her that the Tsar and his family had actually managed to escape through the basement in July 1918, and lived happily ever after. This person had even met Tsarevich Alexei much later. With so much evidence having turned up in the past 20 years or so, I can hardly imagine some people still believe these stories of members of the family having escaped instead of having been executed.

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