“1917: Romanovs and Revolution”
“1917: Romanovs and Revolution” is the newest exhibition at the Hermitage in Amsterdam. It’s a timely exhibition, marking the centenary of the two revolutions that rocked Russia in 1917. The first revolution began on International Women’s Day (March 8) when women textile workers marched in the streets of Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) for an end to food shortages. Within days there was a general strike, and demonstrators were also demanding an end to Russia’s involvement in World War 1. It was this February Revolution which ended the 300-year-long Romanov monarchy.
A visitor learns this and much more from the excellent information texts (in Dutch and English) and the accompanying free audio guide. What is perhaps surprising is the substantial number of textiles on display. This includes a beautiful silk and wool wall hanging; and over a dozen garments worn by Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra (who was a granddaughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria), their five royal children, and other wealthy Russians of the time. Elite fashion was strongly influenced by the Art Nouveau movement, with multiple layers of rich, often semi-transparent fabric in strong colours, decorated with lace, beads and sequins. Hem length aside, many of the evening gowns could be worn on the cat walk today. Wealthy Russians had access to leading French fashion houses, as the green crepe-de-chine and silk atlas summer dress designed by couturier Paul Poiret shows. But the Romanov’s court also wore the creations of Russian designers, such as Anna Gindus’s silk and chiffon evening dress, decorated with glass beads, lace and fur; or the silk dresses on display by Nadezhda Lamanova.
There were several textiles that stood out for me. One was a red, short sleeved evening gown made of gauze, faille and tulle, with a beautiful floral beaded trim and fringe. Many Russians decorated their clothes with traditional peasant motifs during World War I, as a sign of patriotism. The beading reflects this. There is also a white cambric dress from the same period, decorated with Valenciennes lace, elaborate cutwork and English embroidery. Most evocative of all, however, were three day dresses, mostly of pink silk and gauze, worn by three of the Romanov princesses. This was displayed alongside a boy’s velvet military jacket worn by the Tsarevich.
“1917: Romanovs and Revolution” is not a fashion exhibition. But among the glassware, Faberge jewelry, military samovars and cooking pots (also made by Faberge for the war effort, along with hand grenades and artillery shells) are many photographs and prints, which illustrate the clothing worn by both ordinary people and the elite. There is also a collection of 32 porcelain figurines, given to the Tsar as a birthday gift, which show some of Russia’s minority communities (e.g., Mongol, Ainu, Armenians, Kazachs) in traditional dress. There is much to see for anyone interested in dress.
“1917: Romanovs and Revolution” is on until 17 September 2017.
Shelley Anderson, 10 March 2017