The Last Grand Duchess

From a childhood of luxury at the Imperial Russian court to a life of slender means and exile in the West. Grand Duchess Olga led a life of many contrasts.

Childhood in Russia

Olga was born at the palace Peterhof just outside St. Petersburg as the last of the family's six children. She was born into an immensely wealthy and powerful family, but she also grew up in what was a very stormy and turbulent period of Russian history. Everywhere revolutionary movements were on the rise, movements seeking to abolish the Czarist regime. In 1881 Olga's grandfather was killed in a bombing, and Olga's father assumed the throne under the name of Alexander III.

Olga grew up among impressive artworks and art treasures at the Romanov family's seven palaces, housing a total of 15,000 servants aside from the family itself. She felt closest to her father and her English nurse. In her memoir Olga describes her by no means close relationship to her mother who cherished her official life as the majestic central figure in Russian social life above everything else: "As a matter of fact, visiting her chambers [Dagmar's] was a heavy duty imposed upon me by Njanja [the nurse]. I could never be myself. She [Dagmar] had an absolute horror of anything that transgressed the limits of etiquette and decorum."

Mother and daughter had one thing in common, however: They were both artistically gifted. In Denmark, Dagmar had been trained by the painter Heinrich Buntzen, and she soon discovered her youngest daughter's talent. Therefore, she arranged for Olga to be trained by the painter Stanislaw Johannowitsch Zukowski (1873-1944). In many respects, art became not only Olga's great passion in life, but also a refuge for her. She found peace in art when the many upheavals and dramatic troubles were too intense. In time, she achieved recognition as an artist who especially concentrated on landscapes and flower motifs.

Love and war

In 1901 Olga contracted an arranged marriage with Prince Peter of Oldenburg (1868-1924), but they were unhappy together, and their marriage was dissolved in 1916. Later that year, she married the man she had been secretly in love with for the past thirteen years, Colonel Nicolai Kulikovsky.

During World War I, Olga served for three years as a Red Cross nurse in the military hospitals on the Eastern front. In her memoir, she narrates the following: "Time and time again, I would jump from my bed and rush to the window, because I thought I heard the ambulances coming. Sometimes, it would be true […], other times, this awful sound that meant more suffering for so many young men full of life would merely be a figment of my imagination, a product of my own tired brain […]. In this ward I came face to face with the tragedy of war."

Revolution and escape to Denmark

The Russian revolution in 1917 turned Olga's life upside down once again, as she, along with other members of the imperial family, was kept prisoner in the Crimea by the Black Sea until 1919. Several of members of the Romanov family lost their lives in the revolution, including Olga's two brothers Mikhail and Nicolai II who was the last Russian Czar. In 1920, the Kulikovsky's and their two sons fled to Denmark - a country Olga knew intimately from her vacations at Fredensborg Castle, visiting the 'parents-in-law of all Europe', King Christian IX and Queen Louise. At first, the family took up residence at Hvidøre near Klampenborg where Dagmar, who had fled the year before, had settled.

From Ballerup to Canada

After Empress Dagmar died in 1928, Olga and her husband bought the farm Knudsminde in Ballerup. Here, Nikolai ran the farm while Olga painted. Her naturalistic landscapes and flower paintings were very popular, and they were frequently exhibited, e.g. at Charlottenborg. The Kulikovsky's lived in Ballerup until the end of World War II when for reasons of security they decided emigrate to Cooksville, Canada. Olga lost her husband in 1958 and two years later the Grand Duchess herself died after a spartan life and far from her native country.

The Grand Duchess Olga Collection will be offered for sale as part of Bruun Rasmussen's Russian Theme Auction, held December 3rd and 4th in Bredgade 33, Copenhagen. The preview will held the same place from November 22nd to November 26th.

Read more about the auction
Read more about Grand Duchess Olga in the catalogue

 

For further information, please contact:

Kasper Nielsen: +45 3343 6988 

For further information, please contact:

Kasper Nielsen: +45 3343 6988 

For further information, please contact:

Kasper Nielsen: +45 3343 6988 

For further information, please contact:

Kasper Nielsen: +45 3343 6988 

For further information, please contact:

Kasper Nielsen: +45 3343 6988