The fashion for bronze chandeliers and lamps now comes, now goes. The last example of such bronze from the 18th century in our palace is a chandelier thought to be made by the French master P. Gutier, who fulfilled commissions for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and whose creations are very rarely found in museums. This chandelier was removed from the Lower Throne Room of Paul I, where it had been until the war, and today it adorns the Upper Throne Room on the second floor, replacing another which has been lost. This solemn interior from the end of the 18th century was designed by the architect V. Brenna, and according to his plan four wooden gilded standard lamps were placed in the corners of the room. In combination with the picturesque Gobelin tapestries, the parquet floor, the marble chimney-piece and the throne, they strengthen the feeling of solemnity and stateliness in the room.
In the Palace’s collection of light-fittings there are examples fashioned from rare materials. In the Crimson Drawing Room hung a splendid chandelier made of ivory. Tradition says that the mistress of the room, Maria Fyodorovna herself, took part in the making of the branches to which the candle-holders were attached. The Empress, apart from her enthusiasm for painting, also carved in ivory and amber. This chandelier disappeared from the palace - probably, like so many other pieces, sold during the 1930s by Gosfond. The only ivory pieces preserved in the museum are ivory wall-lights, which, as I discovered from the archives, were made in the mid-19th century in F.Chopin’s factory in St Petersburg on the pattern of this chandelier, and until now thought to be 18th-century creations.
A very popular material for the making of light-fittings in the 19th century was porcelain. Porcelain chandeliers and sconces adorn the Chinese and Gothic galleries, the apartments of Nicholas I and Alexander II in the Arsenal Square. Especially effective were the light-fittings in the galleries, the porcelain vying for beauty and whiteness with the Chinese and Japanese vases and statuettes. At this time there appeared lamps filled with oil, so-called “Carcel lamps” named after the French inventor Carcel, who attached to the oil reservoir a mechanical “clockwork” contrivance which delivered liquid to the burner. There were so many of these in the palace that a large proportion of them went to Moscow for the coronation of Alexander II.
And there was an extremely unusual material which had never before been used for making light-fittings: papier-mache, that is, paper compressed in a particular way. Until the Revolution, such a chandelier hung in the church of the Apostle Paul in the town hospital. (These premises are now the vestibule of the Gatchina town administration.)
In the Gatchina palace there appeared one of the first electric lights. In May 1885 the Ministry of the Imperial Palaces informed the manager of the Gatchina palace that “it is His Majesty’s wish that in the course of the year full electrical illumination be installed.” Soon after, part of the town was also electrically lit.
Some years later, electric lighting was installed in the palace squares and around the palace, and in the park on the path to the “Admiralty” and ‘Birch” gates. The lamp-posts were made in historical forms. Today hardly any remain.
On frosty evenings, in the depths of the dark, starry sky, in the park white with the New Year’s snow, the palace used to stand out with its illuminated windows, and its paths in the joyful light of the lamps running down to the shore of the White Lake...