A permanent exhibition of imperial carriages of the eighteenth–nineteenth centuries is open since 1990 in the former Duty Stable that was built in 1824 to a design by the architects Vasily Stasov and Smaragd Shustov.
The display features twenty-five imperial conveyances created by eminent Russian and Western European craftsmen.
The historical and artistic value of the collection of court carriages was recognized as early as the nineteenth century. In 1860 Emperor Alexander II opened in St Petersburg the Court Stable Museum that had been conceived back in the time of his father, Nicholas I. A special two-storey building was built to the design of Piotr Sadovnikov to house the carriages. In the late 1920s this museum was disbanded. Some of the vehicles were transferred to the State Hermitage, while others were moved to the Catherine Palace Museum that already had several carriages in its own collection.
Until the 1930s the carriages were kept at the Cameron Gallery, in the Grotto and the former Duty Stable. After surviving the Siege of Leningrad (beneath the vaults of the Hanging Garden next to the Winter Palace), in 1969 part of the collection was again entrusted to the Catherine Palace Museum.
In 1971 an exhibition of fourteen carriages was inaugurated on the Cameron Gallery. The opening of the display in the Duty Stable building was preceded by restoration work in the course of which twenty vehicles were refurbished.
Today the display includes a variety of conveyances: coaches, phaetons, cabriolets and sledges that were used in the 1700s and 1800s for grand parades and coronations – the imperial court’s most magnificent ceremonies.
Three coaches made for Empress Catherine II by the celebrated St Petersburg carriage-builder Johann Konrad Bukendahl are striking for their immense size, opulent gilded carving and rich interior decoration. No less remarkable in terms of craftsmanship are the vehicles from the middle of the nineteenth century that were produced by the Court Carriage Establishment. Exceptional interest is aroused by the ten coaches created for the coronation of Emperor Alexander II by St Petersburg manufacturers: Christian Tatzki, the Froebelius brothers and the Yakovlev brothers.
The Tsarskoe Selo collection also includes fine vehicles from Karl Nellis’s factory and uniquely constructed coaches made by Ivan Bräutigam’s factory. A special place in the collection is taken by the vehicle in which Emperor Alexander II was riding when he was fatally wounded on 1 March 1881.
The last hall of the display contains sledges that were as richly decorated and skilfully made as other grand vehicles. Among them is a sledge that belonged to Emperor Paul I and a ten-seater sledge that Johann Konrad Bukendahl made in 1793 for the ladies of Catherine II’s court.
All exhibits of the Court Carriage Exhibition help trace the history of carriage-making over two centuries.