Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna of Russia was born on 18 August 1819 in
St. Petersburg, then a part of the Russian Empire.
Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna of Russia was a daughter of Tsar Nicholas I
of Russia and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, born Princess Charlotte of
Prussia. She was thus a sister of inter alia Tsar Alexander II of Russia.
Maria and her brother the future Tsar Alexander II
She grew up in a close knit family and they remained on good terms all their lives.
Maria was raised in the company of her sisters Olga and Alexandra. Their rooms
were on the ground floor of the Winter Palace, they were unpretentious and void of
Maria and her sisters received dancing, music and drawing lessons. Artistically
gifted she showed an early interest in interior design. All three sisters were good
in music and were involved in charitable work.
Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna was noted for her formidable personality and
her strong character.
Her sister wrote in her diary that "Maria was hot tempered,
attentive and generous towards the poor. She lacks only a sense of duty."
Maria was brave, inventive and she was almost indifferent to the opinion of the
high society. She was lively, energetic, talented and impulsive. She was the
favorite child of Tsar Nicholas I.
Her mother worried about finding a suitable husband for her most gifted and
emotional daughter. Maria Nikolaievna didn't want to leave Russia upon her
marriage nor changing her religion.
Nicholas I of Russia and his daughter Maria
In 1837 King Ludwig I of Bavaria sent his nephew, Maximilian, Duke of
Leuchtenberg, to take part in cavalry manoeuvers in Russia. Maximilian was the
only surviving son of Eugène de Beauharnais and a grandson of Empress
Josephine. He was handsome, well educated and interested in cultural matters.
In 1838 he made a second visit. With his good looks and manners, he impressed
Maria Nikolaievna. This was not a wanted match for the Russian Emperor.
Maximilian was below her rank and he also was a Roman Catholic. His own
mother, Princess Augusta of Bavaria was against the marriage. Furthermore the
Bonaparte family were bitter enemies of Russia. Nevertheless the Tsar granted
his permission for the marriage on the condition that his daughter stayed in
The wedding took place on 2 July 1839 at the grand church of the Winter Palace
in St. Petersburg.
In the late 1840's the couple drifted apart. They had separate lives and
lovers by their own. Maria started a long term relationship with
Count Gregory Alexandrovich Stroganov.
The Duke of Leuchtenberg, then known as a womanizer,
died on 1 November 1852.
In 1858 Maria Nikolaievna made a second marriage to Count Stroganov.
This was a morganatic union because he was far below her rank. The
union was kept secret while her father lived.
Grand Duchess Maria had 7 children with the Duke of Leuchtenberg.
She also had children with Count Stroganov.
Maria with some of her own children
On her wedding day with the Duke of Leuchtenberg, Grand Duchess Maria
received a present from her father, Tsar Nicholas I: a own palace. It was
close to the Winter Palace so the Tsar could regularly see his daughter.
The royal residence was named as the Mariinsky Palace after Maria Nikolaievna.
She also had a country estate: Sergievka.
Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna had artistic inclinations and she was
active in charitable and artistic causes.
She also was an avid art collector. After the death of her husband, she replaced
him as President of the Academy of Arts.
In 1862, Maria Nikolaievna installed herself in Florence in the Villa Quarto
which had belonged to Jérôme Bonaparte. There she daily visited museums.
Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna suffered from a kind of bone disease
and by the end of her life she became invalid. She died on 21 February 1876
in St. Petersburg at the age of 56.
On her death in 1876, Maria's collections were divided among her surviving
children. They mounted an exhibition at the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine
arts with her collection.
In 1913, another exhibition was organized at the Hermitage Museum. After
the revolution, her collection was spread around the world. There are pieces of
her collection in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vienna and even the United States.
Source pictures: Wikipedia