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Most Unusual Mansion in Petersburg: Lawyer’s House

4 july 2017

Kelkh’s mansion the architects of which were instructed by the landlady to create «the most unusual mansion in Petersburg» is opening its doors again to the participants of the Open City project: one of the tours took place on June 27, 2017. The extremely grandiose furnishings which amazingly combine elements of Gothic style, Baroque, Renaissance and rococo produce an imperishable impression on the visitors once they pass through the portal of three doors with etched glass and get into the hall. And the destinies of the Lawyer’s House owners told by the guide to the history of the mansion Nina Naumovna Gervais appear to be as strange and enigmatic as the chimeras, dragons and gryphons guarding this building with its profusely decorated halls, rich gala rooms and secret premises.

In the dimly illuminated lobby the guests are met by the Kelkh brothers: the high reliefs located on the left and on the right of the gala staircase are life-like portraits of the owners of the mansion — senior Nikolay, a lawyer, and Aleksandr who received military and secular education. Nikolay married Varvara Petrovna Bazanova, the heiress of Lena gold fields and Lena-Vitim Shipping Company; however, he died two years after the wedding. After the sudden death of the senior brother Aleksandr married the widow and stated managing the inherited enterprises.

Lobby and gala staircase are decorated with white and pink marble

No pictures of Varvara Kelkh have survived and we do not know what this woman looked liked. The excursionists’ imagination presents her as a smartly and expensively dressed lady standing on the landing of the gala staircase and welcoming distinguished guests... that never visited this mansion. Researchers have not found a single mentioning of any receptions, concerts, balls or other society events held by the Kelkh. Their fantastic wealth and, as we can judge, their life aloof from the world were and are a source of envy and rumors.

Going up the elegantly curved stairwell the visitors of the tour admiringly look at copies of the Canova sculptures and huge landscapes of the Bay of Naples astonished at the luxury and splendor of every detail of the interior.

Abundance of gilded elements in the interior of the enfilade of the second floor

Gold and marble literally dazzle the guests in the lobby and on the second floor landing, and the decoration of the Gothic dining-room seems all the more unexpected and unusual: the guests suddenly get from the Europe of the Renaissance into a banquet hall of a medieval castle or a Lutheran church. Abundance of walnut, a huge fireplace with sculptures of a knight and his fair lady, shields on the walls, stained-glass panels, a cupboard reminding of a pipe organ... The dark shades do not make the interior full of numerous details heavy due to the prevailing elegant Gothic forms.

Walnut décor replicates the decorations of European Gothic churches

However, gala music did fill this grand hall: the winding stairs lead to the attic storey — to a small room where a real pipe organ was located.

From the dining room one can also get into the study of the house owner with an adjoining pool-room. These rooms are furnished in a more reserved manner: the finishing was done with walnut and labradorite and the magnificent mantelpiece with a three-level figured framing was created after the mantelpiece located in the town hall in Brugge.

As distinguished from the dining-room the study has no stained-glass windows, and the guests can see the outbuilding made in the Gothic style and reminding of a castle in the yard.

Fine carving decorates the mantelpiece and ceiling of the study of Alexandr Kelkh

The excursionists are shown one more unique mantelpiece decorating the White or Dancing Hall, its splendor and magnificence competing with the luxury of the interior of imperial palaces. Golden roses twine along the snow-white walls; the varied ornament of the ceiling boggles the mind, and the guests fail to immediately notice the sculpture composition located on the left: The Wakening of Spring by Maria Dillon, the first Russian professional female sculptor.

The hall is decorated with numerous figures of Cupids and sculptural images of female and male faces

The White Hall miraculously survived during the Great Patriotic War: a bomb fell into the adjoining Golden sitting-room; after restoration the decoration of this room was not restored, and now excursionists do not visit this room where jeweled eggs of Faberge used to be displayed at the Kelkh’s time which Aleksandr ordered from the famous jeweler as a present for his wife.

The mansion had an involute and sophisticated destiny. Varvara and Aleksandr did not live long here: she left the country soon and he pledged and then had to sell the house in 1910 due to the deteriorated financial standing. During the First World War there was a hospital for officers here which, however, did not even have a surgery room and admitted mildly wounded only. From 1920 the mansion was occupied by the School of Screen Arts later turned into an institute. In the Soviet time the rooms were occupied by district Party committee and in the 1990ies the study of Aleksandr Kelkh accommodated the study of Anatoly Sobchak, Mayor of Saint Petersburg. At the turn of the XX and XXI centuries the building was given to the law department of Saint Petersburg University, hence the name of the Lawyer’s House. There were total three periods of restoration works in the building: the postwar period, the global one in the 80ies and the current period which started in 2010. In the near future the restoration covering the yard, facades and internal rooms will be completed, and the mansion will be leased out. The researchers interested in its history hope that the new lessee will also give citizens the opportunity to visit Kelkh’s Mansion with tours.

It is to be recalled that one can see the unique items of the cultural heritage of Saint Petersburg within the frames of the Open City project supported by Tricolor TV. To do this it is enough to get registered at the website открытыйгород.рф and leave a request to visit the event.

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