Kadriorg Art Museum
is situated in the
historical building of Kadriorg Palace.
The Great Northern War (1700–1721) was still ongoing when Peter the Great, confident in his Baltic conquests, began to design a summer palace worthy of an empire in the suburbs of Tallinn. Keen to appear as a modern European ruler, Peter took great pains to stress that Russia belongs to the European cultural space. Desiring to create a new reality and a new people for Russia, he began to reshape the nation’s image, and architecture was part of the process.
For the construction of Kadriorg Palace, he recruited craftsmen from all over Europe. In addition to the Italian architect Nicola Michetti (1675–1743), a number of other Italian, German, Swedish and Russian architects and stucco masons were employed. After Michetti returned home, Mikhail Zemtsov, later chief architect of St. Petersburg, took over as the head of construction. Workers’ brigades were brought in in from Russia; the Tallinn Garrison soldiers, but also forced labourers, provided the heavy labour. In an almost empty, war-torn Tallinn, the proud, magnificent palace was bound to seem a real miracle amidst the modest summer retreats, erratic boulders and junipers.
The beginning of the palace’s history – July 1718 – was carved in the memorial plaque erected in the palace vestibule.
Not all the grandiose plans of Michetti and Peter the Great came to fruition, as after the Tsar’s death in 1725, his successors lost interest in the region for a long time. In the following decades, the palace was resurrected mainly for entertaining noble guests. In 1746, Peter’s daughter Elizabeth spent a week in Kadriorg and in 1764, Empress Catherine II paid a visit. The palace was renovated and refurbished in honour of the high guests. Right before the visit of Tsarina Elizabeth Petrovna, the Italian-style Great Hall, two floors high and boasting rich stucco decoration, was further embellished with ceiling paintings. The main artwork is based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, while the smaller, allegorical paintings are inspired by the tapestries created in honour of King Louis XIV of France. The Great Hall of Kadriorg Palace is considered one of the most beautiful examples of the Nordic Baroque and is one of the very few well-preserved palace interiors from Peter the Great’s era.
Between the royal visits, the palace and the park were maintained by the castellan (7). During the 18th century, the castellan was generally a professional architect, who was charged with drawing maps and erecting any auxiliary buildings as well as handling the everyday management. The castellan managed a crew of gardeners, groundskeepers, handymen, stokers and other workers.
The palace preserved its original appearance and representative
function through the entire 18th century. From 1730 onwards, the palace was put at the disposal of the Governor-Generals of Estonia as well.
In 1832, the daughters of Tsar Nicholas I paid a visit to Kadriorg Palace to recuperate their health. An illuminated road connecting the palace and the beach, a boat landing, and a bathhouse were built for the occasion. The old guardhouse and park pavilion were repurposed into guest houses to accommodate visitors. The entire high society and intellectuals of St. Petersburg (e. g. the poet Vassili Zhukovsky and Sergei and Nadezhda Pushkin, parents of the famous poet) flocked to Tallinn on the heels of the imperial family. Imperial visits became less frequent towards the turn of the century.
The February Revolution of 1917 overthrew monarchy in Russia.
When the palace was handed over to the city of Tallinn a year
later, not much remained of the imperial-era furnishings.
From 1919 on, the seaside wing of the palace accommodated the workshop of the sculptor August Weizenberg, and the halls hosted art exhibitions. During the first decade of the independent Republic of Estonia, Kadriorg Palace became a centre of intellectual and artistic life and hosted several studios and workshops.
The palace was reopened as an art museum after thorough renovation
in 1927. Its collections included older European art, works by Baltic German artists, and Estonian artists such as Johann Köler, August Weizenberg, Paul and Kristjan Raud, and Ants Laikmaa, as well as contemporary artists like Konrad Mägi, Peet Aren, Nikolai Triik, and others.
When King Gustav V of Sweden visited Estonia in 1929, the palace was converted into the summer residence of the Head of State August Rei. After Konstantin Päts came into power in 1934, the palace underwent a thorough refurbishment. According to the project of architect Aleksandr Vladovsky, a Baroque style banqueting hall, a winter garden orchestra space and a dining room were added to the garden side of the palace. The private apartment of the Head of State was located on the third floor, while the office premises occupied the main floor of the sea wing. The remaining rooms were designed to accommodate important guests or converted into lounges outfitted in different styles. The interior design borrowed somewhat from the Baltic German tradition, but in the late 1930s, interiors showcasing the Estonian ethnic style were built. The latter have, to a large extent, survived to this day.
In 1946, the Art Museum of Estonia opened its doors in the palace. During the Soviet period, the museum served as an important venue of the Estonian artistic life, hosting exhibitions of contemporary artists, Estonian art classics, and foreign art. In 1991, the building which had fallen into complete disrepair was closed for thorough renovation.
The nine-year restoration process came to an end with a grand re-opening on July 22, 2000. Since then, the palace has accommodated the Kadriorg Art Museum, a branch of the Art Museum of Estonia. The halls of the palace host older Western European and Russian art – paintings, sculptures and applied art – which lend greatness and glory to a building that has lost much of its former furnishings. Apart from the nation’s art collection, however, the most important exhibit of the museum is the palace itself, a dignified building with a long history.