Exploring Saint Petersburg–in living color
The first thing that strikes you as you navigate the bustling streets of St. Petersburg (the week of the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum) is the the mix of spirit-lifting colors on many of the 365 Imperial palaces here. Our tour guide, (a local historian with an enviable memory for detail) Zoye Tarasova, told me this region only gets “40 days of sun all year”–so it makes sense that the Czars and architects of the day (1700s) chose color to combat the sense of gray.
The Winter Palace and State Hermitage Museum sport what I can only describe as Martha Stewart “Araucana Teal.” It’s not quite green, not quite blue–but a delicate mixture of the two. Now I’m sounding like Myrna Loy in “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.” If you missed that 1948 classic film with Cary Grant–I have to share the dialogue that always makes me smile. Mrs. Muriel Blandings (Loy) tries to describe to her house painters the kind of green she’d like in the living room, then the shade of yellow for the dining room…
MURIEL Now I want the living room to be a soft green. (PeDelford nods) Not quite as bluish as a robin's egg, but yet not as yellow as daffodil buds. PEDELFORD Mm. MURIEL (handing him a sample) The best sample I could get is a little too yellow, but don't let whoever mixes it go to the other extreme and get it too blue. It should just be sort of a grayish yellow green. PEDELFORD (making a note) Mm-hmm. (They turn to the dining room.) MURIEL Now the dining room I'd like yellow. Not just yellow, a very gay yellow. PEDELFORD Mm-hmm. MURIEL Something bright and sunshiny. (sudden inspiration) I tell you, Mr. PeDelford, if you'll just send one of your workmen to the A&P for a pound of their best butter and match it exactly, you can't go wrong. PEDELFORD (making a note) Mm. MURIEL This is the paper we're going to use here in the foyer. (hands sample to him) It's flowered but I don't want the ceiling to match any of the colors of the flowers. There are some little dots in the background, and it's these dots I want you to match. Not the little greenish dots near the hollyhock leaf, but the little bluish dot between the rosebud and the delphinium blossom. Is that clear? (PeDelford looks carefully at the sample, then:) PEDELFORD (making note) Mm-hmm. MURIEL The kitchen's to be white. Not a cold, antiseptic hospital white -- a little warmer but not to suggest any other color but white. PEDELFORD (note) Mm. MURIEL Now for the powder room, I want you to match this thread. (hands him thread) You can see it's practically an apple red. Somewhere between a healthy Winesap and an unripened Jonathan. PEDELFORD (making note) Mm. (There is a crash from the kitchen.) MURIEL Will you excuse me? (Muriel hastily exits toward the kitchen. PeDelford turns to his assistant.) PEDELFORD Got it, Charlie? CHARLIE (deadpan; indicating rooms with his thumb) Green, yellow, blue, white, red. PEDELFORD Check.
Almost all the Romanovs starting from Catherine the Great (a devoted supporter of the arts) resided in the Winter Palace–now home to the massive collection of the Hermitage Museum, which houses more than three million works of art and historical artifacts, including, the iconic “Dance” by Henri Matisse (Pic #6).
The distinctive shades of green, rust, dusty pinks, gold, and royal blues–inside and out–in the palaces, cathedrals, museums, and on the streets, sent me spinning.
I started seeing colors I’d never seen before, and interesting shapes and textures–everywhere. It’s why I had to stop to grab a few shots of Russian graffiti (Pic #2) on St. Petersburg streets and signs, as well as abandoned moorings in the Neva River. (Pic #4)
Palace, church, and museum ceilings, walls, hallways, dishes, and Louis the XIV furniture, are all luxuriously adorned in gold. (Pic #7)
St. Isaac’s Cathedral took 40 years to complete–and once you see the art on the inside–you understand why. Many of the artisans who worked on the mammoth structure (1818-1858) never saw it completed. Check out the painstaking work on the painted dome that dominates the St. Petersburg skyline. (Pic #5).