Mathilde Kschessinska

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Mathilde Kschessinska
Princess Romanovskaya-Krasinskaya
Kschessinska costumed for the title role in Petipa's La Camargo. St. Petersburg, c. 1902
Born(1872-08-31)31 August 1872
Ligovo, Petergof, Russian Empire
Died6 December 1971(1971-12-06) (aged 99)
Paris, France
(m. 1921; died 1956)
IssuePrince Vladimir Romanovsky-Krasinsky
FatherFeliks Krzesiński
ReligionRussian Orthodox (previously Catholic)
OccupationPrima ballerina

Mathilde-Marie Feliksovna Kschessinska (Polish: Matylda Maria Krzesińska; Russian: Матильда Феликсовна Кшесинская; 31 August [O.S. 19 August] 1872 – 6 December 1971; also known as Princess Romanovskaya-Krasinskaya after her marriage) was a Polish–Russian ballerina from the noble Krzesiński family. Her father, Feliks Krzesiński, and her brother both danced in Saint Petersburg. She was a mistress of the future Emperor Nicholas II of Russia before his marriage, and later the wife of his cousin Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich of Russia.[1] She was known in the West as Mathilde Kschessinska or Matilda Kshesinskaya.[2]

Early life[edit]

Kschessinskaya was born at Ligovo, near Peterhof, the youngest child of Adam-Felix Kschessinsky (Polish: Adam Feliks Krzesiński) and Julie Kschessinska. Her Polish father arrived in St. Petersburg on 30 January 1853, one of five Warsaw mazurka dancers invited by the tsar, where he performed in the Mariinsky Theatre. In 1880, at the age of eight, Mathilde entered into the Imperial Theatre School, where she studied under Yekaterina Vazem, and was inspired by Virginia Zucchi. On 30 August 1881, she danced for the first time on the Grand Theatre stage in the ballet Don Quixote. Kschessinskaya's graduation exam dance was the pas de deux from La Fille Mal Gardée, to the music of Stella Confidenta. The performance was attended by Tsar Alexander III of Russia and the rest of the Imperial family, including the Tsesarevich, the future Tsar Nicholas II. After the performance, the tsar said "Be the glory and the adornment of our ballet." On 22 April 1890, she made her debut on stage, performing the same dance for Papkov's farewell, and graduated at the age of 18.[3]

Prima ballerina[edit]

Kschessinskaya in 1898, in costume for The Pharaoh's Daughter

In 1896, she obtained the rank of Prima ballerina of the Saint Petersburg Imperial Theatres. The maestro Marius Petipa did not consent to Kschessinskaya receiving such a title and although she possessed an extraordinary gift as a dancer, she obtained it primarily via her influence at the Imperial Russian Court.[citation needed]

Relationship with Petipa[edit]

According to Mathilde, "My whole artistic career, until Fokine's appearance, had been linked with Petipa. The success of his ballet, La Fille du Pharaon, which was, as I have said, to become my favourite role, had at once assured him fame in Russia. where he came on May 24th 1847, invited by the Imperial Theatres Administration, after working several years in Spain." Petipa created roles for Kschessinskaya in Le Réveil de Flore (1894), Mlada (1896), Le Roi Candaule (1897), Les Aventures de Pélée (1897), The Pharaoh's Daughter (1898), Harlequinade (1900), and La Esmeralda (1899). She also mastered the 32 fouettés en tournant of Legnani.[3]: 41, 44, 48, 50–51, 54, 62, 66, 99 

In 1899, Prince Serge Wolkonsky became Director of the Imperial Theaters, succeeding Ivan Vsevolozhsky. Although he held the position only until 1902, he achieved a great deal. Sergei Diaghilev was his immediate assistant, and Wolkonsky entrusted him with the publication of the Annual of the Imperial Theaters in 1900. During this period, new names appeared in the theaters, such as painters Alexandre Benois, Konstantin Somov, and Léon Bakst. However, Wolkonsky was forced to send in his resignation after clashing with Kschessinskaya when she refused to wear the panniers of an 18th-century costume in the ballet La Camargo.[4] In 1901, he was succeeded by V.A. Teliakovsky.[3]: 57 

Scandals and rumours[edit]

The future tsar[edit]

Kschessinskaya had been involved with the future Nicholas II from 1890, when he was Tsesarevich and she was age 17, having met him in the presence of his family after her graduation performance. The relationship continued for three years, until Nicholas married the future Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in 1894, shortly after the death of his father, Alexander III. Mathilde wrote of the future tsar: "He had an incomparable knowledge of the Russian language and its subtleties, and found the greatest pleasure in reading the Russian classics. In addition to being erudite and speaking several languages perfectly he was aided in his reading by an extraordinary memory. By nature a fatalist, he had the highest conception of his mission. He considered it his duty to remain in Russia, even and especially after the Revolution, and would never leave his native land; he thus paid with his own life and the lives of his family for his faith in the Russian people."[3]: 21, 35–42 

Two grand dukes[edit]

Scandals and rumours around her name developed and persisted as she engaged in a sexual relationship with two Grand Dukes of the Romanov family: Sergei Mikhailovich and his cousin Andrei Vladimirovich. In 1902, she gave birth to a son, Vladimir (known as "Vova"; 30 June 1902 – 23 April 1974); he was later titled H.S.H. Prince Romanovsky-Krasinsky, but said that he never knew for sure who his father was.[5][6]

However, Kschessinska wrote that "Serge knew for certain that he was not the father of the child" and that she was "full of my love for André and my son." She goes on to state "We decided to call our son Wladimir, in honor of the Grand Duke Wladimir, André's father."[3]: 70–74 

Coaching of Pavlova[edit]

While Kschessinskaya could be charming and kind to colleagues, such as the young Tamara Karsavina, she was not afraid to use her connections with the tsar to strengthen her position in the Imperial Theatres. She was known to sew valuable jewels into her costumes and came on stage as the Princess Aspicia in The Pharaoh's Daughter wearing her diamond encrusted tiaras and chokers. She could be ruthless with rivals. One of her more famous miscalculations occurred when, while pregnant in 1902, she coached Anna Pavlova in the role of Nikya in La Bayadère. She considered Pavlova to be technically weak and believed that the young ballerina could not upstage her. Instead, audiences became enthralled with the frail, long-limbed, ethereal-looking Pavlova, and a star was born.[7]

Chickens on stage[edit]

Another notorious incident occurred in 1906 when Kschessinskaya's coveted role of Lise in the Petipa/Ivanov production of La Fille Mal Gardée was given to Olga Preobrajenska. One feature of this production was the use of live chickens on stage. Before Preobrajenska's variation in the Pas de ruban of the first act, Kschessinskaya opened the doors to the chickens' coops, and at the first note of the music, the chickens went flying about the stage. Nevertheless, Preobrajenska continued her variation to the end and received a storm of applause, much to Kschessinskaya's chagrin.


Through her aristocratic connections, she managed to amass much valuable property in the Russian capital.[3]: 84–89  The Bolsheviks took over her house soon after the February Revolution. It was here that Vladimir Lenin addressed a meeting of the Petrograd Bolsheviks, shortly after he had addressed the crowd at the Finland Station when he returned in 1917.[8] She claims in her memoirs that they turned it into a kind of pigsty; she went to court to recover it, only to receive death threats; once she passed near the house, she saw Alexandra Kollontai in the garden wearing one of her overcoats. The Bolsheviks were forced to abandon the house only after the July Days.[9]

Move to France[edit]

Krzesińska's tomb at the Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois Russian Orthodox Cemetery, 2014

Kschessinska was forced to flee her home, with her son Vova, on 27 February 1917 (Old Style), during the February Revolution. Her home occupied by the Bolsheviks, Kschessinska wrote "And Petrograd was a nightmare world of arrests, the assassination of officers in the streets, arson, pillage". After staying with friends and relatives for a time, she left Petrograd on 13 July, ending up in Kislovodsk with Andrei. On 30 December 1919, the White Army no long able to stop the Red invasion of the Caucasus, she was forced to flee to Novorossiysk. On 13 February 1920, Mathilde, Vova, and Andrei boarded a Lloyd Triestino liner, leaving behind Russian soil. On 12 March 1920, they arrived at Kschessinska's Cap-d'Ail villa.[3]: 136–139, 146–147, 165, 167, 170 

On 30 January 1921, Andrei and Mathilde were married at the Russian Church in Cannes. According to Kschessinska, the Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich of Russia "bestowed on me the name of Krassinsky, with the title of Princess. Our son was similarly given the title Prince." In 1935, due to their morganatic marriage, they added the name Romanovsky, and Romanov was added to their son's.[3]: 175–176 

On 9 December 1925, she converted from the Catholic Church to the Russian Orthodox Church. On 5 February 1929, they moved into their Paris home. On 26 March, Kschessinska opened a dance studio, and gave her first lesson on 6 April. By 1933, she had over a hundred students, boys and girls. Her students included Tatiana Riabouchinska, Pearl Argyle, Andrée Howard, June Brae, Margot Fonteyn, Pamela May, Harold Turner, and Diana Gould. On 14 June 1936, she made her last appearance on stage at the age of 64, a jubilee performance at Covent Garden.[3]: 183, 187–188, 195, 200–203, 206 

In 1960, she published an autobiography titled Souvenirs de la Kschessinska (published in English as Dancing in St. Petersburg: The Memoirs of Kschessinska). In later years, she suffered financial difficulties but remained indomitable. She died in Paris at the age of 99. She is buried at the Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois Russian Cemetery with her husband and son.[citation needed]

Cultural depictions[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kshessinska 1960. Dancing in Petersburg. London, translated Haskell.
  2. ^ The latter is Beaumont's version, The Diaghilev Ballet in London, 1940.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kschessinska, Mathilde (1960). Dancing in Petersburg: The Memoirs of Kschessinska - Prima Ballerina of the Russian Imperial Theatre, and Mistress of the Future Tsar Nicholas II. Pantianos Classics. pp. 6–22. ISBN 9781789870787.
  4. ^ Marius Petipa (1958). Russian Ballet Master: The Memoirs of Marius Petipa. Dance Books Ltd.
  5. ^ Though Andrei acknowledged Vova as his son, it is possible that Vova's biological father was Grand Duke Sergei, whose patronymic he was given. It has also been suggested that Grand Duke Vladimir Romanov was the father. Another rumor, with Nicholas II as father, was assumed by Adrienne Sharp in her fictional account of Kschessinska, The True Memoirs of Little K (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), ISBN 0-374-20730-5 [reviewed by Martin, Benjamin Franklin (28 November 2010). "Tsar Nikolai II's lover's memoir is only partly fiction". Advocate. Baton Rouge. p. 3E.].
  6. ^ Having had a friendly relationship with Prince Wladimir Andreievich for the last 17 years of his life, I have never heard him issuing any doubt as to the identity of his father. In her memoirs, published under the title Dancing in Petersburg, his mother writes on page 89: "Serge knew for certain that he was not the father of the child... We decided to call our son Wladimir, in honour of the Grand Duke Wladimir, André's father."
  7. ^ Pavlischeva 2018.
  8. ^ Trotsky, Leon History of the Russian Revolution volume 1 chapter 15
  9. ^ Trotsky, Leon History of the Russian Revolution volume 2 chapter 2
  10. ^ Szalai, Georg (17 May 2012). "Cannes 2012: Paul Schrader to Pen Script for Russian Ballerina Biopic (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 21 January 2017.
  11. ^ Untitled Matilda Kshesinskaya Project at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata


  • H.S.H. The Princess Romanovsky-Krassinsky. Dancing in Petersburg — London, 1960, 1973.
  • S.A.S. La Princesse Romanovsky-Krassinsky Souvenirs de la Kschessinska — Paris, 1960.


  • Hall, Coryne, Imperial Dancer: Mathilde Kschessinska and the Romanovs, Sutton Publishing, England, 2005.
  • Arnold L.Haskell. Diaghileff. His artistic and private life. — NY, 1935.
  • Marija Trofimova, "Prince Serge M. Wolkonsky – theatrical critic of Poslednie Novosti" (“Knyaz Sergei Volkonsky – teatralny kritik gazety Poslednie Novosti”) (in Russian), Rev. Etud. Slaves, Paris, LXIV/4, 1992. [There are a lot articles about Kschessinska's ballet school].
  • Pavlischeva, Natalya (2018). Анна Павлова. "Неумирающий лебедь" [Anna Pavlova. The Immortal Swan] (in Russian). Yauza. ISBN 978-5-9500752-8-5.

Further reading[edit]