Mathilde Kschessinska

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Mathilde Kschessinska
Princess Romanovskaya-Krasinskaya
Camargo-Mathilde Kschessinskaya-1897.JPG
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; d. 1956)
IssuePrince Vladimir Romanovsky-Krasinsky
FatherFeliks Krzesiński
ReligionRussian Orthodox (previously Roman 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 ballerina from the noble family Krzesiński. Her father Feliks Krzesiński and her brother both danced in Saint Petersburg. She was a mistress of the future Tsar Nicholas II of Russia prior to 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 Nicholas Alexandrovich, Tsesarevich of Russia. After the performance, the Tsar sought her out and 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 eighteen.[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 old 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.

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 Pharon, 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 a grand duke and she was just seventeen, having met him in the presence of his family after her graduation performance. The relationship continued for three years, until Nicholas married Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt—the future Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna—in 1894, shortly after the death of his father, Tsar Alexander. 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, "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 also be ruthless with rivals. One of her most 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.[8]

Move to France[edit]

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

After the October Revolution, Kschessinskaya moved first to the French Riviera and then to Paris, where she married, in 1921, one of the tsar's cousins, Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich of Russia, the possible father of her son Vova. Although Kschessinskaya's life in Paris was modest compared with the lavish life she had enjoyed in Russia, she lived on happily for over 50 years. In 1925, she converted from Catholicism to Russian Orthodoxy and took the name Maria. In 1929, she opened her own ballet school, where she taught such students as Dame Margot Fonteyn, Dame Alicia Markova, André Eglevsky, Tatiana Riabouchinska, Tamara Toumanova, Mona Inglesby and Maurice Béjart. She performed for the last time at the age of 64, for a charity event with The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden.

In 1960, she published an autobiography entitled 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, in her 100th year. She is buried at the Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois Russian Cemetery with her husband and son.

Cultural depictions[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kshessinska 1960. Dancing in Petersburg. London, transl Haskell.
  2. ^ The latter is Beaumont's version, The Diaghilev Ballet in London, 1940.
  3. ^ a b c d e f 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 seventeen 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. ^ a b Trotsky, Leon History of the Russian Revolution
  9. ^ Szalai, Georg. "Cannes 2012: Paul Schrader to Pen Script for Russian Ballerina Biopic (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 21 January 2017.
  10. ^ Untitled Matilda Kshesinskaya Project at IMDb


  • 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]