The Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna, eldest daughter of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia, was a gifted artist. Her artistic and aesthetic inclinations led her to do numerous paintings in watercolor and she delightfully engaged in interior decoration; she decorated her own rooms and when she received a palace of her own, the Mariinsky Palace in St. Petersburg, as a wedding present, she transformed it into one of the most imposing in the city. As a lover of the arts, Grand Duchess Maria built a beautiful collection of paintings from Russia and from different parts of Europe. A lady-in-waiting recalled the time when she went to the Mariinsky palace for the first time and she was struck by the splendid interiors and the grand duchess's taste for beauty and the arts.
"... I went to the Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna... I found her in her luxurious winter garden, surrounded by exotic plants, fountains, waterfalls and birds; a mirage of spring in a January frost. The palace of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaeivna was truly a magical castle, thanks to the generosity of the Emperor Nicholas to his beloved daughter, and the taste of the grand duchess, who managed to subdue the wealth and luxury which she was surrounded, shows the diversity of her artistic imagination. She was generously endowed by nature, which is coupled by a striking beauty of her subtle mind, friendly nature and excellent heart, but she lacked the lofty ideals of spiritual and intellectual interests... "
-From the recollection of Anna Feodorovna Tyutchev,
lady-in-waiting at the Russian court