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They seem to represent not just the lost world of old tsarist Russia but also the ruthless and arbitrary brutality of the revolution that destroyed them.The faces are familiar, but until now very little was known about the four Romanov sisters beyond the chocolate-box image of them produced for public consumption by the tsarist publicity machine.Ordinary Russians, however, were lucky to catch glimpses of the Romanov princesses during carriage rides around St Petersburg or at increasingly rare official engagements; abroad, the Romanovs were not seen as a family until a brief visit to Cowes on the Isle of Wight in 1909.A steady stream of carefully selected official photographs did nothing to convey the individuality of the Imperial daughters, serving instead to perpetuate an endearing but bland image of them as dutiful, docile and uncontroversial.The girls were educated in the necessary social graces and spoke French, Russian (among themselves) and English (with their parents), but they were never spoilt.

Author Helen Rappaport reveals how, just when they were able to start engaging with the wider world, events in Russia overtook them It is now almost 50 years since Robert K Massie’s acclaimed biography Nicholas and Alexandra first brought the story of Russia’s last Imperial Family to a wider audience in the West.The many charming and informal pictures that the sisters took of each other during their childhood show something of the happy and unpretentious personalities behind the public image, but in truth, the Romanov princesses have never been considered anything more than the pretty set-dressing to the much bigger and more dramatic story of their parents and their tragic haemophiliac brother Alexey.For they were born into a Russia where sons were essential for the survival of the dynasty and daughters were deemed of little consequence.In contrast, the third sister, Maria, had a wonderful warmth and openness; everyone remarked on her great, plaintive blue eyes.She had an earthy, Russian quality that was demonstrated in her great love for children and she would have made a devoted mother.

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