Prince Andrew Romanoff, grandnephew of Russia’s last czar who became an artist in the US – obituary

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Prince Andrew Romanoff in his studio in 2015 - Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
Prince Andrew Romanoff in his studio in 2015 - Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Prince Andrew Romanoff, who has died aged 98, was a grandnephew of Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II, and was related to most of the royal houses of Europe, but after emigrating to the US he made a living selling “smoking paraphernalia”, before achieving modest success as an artist with colourful miniature drawings done on thermoplastic sheets called “Shrinky Dinks” (originally a children’s toy) that shrink when baked in an oven.

After the death of his kinsman Prince Dimitri Romanov in 2016, most family members were reported to recognise Prince Andrew as head of the family, not that he was particularly interested in reclaiming the Russian throne. “There is no substitute for independence and freedom,” he told an interviewer in 2015, “not even a crown.”

Andrew Andreevich Romanov (he would adopt the French transliteration of his surname) was born on January 21 1923, the youngest of three children and second son of Prince Andrei Alexandrovich, the eldest son of Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich of Russia and Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, sister of Tsar Nicholas II, who was executed in 1918 by the Bolsheviks along with his wife, Alexandra, and their children.

Prince Andrew’s mother was Elisabetta, nee Ruffo Di Saint Antimo, daughter of an Italian duke and a Russian Princess. His godfather was the future King Edward VIII.

Prince Andrew’s parents and paternal grandfather had left Russia in December 1918 on board the British warship Forsythe to attend the Paris Peace Conference, where they hoped to drum up support for the White Army. Other family members, including Grand Duchess Xenia, had been rescued in April 1919 by the British battleships Marlborough and Nelson, which had been dispatched by King George V.

Prince Andrew and his siblings were brought up at Frogmore Cottage, the grace-and-favour residence at Windsor, and though the family were strapped for cash, spent an idyllic, if insular, childhood in the in the grounds of the castle which he recalled as “a fantastic playground, with vast lawns, curving paths along the River Thames, fish ponds, polo fields, greenhouses full of exotic plants.”

They had a somewhat distant relationship with the British royal family. Though Queen Mary told Prince Andrew to call her “Auntie”, he was discouraged from getting close to young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret and after meeting Princess Elizabeth by chance in the Castle grounds, the family were told not to “walk in the private gardens” when the princesses were staying.

The young prince was taught in English, but at home only allowed to speak Russian. Though his father had few illusions that the family might one day return home, his mother and grandmother refused to give up hope and instructed him in the etiquette and rituals of the Russian court.

As war approached the family moved to Hampton Court where Andrew’s mother Elisabetta, already stricken with cancer, died following an air raid in October 1940 while her 16 year old son was a boarder at the Imperial Service College, Windsor.

In 1941 the Prince joined the Royal Navy as an ordinary seaman, and spent six years in the service, three on convoy duty in the Atlantic and three in the Pacific.

After the war he worked briefly on a farm in Kent before deciding to seek his fortune in the US, crossing the Atlantic in 1949 by freighter, alongside a cargo of pigeons and horses destined for the Kentucky Derby.

Arriving in New York with just $800, he took a Greyhound bus and joined an uncle in California. He took American citizenship in 1956 and worked, variously, in a store, growing tomatoes, as a broker in a shipping company and as a real estate agent.

Prince Andrew Romanoff with his wife Inez Storer in 2015 - Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
Prince Andrew Romanoff with his wife Inez Storer in 2015 - Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

In 1951 he married Elena Dourneva, with whom he had a son, but the marriage ended in divorce and in 1961 he married, secondly, Kathleen Norris, with whom he had two more sons. After she died of influenza in 1967, he took the boys to Inverness, on the coast north of San Francisco, where they moved in with Inez Storer, an artist who had four young children by an earlier marriage. They would marry in 1987.

There he worked as a carpenter and joiner and later ran a “smoking paraphernalia” shop selling jewellery and hashish pipes he made himself to sell to the hippies of northern California.

He also discovered Shrinky Dinks and, encouraged by Inez, began to explore the possibilities of the medium, his work, described as “whimsical folk art”, being shown in local galleries.

Quiet and somewhat shy, Prince Andrew first visited Russia in 1989 at the invitation of Boris Yeltsin, and made the journey several times, also providing DNA samples to confirm the identity of remains believed to be those of murdered family members. In 1998 he attended the family reunion in St Petersburg when the last Czar of Russia, Nicholas II, and his family were reburied 80 years after their execution.

“At certain moments I would be called on to play the game, be a prince,” he said in 2007. “But it’s always the people around me who get excited about it.”

The same year he published an illustrated memoir, The Boy Who Would Be Tsar: The Art of Prince Andrew Romanoff .

His wife and sons survive him.

Prince Andrew Romanoff, born January 21 1923, died November 28 2021

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