The largest collection of Fabergé Easter eggs in a generation is on display in the large V&A exhibit.
Opening this Saturday, November 20, Fabergé in London: from romanticism to revolution is the first major exhibition dedicated to the international notoriety of the legendary Russian goldsmith Carl Fabergé and the importance of his little-known London branch. With a focus on Fabergé’s high-society Edwardian clientele, the exhibit highlights his triumphs in Britain as well as a global fascination with the joyful opulence of his designs. The largest collection of legendary Imperial Easter eggs in a generation are presented together as part of the exhibition’s dramatic finale, several of which are premiered in the UK.
Presenting more than 200 objects spread over three main sections, the exhibition tells the story of Carl Fabergé, the man, and his internationally renowned company that symbolized Russian craftsmanship and elegance – an association further reinforced by its link with the romance, glamor and tragedy of the Russian imperial family.
Unknown to many, the exhibition explores the Anglo-Russian nature of his business with its only branch outside of Russia opening in London in 1903. Royalty, aristocrats, American heiresses, Russian Grand Dukes in exile, Maharajas, financiers with new fortunes, and socialites flocked there to buy gifts of unprecedented luxury. Fabergé’s works were as popular in Britain as in Russia.
The first section of the exhibition highlights the important patronage of the Romanov family. A miniature of the Imperial Regalia, on loan from the Hermitage Museum, produced for the Universal Exhibition of Paris in 1900, will capture the role of Carl Fabergé as official silversmith of the imperial family. Its members have often treated themselves to intimate Fabergé gifts, and this will be explored through bespoke ornate objects including rock crystal flowers, gold and rose cut diamonds and exquisite miniatures of family portraits. This section also discusses the youth of Carl Fabergé, his travels through Europe and his entry into the family business.
Commissioned by Emperor Nicholas II, a figurine portrait from the life of the Empress Dowager’s private bodyguard is on display – a sculpture at a level of rarity with the Imperial Easter Eggs. A prayer book offered by Emperor Nicholas II to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna on the day of her coronation also stands alongside the first photographs of the imperial family with their precious possessions.
Then, this section explores the mastery of techniques and intricate details that have become synonymous with Carl Fabergé and his company. Creating a culture of creativity in his workshops, Carl Fabergé’s restless imagination inspired bold material choices and designs, while the integration of designers, artisans and retailers under one roof galvanized the collaboration creative. The dazzling beauty of Fabergé’s work is exemplified by a tiara of aquamarine and sparkling diamonds – a token of love from Frederick Francis IV, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin to his wife Princess Alexandra of Hanover and Cumberland on their wedding day. The only known example of A solid gold tea set designed by Fabergé is also on display, one of the most magnificent objects from the company’s Moscow branch.
Fabergé’s nurturing spirit is reflected in the work of one of its most famous designers, Alma Pihl. Some of his most innovative and enduring works are on display, including a sparkling ice crystal pendant made of rock crystal, diamonds and platinum.
The second section of the exhibit tells the story of Fabergé’s stay in London, including how the company flourished under royal patronage and how his designs became social currency for gifts and ostentatious displays of wealth, among the cosmopolitan elite who gathered in the city.
The enormous success of the Paris Exposition of 1900 made it clear that Fabergé would have a large clientele outside of Russia, if it grew. The choice of Fabergé of London for its new premises was in part because it was the financial capital of the world, a luxury retail destination capable of attracting a wealthy and international clientele. It was also the home of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra who were already avid collectors of Fabergé, making royal patronage in London very likely. A transitional section of the exhibit transports visitors from Russia to bustling London and highlights the close ties between the British and Russian royal families. Royal photographs in Fabergé frames and gifts given by Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna to their British relatives are on display, including a notebook offered by the Tsar and Tsarina to Queen Victoria for Christmas in 1896.
Fabergé has carefully adapted his works to his British clientele. He created hard stone portraits of the farm animals King Edward and Queen Alexandra bred in Sandringham, their favorite country estate, and enamelled objects in the colors of the King’s horse races. Featured items include a commission from the King from his trusty wire-haired Fox Terrier Caesar, a silver portrait of Kaki, his most beloved and successful racehorse, and one of the rarest creations in the world. company – a figurine of a veteran English soldier.
Fabergé has become the most exclusive and fashionable place to buy gifts. The King’s Mistress, Mrs George Keppel, presented the King with an elegant Art Nouveau cigarette case with a diamond-set snake biting its tail – a symbol of uninterrupted and everlasting love. Snuffboxes decorated with topographic views, buildings and monuments were also popular. A nephrite cigar box, set with a sepia enameled view of the Houses of Parliament, was purchased by Grand Duke Michael of Russia on November 5, 1908, Guy Fawkes Day, and given to King Edward VII. Other highlights included a lavish rock crystal vase that was presented to King George V and Queen Mary on their coronation day.
The end of the second part of the exhibition focuses on the fateful impact of the Great War and the Russian Revolution on Fabergé. With the entry into the war of Russia in 1914, the production of Fabergé changed abruptly. The workshops focused their production on the war effort and shifted from creating exquisite objects to producing ammunition. Their meticulous craftsmanship has gone from jewelry and precious metals to copper, brass and steel. In 1917, as the Revolution hit Fabergé’s workshops in Russia, his London outpost ceased to function.
The final section of the exhibition will celebrate Fabergé’s legacy through the iconic Imperial Easter Eggs with a kaleidoscopic presentation of 15 of these famous treasures. It is the largest collection on display to the public for over 25 years.
The collection on display includes several never before exhibited in the UK, including the largest Imperial Egg – the Moscow Kremlin Egg – inspired by the architecture of the Dormition Cathedral, on loan from the Kremlin Museums from Moscow. The Alexander Palace Egg, with watercolor portraits of the children of Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra – and containing a surprise model of the palace inside – also takes center stage alongside the tercentenary egg, created to celebrate 300 years of the Romanov dynasty, only a few years before the dynasty collapsed. Other eggs featured include the recently rediscovered Third Imperial Egg from 1887, found by a junkyard in 2011 – one of the “missing” eggs created by Fabergé that was lost for many years. The peacock egg from 1907-1908, on display to the public for the first time in over a decade, containing a surprise of a gold enameled peacock automaton and the egg from the basket of flowers of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, loaned by Her Majesty the Queen from the Royal Collection will also be on display.
While the Russian Revolution and the war irrevocably modify the social order in Russia and in Europe, the taste for Fabergé survives, especially in London, where the works of the house remain prized. Beginning in the 1920s, merchants and auction houses in London acquired confiscated Faberge items sold by Soviet Russia. In the 1930s, Wartski art dealers bought several Imperial Eggs, which they sold to London customers of Fabergé and to new generations of collectors in Europe and the United States. Lately, motivated by patriotic repatriation, the Russians have become important collectors of Fabergé’s work.
Although Carl Fabergé’s business ceased to exist, the myth crystallized around the Imperial Easter Eggs and the demand for Fabergé pieces persisted, with his designs continuing to inspire, captivate and delight.
“The story of Carl Fabergé, the legendary Russian Imperial Goldsmith, is one of supreme luxury and unparalleled craftsmanship. Celebrating Fabergé’s extraordinary achievements, this exhibition focuses on the neglected importance of his London branch, the only one outside of Russia. It has attracted a worldwide clientele of royalty, aristocrats, business titans and socialites. Through Fabergé’s creations, the exhibition explores timeless stories of love, friendship and shameless social advancement. It takes the visitor on a journey of sublime art and patronage towards the revolution that tragically closed Fabergé – but sends visitors off on the right foot, honoring Fabergé’s greatest legacy, with a dazzling final presentation of his eggs of Iconic Easter.
Kieran McCarthy and Hanne Faurby, Curators of Fabergé in London: from romanticism to revolution
Fabergé in London: from romanticism to revolution Galerie 39 and North Court November 20, 2021 – May 8, 2022
- London art objects