Just in time for Easter, The V&A announces a major exhibition of Fabergé for autumn 2021
Given the fame of the name Fabergé, it might seem surprising that the V&A’s major exhibition exploring the luxurious eggs and other hyper-luxury jewellery and objet d’art produced by the Russian jewellers, is the first of its kind.
But not only is this the first major UK exhibition devoted to the international prominence of the legendary Russian bling merchant but it also explores the importance of the firm’s little-known London branch.
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And the firsts don’t end there. Three of Carl Fabergé’s legendary Imperial Easter Eggs, which have resided in the Kremlin Armoury since the Russian Revolution, also go on display for the first time in the UK as part of what the V&A is promising will be “a dramatic finalé.”
Visitors will be able to see the largest Imperial Egg – the Moscow Kremlin Egg – which is inspired by the architecture of the Dormition Cathedral, on loan from the Moscow Kremlin Museums, together with the famous Alexander Palace Egg.
Featuring watercolour portraits of the children of Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra, it is arguably the most interesting of these lavish objects. It was made under the supervision of Peter Carl Fabergé in 1908, for the Tsar, Nicholas II as an Easter gift for his wife, Alexandra Fyodorovna.
Made of Siberian nephrite, diamonds, gold, rubies and miniature watercolour paintings on ivory of the Royal couple’s children: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia and the Tsarevitch Alexei, the inside hides a tiny detailed replica of the Alexander Palace, the Russian Imperial family’s favourite residence in Tsarskoye Selo.
The remarkable Easter egg takes centre-stage alongside the Tercentenary Egg, created to celebrate 300 years of the Romanov dynasty, just a few years before the dynasty crumbled, and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s Basket of Flowers Egg, which has been lent by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection.
This denouement caps off a treasure trove of 200 objects across three main sections, telling the story of Carl Fabergé and his internationally recognised firm symbolising Russian craftsmanship and opulence – an association further strengthened by its connection to the romance, glamour and violent demise of the Romanovs.
The story of the Russian royals is well known and treads a deliciously gruesome path from inequality and luxury to revolution and murder at the hands of the Bolsheviks, but less well known is the story of how their opulent tastes – in particular the Fabergé brand – persisted well beyond the Russian Revolution.
In London, the firm’s works continued to be prized and from the 1920s, dealers and auction houses in the capital acquired confiscated Fabergé objects sold by Soviet Russia. In the 1930s, the art dealers Wartski purchased several Imperial Eggs, which it sold to Fabergé’s London clients and to new generations of collectors in Europe and the United States.
Lately, motivated by patriotic repatriation, Russians have become significant collectors of Fabergé’s work.
Although Carl Fabergé’s firm ceased to exist, the myth crystallised around the Imperial Easter Eggs and the demand for Fabergé pieces has endured with his designs continuing to inspire and captivate.
“The story of Carl Fabergé, the legendary Russian Imperial goldsmith, is one of supreme luxury and unsurpassed craftsmanship,” say curators Kieran McCarthy and Hanne Faurby. “This exhibition focuses on the overlooked importance of his London branch, the only one outside of Russia. It attracted a global clientele of Royalty, aristocrats, business titans and socialites.”
The huge success at the 1900 Paris Exposition made it clear that Fabergé would have a keen customer base outside Russia, should he expand. Fabergé’s choice of London for its new premises was partly because it was the financial capital of the world, a luxury retail destination able to draw a wealthy and international clientele.
It was also the home of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra who were already avid Fabergé collectors, making royal patronage in London highly likely.
Fabergé carefully tailored his works to his British clientele. He created hardstone portraits of the farm animals King Edward and Queen Alexandra bred at Sandringham, their favourite country estate, and objects enamelled in the King’s horse racing colour. Highlight objects include a commission from The King of his faithful wire-haired fox terrier Caesar, a silver model portrait of Persimmon, his most loved and successful racehorse, and one of the firm’s rarest creations – a figurine of a veteran English soldier.
The shop soon became the most exclusive and fashionable place to buy gifts. The King’s mistress, Mrs George Keppel, gifted The King an elegant art-nouveau cigarette case with a snake laid in diamonds biting its tail – a symbol of unbroken and everlasting love. Snuffboxes decorated with topographical views, buildings and monuments were also popular.
A nephrite cigar box, set with a sepia enamelled view of the Houses of Parliament, was bought by Grand Duke Michael of Russia on 5 November 1908, the day of Guy Fawkes, and given to King Edward VII. Other highlights on show from the London arm of the Fabergé business include a sumptuous rock crystal vase that was presented to King George V and Queen Mary on the day of their coronation.
“Through Fabergé’s creations the exhibition will explore timeless stories of love, friendship and unashamed social climbing,” add the curators.
“It will take the visitor on a journey of sublime artistry and patronage towards the revolution that tragically closed Fabergé – but will send visitors away on a high, by honouring Fabergé’s greatest legacy, with a dazzling final display of his iconic Easter Eggs.”
Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution is in Gallery 39 and North Court of the V&A from 20 November 20 2021 – May 8 2022. See vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/faberge
Victoria and Albert Museum
London, Greater London
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