Opening Saturday November 20, Fabergé in London: from novel to revolution is the first major exhibition devoted to the international fame of legendary Russian goldsmith Carl Fabergé and the importance of his little-known London branch. With a focus on Fabergé’s Edwardian high society clientele, the exhibition highlights his triumphs in Britain as well as a worldwide fascination with the joyful opulence of his designs. The largest collection of legendary Imperial Easter eggs for a generation are on display together as part of the exhibition‘s dramatic finale, with several being shown in the UK for the first time.
Featuring more than 200 objects divided into three main sections, the exhibition tells the story of Carl Fabergé, the man, and his internationally acclaimed company that symbolized Russian craftsmanship and elegance – an association further enhanced by his connection to the romance, glamor and tragedy of Russia. Imperial family.
Unknown to many, the exhibition explores the Anglo-Russian nature of his business with his only branch outside Russia opening in London in 1903. Royalty, aristocrats, American heiresses, exiled Russian grand dukes, maharajas, financiers with new fortunes and socialites flocked there to offer each other gifts of unequaled luxury. Fabergé’s works were as popular in Britain as they were 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, made for the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900 will reflect Carl Fabergé’s role as the official goldsmith of the imperial family. Its members have often given each other intimate Fabergé gifts, and this will be explored through bespoke ornate objects including rock crystal flowers, gold and rose-cut diamonds, and stunning family portrait miniatures. This section also discusses Carl Fabergé’s youth, 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 of a rarity level with the Imperial Easter eggs. A prayer book given by Emperor Nicholas II to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna on her coronation day also sits alongside early photographs of the Imperial family with their most prized possessions.
Next, 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 through 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 creative collaboration. The dazzling beauty of Fabergé’s work is illustrated by a sparkling aquamarine and a diadem of 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 solid gold tea set crafted by Fabergé is also on display, one of the finest items to come out of the company’s Moscow branch.
The nurturing spirit of Fabergé can be found in the work of one of its most famous creators, Alma Pihl. Some of his most innovative and enduring works are on display, including a shimmering ice crystal pendant made of rock crystal, diamonds and platinum.
The second section of the exhibition tells the story of Fabergé’s time in London, including how the business flourished under royal patronage, and how his designs became a social currency for gifts and ostentatious displays of wealth, among the cosmopolitan elite who gathered in the city. .
The huge success of the 1900 Paris Exposition made it clear that Fabergé would have an enthusiastic following outside of Russia, if it were to 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 capable of attracting an affluent 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 very likely. A transitional section of the exhibition 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 presented by Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna to their British relatives are shown, including a notebook given by the Tsar and Tsarina to Queen Victoria for Christmas in 1896.
Fabergé carefully adapted his works to his British clientele. He created hardstone portraits of the farm animals that King Edward and Queen Alexandra raised at Sandringham, their favorite country estate, and enamelware in the colors of the king’s horse races. Highlights include a king’s commission of his trusty wire-haired fox terrier Caesar, a silver model portrait of Persimmon, his most beloved and successful racehorse, and one of the world’s rarest creations. 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 featuring a diamond-studded serpent biting its tail – a symbol of unbroken and eternal love. Snuffboxes decorated with topographical views, buildings and monuments were also popular. A nephrite cigar box, set with a sepia-glazed view of the Houses of Parliament, was purchased by Grand Duke Michael of Russia on 5 November 1908, Guy Fawkes Day, and given to King Edward VII. Other highlights include 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 turns to the fateful impact of the Great War and the Russian Revolution on Fabergé. With Russia’s entry into the war in 1914, Fabergé production suddenly changed. The workshops focused their production on the war effort and moved from creating exquisite items to producing munitions. Their meticulous craftsmanship ranged from jewelry and precious metals to copper, brass and steel. In 1917, when the Revolution hit Fabergé’s workshops in Russia, its outpost in London ceased to operate.
The final section of the exhibit will celebrate Fabergé’s legacy through the iconic Imperial Easter Eggs with a kaleidoscopic presentation of 15 of these famous treasures. This is the largest collection on public display for over 25 years.
The collection on display includes several that have never been displayed in the UK, including the largest imperial egg – the Moscow Kremlin Egg – modeled on the architecture of the Dormition Cathedral, on loan from museums in the Moscow Kremlin. The Alexander Palace Egg, featuring 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 that feature include the recently rediscovered third imperial egg from 1887, found by a scrap dealer in 2011 – one of the “missing” eggs created by Fabergé that was lost for many years. The 1907-1908 Peacock Egg, shown to the public for the first time in over a decade, containing a surprise of a gold-enameled Peacock Automaton and the Flower Basket Egg of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna , on loan from Her Majesty the Queen from the Royal Collection, will also be on display.
While the Russian Revolution and the war irrevocably changed the social order in Russia and Europe, the taste for Fabergé survived, especially in London, where the firm’s works continued to be prized. From the 1920s, dealers and auction houses in London acquired confiscated Fabergé objects sold by Soviet Russia. In the 1930s, Wartski art dealers purchased several Imperial Eggs, which they sold to London Fabergé clients and new generations of collectors in Europe and the United States. In recent times, motivated by patriotic repatriation, 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 demand for Fabergé pieces endured, 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 the extraordinary achievements of Fabergé, this exhibition highlights the unrecognized importance of its London branch, the only one outside Russia. It attracted a global clientele of royalty, aristocrats, business titans and socialites. Through the creations of Fabergé, the exhibition explores timeless stories of love, friendship and unabashed social climbing. It takes the visitor on a journey of sublime art and patronage to the revolution that tragically shut down Fabergé – but sends visitors on a high note, honoring Fabergé’s greatest legacy, with a dazzling final exhibition of his eggs from Iconic Easter.
Kieran McCarthy and Hanne Faurby, curators of Fabergé in London: from novel to revolution
Fabergé in London: from novel to revolution Galerie 39 and Cour Nord 20 November 2021 – 8 May 2022
- Art Stuff London