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Home > Fabergé egg - The Lost Art Works Of Faberge


Fabergé egg - The Lost Art Works Of Faberge

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Faberge Egg

The series of lavish Easter eggs created by Fabergé for the Russian Imperial family, between 1885 and 1916, against an extraordinary historical backdrop, is regarded as the artist-goldsmith’s greatest and most enduring achievement. The Imperial Easter eggs are certainly the most celebrated and awe-inspiring of all Fabergé works of art, inextricably bound to the Fabergé name and legend. They are also considered as some of the last great commissions of objets d’art.

The story began when Tsar Alexander III decided to give a jewelled Easter egg to his wife the Empress Marie Fedorovna, in 1885, possibly to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their betrothal. It is believed that the Tsar, who had first become acquainted with Fabergé’s virtuoso work at the Moscow Pan-Russian Exhibition in 1882, was inspired by an 18th century egg owned by the Empress’s aunt, Princess Wilhelmine Marie of Denmark. The object was said to have captivated the imagination of the young Maria during her childhood in Denmark. Tsar Alexander was apparently involved in the design and execution of the egg, making suggestions to Fabergé as the project went along. Easter was the most important occasion of the year in the Russian Orthodox Church, equivalent to Christmas in the West. A centuries-old tradition of bringing hand-coloured eggs to Church to be blessed and then presented to friends and family, had evolved through the years and, amongst the highest echelons of St Petersburg society, the custom developed of presenting valuably bejewelled Easter gifts. So it was that Tsar Alexander III had the idea of commissioning Fabergé to create a precious Easter egg as a surprise for the Empress, and thus the first Imperial Easter egg was born.

Known as the Hen Egg, it is crafted from gold, its opaque white enamelled ‘shell’ opening to reveal its first surprise, a matt yellow gold yolk. This in turn opens to reveal a multi-coloured, superbly chased gold hen that also opens. Originally, this contained a minute diamond replica of the Imperial Crown from which a small ruby pendant egg was suspended. Unfortunately these last two surprises have been lost.

The Empress’s delight at this intriguing gift with its hidden jewelled surprises was the starting point for the yearly Imperial tradition that continued for 32 years until 1917 and produced the most opulent and captivating Easter gifts the world has ever seen. The eggs were private and personal gifts, and the whole spectacular series charted the romantic and tragic story leading up to the end of the mighty Romanovs.

Each egg, an artistic tour de force, took a year or more to make, involving a team of highly skilled craftsmen, who worked in the greatest secrecy. Fabergé was given complete freedom in the design and execution, with the only prerequisite being that there had to be surprise within each creation. Dreaming up each complex concept, Fabergé often drew on family ties, events in Imperial Court life, or the milestones and achievements of the Romanov dynasty, as in the Fifteenth Anniversary Egg of 1911, commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of Nicholas II’s accession to the throne, or the Romanov Tercentenary Egg of 1913 that celebrated 300 years of the House of Romanov, showing portrait miniatures of the Russian dynastic rulers. Although the theme of the Easter eggs changed annually, the element of surprise remained a constant link between them. The surprises ranged from a perfect miniature replica of the Coronation carriage - that took 15 months to make working 16-hour days - through a mechanical swan and an ivory elephant, to a heart-shaped frame on an easel with 11 miniature portraits of members of the Imperial family.

Alexander III presented an egg each year to his wife the Empress Marie Fedorovna and the tradition was continued, from 1895, by his son Nicholas II who presented an egg annually to both his wife the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna and to his mother the Dowager Empress Marie Fedorovna. However, there were no presentations during 1904 and 1905 because of political unrest and the Russo-Japanese War.

The most expensive was the 1913 Winter Egg, which was invoiced at 24,600 roubles (then £2,460). Prior to the Great War, a room at Claridges was 10 shillings (50 pence) a night compared to approximately £380 today. Using this yardstick, the egg would have cost £1.87 million in today’s money.

The Winter Egg, designed by Alma Pihl, famed for her series of diamond snowflakes, is made of carved rock crystal as thin as glass. This is embellished with engraving, and ornamented with platinum and diamonds, to resemble frost. The egg rests on a rock-crystal base designed as a block of melting ice. Its surprise is a magnificent and platinum basket of exuberant wood anemones. The flowers are made from white quartz, nephrite, gold and demantoid garnets and they emerge from moss made of green gold. Its overall height is 14.2cm. It is set with 3,246 diamonds. The egg sold at Christie’s in New York in 2002 for US$9.6 million.
Of the 50 eggs Fabergé made for the Imperial family from 1885 through to 1916, 42 have survived.

Even an Easter egg can be worth a fortune-if it was designed by Faberge, Court jeweler to the Czar of Russia.

Easter eggs by Faberge were not just another gift for Easter but very special creations made for the royal family of Russia-and made with such imagination and craftsmanship that the world has never before or since seen their like.

Faberge was one of the greatest jewelers of his era. His shop in St. Petersburg, Russia, reached a height of fame unknown to other jewelers, even in a day when jewels for royal families were considered necessities for maintaining their prestige and station in life. In Russia, the royal family was headed for a revolution that would spread across their nation like wild rot-and destroy them in the process. But in the early morning hours of the many Easter Sundays which preceded the chaos of the Revolution, war and bloodshed were not even thought of; and each Easter Sunday was begun with a presentation of the royal eggs.

Each Easter morning the Czar himself presented a royal egg to the Czarina, and an equally beautiful egg was presented to the Dowager Empress. Altogether there were fifty-seven imperial Easter eggs made and presented to the royal family. Today these eggs are valued at $5,000,000. The exact date the first imperial egg was made is not known, but it was probably in 1884. The eggs were fine and masterful examples of the best art in Russia. The shells were decorated on the outside with pearls, diamonds and rubies. Opening of the shells revealed the eggs' inner secrets: miniature crowns and rings, picture frames, and platinum swans; golden rosebuds and miniature ruby eggs. One of these eggs even held within it a small train, perfect in every detail.

Yet the art of Faberge was swept along on the tides of the Revolution. When chaos struck, refugees from all walks of life sold everything they could to gather enough money to get away from the attacking horde. What they could not sell and what was not lost, the Soviets claimed for themselves. A custom begun by Alexander III in an attempt to cheer up his wife, and later continued by Nicholas II-who gave two eggs a year, one to his wife and one to Alexander III's widow-thus ended in Revolution. Faberge himself was finished in Russia.

His work, however, remains. Most of the imperial eggs have been preserved in collections both in Russia and in England. Yet there are some that are missing. There are four of these fabulous eggs which were lost in the chaos of Revolution-and they have never been found. The first of these missing eggs is the Danish Silver Jubilee Egg, which was presented to Marie Feodorovna by Alexander III in the year 1888. Since the egg was made in celebration of the Silver Jubilee of the King of Denmark, its design was in keeping with the occasion. A white and pale blue egg, encrusted with precious gems, a diamond-set fillet, a diamond monogram and carved golden masks, it is topped with a Danish royal elephant and supported by three of the Danish heraldic lions.

When the egg was opened, it revealed a two-sided portrait screen topped by diamonds, crowns and initials. The screen holds two portraits, one of King Christian of Denmark and one of Queen Louise of Denmark. Approximately ten inches high, this egg is surely one of the most fantastic of the world's missing treasures. The first egg ever presented to Alexandra Feodorovna is among the missing eggs. Much smaller than the Danish Silver Jubilee Egg, it is only three inches high, made of engraved gold, translucent strawberry reds and opaque white enamels; it sports gold mounts and Cupid's arrows set with rose diamonds. The date of the gift of the egg (1895) is clearly inscribed on the base immediately below a rose diamond. On the top of the egg is a portrait of Nicholas II.

When the egg is opened, the first item you will see will be a golden rosebud; yet, after removing the rosebud from the egg, you will discover another item within the rosebud: an imperial crown of rubies and diamonds. But even then the treasures are not exhausted, for within the crown itself will be found a miniature ruby egg. Certainly, this second of the lost eggs, known as the "Rosebud Egg," is one of the most beautiful of the missing treasures of the world. Inside the third missing egg is a platinum swan which, when wound up, wags its tail, moves along a certain course and raises and lowers its head. As a final touch, the wings themselves open and each platinum feather is seen distinctly.

The swan sits on a lake which is nothing less than a single aquamarine. Water lilies, in four colors of gold, decorate the lake as well as the handle which lifts the swan and his lake from the egg. The outside of the golden egg is mat enameled mauve, decorated with a rose diamond trellis, and at the top as well as the bottom of the egg will be found single, large, portrait diamonds.

Presented to Alexandra Feodorovna by Nicholas II in 1906, and only four inches high, this so-called "Swan Egg" is the third and one of the most beautiful of the missing imperial eggs. The last of the missing eggs is appropriately called the "Egg with Love Trophies," since it contains a miniature picture frame which, in a lovely design of enamel and diamonds, forms a heart. In keeping with the Love Trophy theme of the egg, the strut of the frame forms the signature NIKI since it was a gift from Nicholas II to Alexandra Feodorovna. It was Nicholas' portrait which was in the heart-shaped frame.

On the top of the outside of the egg is a basket of roses made of rose diamonds, gold, pearls, enamels and rubies. At the base of the egg are four quivers, and peeping out of these are arrow-top set diamonds. The body of the egg is gold enameled with pale blue. The decorations are carved gold and white enamel bands. The date of the creation of this egg is not known, but it was probably either 1910 or 1911, and only the approximate measurement of the egg is known. It is thought that the entire egg stands nine inches high while the picture frame is approximately three and one half inches high.

Yet, whether the actual measurements are known or not, this egg with its lovely "love trophies" could never be mistaken for anything but what it is: a fortune in the form of one of the most fantastic Easter eggs ever created. Any of these missing eggs are worth a fortune-if you can find them. Yet these are not the only things Faberge made that are missing, including Easter eggs which were smaller than the imperial eggs and which were made for the families of the nobility. These were small, jeweled eggs which were designed to be worn on long chains as necklaces.

Faberge made many things, all of them exquisite. He made cigarette cases and clocks, and miniature animals and items for milady's dressing table. He made tie pins and cuff links, and crosses-and all of them collectors' items-if you can find one of them. They would not have, of course, the value of one of the imperial Easter eggs but, certainly, they would be worth a great deal. Anything by Faberge is worth something-and the imperial eggs are worth the most of all-if you can find them. But even the lowly, everyday eggshell merely decorated for Easter can be worth a fortune-if you know one when you see it.

Not too many years ago an eggshell was sold for twenty-five thousand gold francs, but it was not just any eggshell. It was a rare egg painted by a master craftsman. There was a time when such artists as Watteau, Lancret and Boucher painted eggshells for Easter. Not always of a religious nature, yet they were gay eggs painted for the Easter season. And today they would be worth a small fortune-if you can find them.

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