Friday, December 9, 2011

Exhibition Closing

Saturday, December 10 is the last day of the extended viewing of the Sandoz Collection of historic Faberge at A La Vielle Russie in New York City.  This display focuses on the mechanical magic that was the hallmark of the House of Faberge, particularly with the Imperial Eggs created for the last Romanovs.  For further information, click here.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Richmond Exhibition Pictures

Finally my computer issues are resolved and here are photos from the preview of the Faberge exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.  Not only has the Virginia's Pratt Faberge Collection been displayed in a beautiful new layout, pieces from the Matilda Geddings Gray Foundation, Hillwood and McFerrin Collections are also on loan for this viewing.

Fan ca. 1890 (Mikhail Perkhin)

Firescreen-style enamel & precious metals frame

Lilies of the Valley Basket 1896 (Augusst Holmstrom)

Theo's father ran the London Faberge operation

Silver Monumental Kovsh from the Faberge Moscow workshop

Napoleonic Egg 1912 (Henrik Wigstrom); Matilda Geddings Gray Foundation Collection

Nobel Egg (designed by Alma Theresa Pihl)

Pelican Egg (Mikhail Perkhin) 1897

Peter the Great Egg (Mikhail Perkhin) 1903

Peter the Great Egg has miniature portraits of Tsar Peter and Nicholas II on the exterior

Red Cross Egg with Portraits 1915

Revolving Miniatures Egg 1896

Hardstone Zarnitsa Sailor figure

Tsesarevich Egg 1912 (modern base)

Note the rear view of the surprise portrait is the back of Aleksei's head

Contemporary work in Museum lobby was gathering point for the group, what a contrast w/Faberge!

Museum director Alex Nyerges hosted a lovely breakfast for the group but we all crowded towards the stairwell leading down to the galleries filled with Faberge!  Everyone was so excited, including authors and experts who have devoted their entire lives' work to Faberge.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Richmond Museum of Fine Art

Am here at the Richmond Museum for the Faberge Imperial Egg exhibition opening.

Last night, there was a lovely wine reception at a charming bed & breakfast across from the Museum organized by author Christel McCanless.  Faberge experts from all over the world had flown in for the media preview on Thursday.  Russia, Denmark, Sweden, England . . . as well as fans from Canada and the US.

This morning, Geza von Habsburg will be giving us the sneak preview of the exhibit starting at 9am.  The formal opening is tomorrow, Saturday, and the display will run until the beginning of October.  A gorgeous catalog has been printed by Rizzoli, that can be ordered through the Museum.

More to come!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Workmasters of the House of Fabergé: Part II

Last post we discussed the use of "workmasters" by the House of  Fabergé.   It is believed that there were 40 of these men from the time of Gustav Fabergé down to the demise of the business in 1917.  These masters of their crafts either had their own independent workshops that produced solely for the House of Fabergé or worked directly for the company.  Some transitioned into the House, beginning as independents and later joined the business.

The first workmaster of note is Peter Hiskias Pendin.  Pendin was a skilled craftsman and partner with Gustav in the business in the 1850s.  By 1865, when Carl returned to St. Petersburg from his European apprenticeships, Pendin became his mentor for almost a decade.  In 1872, Carl took over the business and the company was poised to begin its reign as the world's foremost jeweler (Pendin passed away in 1882).  As Fabergé's fame grew, the task of producing jewelry, picture frames, snuffboxes as well as the Imperial Easter Eggs after 1885 necessitated the manufacturing being divided into several workshops, with workmasters for miniature painting, silver and gold work and enameling.

One of the most famous Fabergé workmasters was Mikhail Evlampievich Perkhin (Perchin).  Perkhin was born in a rural area in 1860 but by 1884 he was registered with the St. Petersburg Craft Council.  He was named Fabergé's head workmaster in 1886, while maintaining his own separate workshop until 1900 when he came into Fabergé's new, larger facility.   It is believed that Carl designed the Hen Egg as the first Imperial Easter Egg but thereafter Perkhin was responsible for making these beloved eggs until his death in 1903. Perkhin's hallmark (see right) is found on Imperial Eggs from 1886 through 1903.

Of similar reknown to Perkhin is Henrik Emanuel Wigstrom.  Wigstrom was born in Finland in 1862 and moved to St. Petersburg in 1878, working as a goldsmith's apprentice.  By 1884, Wigstrom had entered Perkhin's business and the two men became very close with Perkhin and his spouse being Godparents to Wigstrom's children.  Upon Perkhin's death, Wigstrom became the head Fabergé workmaster and responsible for the Imperial Easter Eggs.  Wigstrom also designed many other items today considered classic Fabergé, including picture frames, cigarette cases and figurines.  A wonderful book showcasing these designs is  the "Golden Years of Faberge: Drawings and Objects from the Wigstrom Workshop," by Peter and Mark Schaffer (available on  Wigstrom's mark is "H.W." and he worked until the Russian Revolution brought it all to an end.  Wigstrom died in Finland in 1923.  A classic Imperial Easter Egg by Wigstrom is the 1912 Tsarevich Egg featuring diamond encrusted Romanov eagle frame of the boy's miniature portrait; the shell is made from six pieces of carved lapis lazuli overlaid with Rococo gold motifs.

Tsarevich Egg and surprise (the original egg stand vanished during the revolution)
Spanning the decades of both these great head workmasters was the House of Fabergé's head designer François Birbaum.  Birbaum worked from 1896-1917 and  but there were other designers of that era who made great contributions to the company's legacy.  Alma Theresia Pihl conceived of the beloved "Winter Egg" of 1913, a vision of icy rock crystal and platinum.  This egg held the contemporary auction record for a single Imperial Easter Egg, selling at Christie's in 2002 for $9.58 million.  That price was eclipsed by a piece not owned by the Romanovs but by the Rothschild family with the cockerel clock egg going for a record $16.5 million at Christie's in 2007.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Workmasters of the House of Fabergé

I have often been asked if Theo Fabergé personally made all the items created under his signature.  The answer is "No, he did not do every piece."  Theo crafted all of the wooden eggs in the early days, often with his daughter Sarah assisting by adding vermeil trim to the objet d'art.  As Theo's health began to fail as he approached 80 years of age, he turned over his beloved restored Holtzapfel lathe used for the wooden eggs to an expert who worked under Theo's supervision.  When using other materials, eggs were designed by Theo down to the smallest detail and then given to specialists -- in lapidary, jeweling, crystal engraving and enameling to name a few -- to be completed.  This was done since the launch of the St. Petersburg Collection in 1985 and continues today in keeping Theo's vision alive in executing his posthumous portfolio of designs.

Theo Faberge

Actually, the system used by Theo was exactly that employed by his grandfather Carl at the House of Fabergé.  Many Fabergé enthusiaists are familiar with the term "workmaster" and the names Perkhin and Wigstrom are well-known.  However, there may have been nearly 40 workmasters, dating from the time when Carl's father Gustav founded the business.  These men often had their own independent workshops that produced solely for the House of Fabergé, while some worked directly for the company.  Others began as independents and later joined the business.  

 Both Theo and Carl  were recognized for their achievements as highly accomplished craftsmen.  Carl received the status of Master Goldsmith in 1882 in St. Petersburg.  Just short of 100 years later, his grandson Theo in 1978 was awarded the Lady Gertrude Crawford medal,  Britain's highest honor for ornamental turning, for his Queen's Silver Jubilee Ivory Casket..   That same year he was elected as a Freeman Prizeman of the Worshipful Company of Turners, an award that had not been given out since 1956 by this organization which dates back to the old guilds of England.  In 1979, Theo's work was accepted for exhibition by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths at Goldsmith's Hall in London.  So both grandfather and grandson were recognized for their skill  in their own right; yet each knew in order to craft the pieces demanded by their clientele that they must engaged equally talented artisans for their respective workshops.

Next post I'll introduce the most notable workmasters of the Romanov era.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts New Faberge Exhibition

Here are the details of the upcoming major exhibition at the VMFA, as reported on the Museum's web site:
Jul 09, 2011Oct 02, 2011    NewMarket Gallery
The name Fabergé is synonymous with refined craftsmanship, jeweled luxury and the last days of the doomed Russian imperial family. The array of enameled picture frames and clocks, gold cigarette cases and cane tops, hardstone animals and flowers in rock crystal vases, and ruby encrusted brooches and boxes continue to fascinate viewers as they did when first displayed in the windows of Fabergé’s stores in St Petersburg, Moscow and London.

In summer 2011, VMFA will feature the largest collection of Fabergé in the United Sates. The exhibition, Fabergé Revealed, includes more than 500 objects and will be at VMFA July 9 – October 2. The Russian jeweler Karl Fabergé crafted objects for the Russian imperial family in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including specially commissioned Easter eggs. VMFA’s collection, the largest public collection of Fabergé outside of Russia, includes five of the thirteen Russian imperial Easter eggs that are in the United States.

In addition to showcasing VMFA’s extensive Fabergé collection, the exhibition will feature loans from three important private collections. The collection of Matilda Geddings Gray of Louisiana has loaned its rare Napoleonic Egg and its celebrated Imperial Lilies of the Valley Basket. More than twenty noteworthy loans from the Arthur and Dorothy McFerrin Foundation Collection include the elegant Nobel Ice Egg and the spectacular Empress Josephine Tiara. Additionally, in a complimentary exhibition of the Hodges Collection, more than 100 pieces will come from the family collection of Virginia-born Daniel Hodges, including the historic Bismark Box and the monumental Coiled Serpent Paperweight.
Napoleonic Egg

Christel McCanless, noted Fabergé author, is arranging a special preview on July 8.  Please see our "favorite links" section to contact Ms. McCanless about this event.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Closed Edition Alert!

Tercentenary Egg
For those few fortunate collectors who purchased Theo Fabergé’s Tercentenary Egg, the edition is now officially closed with all 15 pieces being made.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this spectacular creation, the egg was designed by Theo in honor of St. Petersburg’s 300th anniversary of founding.  The first egg was presented to this Russian city as a gift from the Fabergé family with St. Petersburg Collection Chairman Philip Birkenstein participating in the ceremony. 

Philip Birkenstein with the Tercentenary Egg at Peterhof Palace, St. Petersburg

The piece is on permanent rotating exhibition in the palace museums of St. Petersburg, the same ones depicted in hand-carved intaglios on the egg’s crystal shell.  The official description of the Tercentenary reveals its uniqueness.

In 1993 Theo Fabergé the only surviving grandson of Russian Imperial jeweller Carl Fabergé, promised Mayor Sobcheck of St Petersburg, that as long as the city remained free of developers, he would bring a visiting group of his friends and collectors of the ST PETERSBURG COLLECTION each subsequent year.  The year 2003 thus marked St Petersburg Collection’s eleventh visit to the former Russian capital. More importantly, it marked the 300th anniversary of the city’s foundation by Peter the Great.
Theo has designed the Tercentenary Egg to celebrate the establishment of this most beautiful of the world’s cities. The crystal Egg is mouth-blown and hand-engraved with images of the nine major palaces of St Petersburg.  Alongside each palace appears the profile of the Tsar or Tsarina with whom it is most associated.  Atop the Egg stands the triple headed eagle in token of the finial on Peterhof Palace. The fluted gold and silver base is set on a hand-sculpted foot of rare marble. Open the Egg to reveal the surprise; Peter the Great, founder of St Petersburg, modelled astride his magnificent horse and set on a guilloché base.
Theo Fabergé‘s Tercentenary Egg is a glorious tribute to the magnificent capital in which his illustrious grandfather Carl held the warrant for the Imperial Court and created the most fabulous objets d’art and jewellery in the history of the civilised world. This echo of three hundred years’ history and culture is expressed in timeless style, and rendered by the Fabergé family’s renowned craftsmanship.  
The overall height of the egg is 30 cms and is engraved with the following:

Peterhof, Grand Palace  - Peter the Great
Catherine the Great’s Palace, Tsarskoye Selo - Elizabeth
Chinese Palace, Lomonosov - Catherine II
Grand Palace, Pavlosk - Paul I
Alexander Palace, Tsarskoye Selo - Alexander I
Cottage Palace, Peterhof - Nicolas I
Private Summer Palace Residence - Alexander II
Gatchina Palace - Alexander III

Detail from Tercentenary Egg

Sunday, March 27, 2011

How the Faberges Came to England

          The extravagant Romanov era came to an abrupt end in1917 with the devastation caused by the Bolshevik Revolution.  The last Tsar was executed along with 17 other family members.  The House of Fabergé was seized and shuttered by the new government.  The Fabergés were now bankrupt, shocked that Carl’s son Agathon was arrested by the new regime.   

Peter Carl Faberge
Carl escaped to Switzerland accompanied by his wife and sons Eugene and Alexander, only to die a broken man in 1920.  His sons attempted to resurrect the business in Paris, “Fabergé et Cie” but without royal patronge lost to two world wars and skilled artisans, the effort failed.          

Carl Fabergé, however, was not the first of his family to craft extraordinary baubles, nor the last.   The legacy carries on to 21st century London with artists Theo and Sarah Fabergé, 165 years after the first St. Petersburg workshop opened.  And this is how it happened.

By a fortunate twist of fate, Nicholas — the youngest of Carl’s four surviving sons — had been sent to England in 1906 to run the company’s export business.  Steamships loaded with crates of wondrous items from the House of Fabergé left the docks of St. Petersburg and journeyed to London.  Here Nicholas attended to the royal family of Britain, where representatives would select creations from an incredible display as the contents of the trunks were opened and spread on long, wooden tables.   

The remaining items were repacked and the ship set off for the Far East, as Nicholas also sold to the King of Siam, now known as Thailand.  Both these royal families boast the largest collections of Fabergé items in existence today as evidence of Nicholas’ success.  Carl’s son also sold to the rising class of industrialists, other European royalty and the merely wealthy from the company’s shop in London’s West End.

England was a safe haven in post-World War I Europe and with the House of Fabergé in ruins, Nicholas started a second career as one of the earliest fashion photographers.  Along the way, he fathered a son, Theodore, in 1922 with one of his most beautiful models, Dorise Cladish.

          For many years Theo did not know of his famous heritage as he was not raised a Fabergé but as a Woodall.  Dorise had entrusted Theo to her married sister Linda and he was raised as Linda’s son.   Theo’s favorite aunt while growing up was really his mother, while his erstwhile father and mother were his true aunt and uncle, his brother actually his cousin.

Feeling strangely out-of-place within his own family, young Theo actively pursued his artistic yearnings, not so fondly recalling smashing his finger with a hammer while crafting a little boat at the age of four!  World War II intervened and Theo joined the British Royal Air Force, setting him on a path to study engineering and ultimately becoming the owner of a very successful aircraft instrumentation company.   But in his spare hours, his love of art blossomed into hobbies of ornamental turning and antique restoration.

          Decades later, a chance remark by an aunt at a funeral led Theo to discover his true ancestry as evidenced by his birth certificate as the son of “Nicholas Leopold Fabergé, artist.”    

Theo's birth certificate
 Thus, the explanation for Theo’s natural creative talents was finally revealed along with the stunning revelation that his beloved Aunt Dorise was his mother.  For awhile, Theo didn’t know what to make of this incredible turn of events and with his usual humility, did not want to appear to take opportunistic advantage of his sudden inheritance of one of the most famous names in art history.

Known then as the “lost Fabergé,” Theo declined to make eggs for some time as he viewed his grandfather’s work as the ultimate.  How would the public view his own modest designs, made with his own hands in a small workshop?  Better to continue on with commission work from his devoted clients, he decided.

Finally, Theo publicly displayed several of his pieces and the response was overwhelmingly positive.  One of his earliest works is his ivory, sterling silver and ruby Queen’s Silver Jubilee casket made in 1977.  This piece  earned him the highest award for ornamental turning in England, the Lady Gertrude Crawford Medal and was exhibited at elite Asprey’s jewelers on London’s Bond Street.   Theo’s own goldsmith’s hallmark “T.F” was granted by the British Assay Office in 1979 in recognition of his ability and integrity.

With this acclaim came increased pressure to design eggs and take up the mantel of his legacy.  At long last, in 1985 Theo Fabergé launched the St. Petersburg Collection — named in honor of his ancestral home  — of limited edition handmade eggs and objets d’art.  Applauded in Europe and America, his designs feature many of the elements that made the Imperial Eggs delight – miniature surprises, exquisite hand-crafted details in fine and precious materials.  One hundred years after the first Fabergé Easter Egg, Theo made the art of the egg his own with a unique sense of style, yet incorporating a bit of that old Carl Fabergé magic and mystery into each creation.

Theo soon welcomed his only child, Sarah, to assist in his studio.  Sarah sat at the bench and practiced the family’s art, hand trimming Theo’s wooden creations with silver and gold.  She augmented these skills by taking design courses and visiting St. Petersburg to learn more of her famous heritage.  In 1992, Sarah designed her first creations — solid 18 karat gold enameled pendants and delicate decorative eggs.  Echoing the Russian Baroque style, her works are distinct from those of her famous father and great-grandfather.  
Theo and Sarah Faberge

         Sadly, Theo Fabergé passed away on August 20, 2007, just a month shy of his 85th birthday.  Since 2002 he had been stepping back from the day-to-day concerns of the business to focus on his Masterworks series and special commissions for charitable causes.  Theo also left a portfolio of designs to be released after his death, as all the wonderful eggs he had created in his mind could not be made during his life.  The "Art of the Egg" goes on!