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!

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