Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The History of the Fabergé Eggs

Peter Carl Fabergé's was born on this day, 166 years ago (as noted by today's Google Doodle) . To mark the occasion, here is a short history of his most famous creations:

The Fabergé Eggs - A Brief History

From their beginnings in Imperial Russia, where their fate was inextricably linked to that of the doomed Romanov family, to their ignominous off-loading in Depression-era America, the story of the Fabergé Eggs provides an interesting snapshot of early 20th century European and American history.

The tale begins in 1885 when the penultimate Russian Emperor, Czar Alexander III, took the Easter tradition of decorating eggs to an entirely different level by commissioning the renowned goldsmith and jeweler, Peter Carl Fabergé, to create an extravagantly ornamental egg as a present for his wife, Empress Maria. It is believed that the idea for this ostentatious gift was borne out of Maria’s admiration for a similar egg owned by her aunt.

Hen Egg, 1885
The precious egg, which became known as the Hen Egg, was made of gold and was covered with transparent white enamel to give it the appearance of a real egg-shell. The outer shell of the egg could be pulled into two parts, revealing within a gold yolk, which in turn contained further bejeweled gifts.

Maria was so delighted with the present, her husband decided to have one made for her every Easter, with subsequent offerings becoming increasingly decadent and larger in size. Thus, the giving of lavishly decorated Fabergé Eggs became an Easter tradition for the Romanov family, which continued when Nicholas II succeeded his father in 1894, right up until the overthrow of the monarchy during the Russian Revolution in 1917 (by which time a total of 50 Imperial Eggs had been made).

Post-revolutionary Russia, however, was a very different place to that which existed under the House of Romanov. With Nicholas II and his immediate family ruthlessly executed, the country was now in the grip of the Bolshevik’s Communist regime. Where did the Fabergé Eggs fit in this strange new world?

Coronation Egg, 1897
In truth, the Bolsheviks were at a loss as to what to do with them. The eggs, undoubtedly valuable and noteworthy, had nonetheless become synonymous with the extravagance associated with the former Imperial Family. They were also, perhaps, an unwelcome reminder of the bloody and brutal revolution of the not-so-distant past - undoubtedly, Fabergé’s creations suffered from a bad case of guilt by association. In the end, Lenin arranged for all the eggs to be rounded up and stored in the Kremlin Armoury in Moscow. Consequently, the stunning pieces were left to languish for years, all but forgotten, in a dusty basement.

The Imperial Eggs came to prominence once again in the late 1920s under the Stalinist regime, when they were resurrected from their ignominious hiding place. Desperate for western currency, Stalin sold many of the eggs to overseas buyers, scattering the collection to all four corners of the globe. Indeed, between 1930 and 1933 alone, fourteen Imperial Eggs left Russia for foreign shores.

Rosebud Egg, 1895
One of the more prominent buyers was Armand Hammer, a well-known American businessman, who had connections with Russia (he was a good friend of Lenin’s and his father established the Communist Party in the US). Hammer’s motives for buying up ten of the eggs, and a lot more Romanov treasure besides, has been widely debated. Was he trying to promote the cultural, artistic and historic importance of the Imperial Easter Eggs, or was he purely interested in making money? We shall never know.

There can be no doubt, however, that Hammer went to great lengths to sell the treasures in America in the early 1930s. Despite an extensive promotional tour which took him from the East to the West coast of the United States, the Great Depression ensured that buyers were few and far between. Eventually, he did succeed in off-loading the eggs, but at bargain basement prices. The majority fetched only a few hundred dollars each.

Chanticleer Egg
It would be several decades before collectors finally realised the true value of the Fabergé eggs - they now carry multi-million dollar price-tags; indeed some people believe the eggs to be priceless.

But while the Fabergé Eggs now inspire fascination and admiration around the world, as much for their intricate craftsmanship as for their tragic and blighted history, few have found their way back to Russia. At present, only ten can be found at the Kremlin, while a further nine have been bought by the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. The rest (apart from the eight whose whereabouts remain unknown) are strewn all over the globe, with Her Majesty’s Royal Collection boasting three of the miniature treasures. It is indeed a sad fact that by selling the eggs, Stalin significantly diluted Russia’s artistic and cultural legacy.

If you fancy getting your hands on a Fabergé egg for a loved one and don’t have millions of dollars to spend, don’t despair - there is a raft of authorised reproductions and unofficial fakes on the market with somewhat more affordable price-tags. And even if these are outside your price-range, there’s always the Kinder Surprise …

Tate Britain Receives Significant Art Donation

Tate Britain has received an impressive collection of modern art, including pieces by David Hockney and Lucien Freud, from an Austrian philanthropist.

Click on the link below for further details: