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The Fabergé Czar Imperial Easter Eggs - part 1

The Fabergé Czar Imperial Easter Eggs - part 1

The Fabergé Czar Imperial Easter Eggs - part 1

 

Easter is the most important and festive of Christian holidays in the Orthodox Church as in others. In Russia, it is customary to mark this day with the exchange of painted eggs and three kisses. The eggs commemorate the suffering of Christ and are a symbol of his miraculous resurrection from the dead and his redemption of the sins of man. The egg is also seen as a symbol of the world reborn in Christ. The Egg shaped form has always been a popular media in Russian Art. This tradition goes back to 800 a.d., when Russia adopted Christianity. The egg is the beginning of life, and for centuries, iconographers have carved eggs from wood to paint on them icons. This tradition is still alive today, although the art itself has become more and more divers.

 

In the 19th century, Russian Orthodox Christians held Easter as the most important day of the year. Following a strict fast throughout all of Great Lent, Easter was a day of celebration of Christ’s resurrection. To celebrate this holiday, Czar Aleksandr III's brother, the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich ordered Peter Fabergé to create an Easter surprise for the Czarina.

 

Correspondence between the Czar and his brother dated March 21, 1885 indicates the Grand Duke relayed the Czar's desires and instructions for the gift to Fabergé rather than the Czar himself.

 

Amid terrorist attempts on the Imperial family's lives, the Czar wanted to give his wife something that would take her mind off worries for the Easter of 1885. Fabergé created an egg inspired by one the Czarina knew from her childhood as a princess of Denmark’s royal court. The egg, still in the Royal Danish Collection, is made of ivory instead of gold, has a ring instead of a pendant inside, and dates to the 18th century. Fabergé undoubtedly chose the design because the Czarina would have recognized it from her youth. The design delighted both the Czar and Czarina so much the Aleksandr III ordered one for the next Easter and granted Fabergé "permission...to bear the title Supplier to the Imperial Court with the right to bear the State Coat of Arms in his shop's sign".

 

Peter Karl Fabergé and his assistants made sixty-nine jeweled eggs between 1885 and 1917. Fifty Imperial Fabergé Easter eggs were made and presented to Czars Aleksandr III and Czar Nicolai II of Russia. A further two eggs were planned but not delivered, the  Constellation and Karelian Birch Eggs of 1917.

 

Seven of the eggs were made for the Kelch family of Moscow.

 

All eggs were made of precious metals or hard stones decorated with combinations of enamel and gem stones.

 

From 1885, the eggs were produced almost every year. Once an initial design was approved, the work was carried out by an entire team of artisans under Peter Karl Fabergé’s supervision. Among them Michael Perkhin, Hnerik Wigström and Erik August Kollin. 

 

The Imperial eggs enjoyed such fame that Fabergé made some 15 known eggs for private clients. Among them is a series of 7 eggs made for the industrialist Aleksandr  Kelch. Another 8 eggs were made for other customers.

 

In a bid to acquire more foreign currency, Joseph Stalin has many of the eggs sold in 1927, after their value has been appraised by Agathon Fabergé. Between 1930 and 1933 fourteen Imperial eggs leave Russia. Many of the eggs are sold to Armand Hammer, president of Occidental Petroleum and a personal friend of Lenin, whose father is a founder of the United States Communist Party, and Emanuel Snowman of the London antique dealers Wartski.

 

Of the 105 known Fabergé eggs, only sixty-nine have survived to the present day. The vast majority of them are stored in public museums, with the greatest number, thirty, in Russia. There are fifty-four known Imperial eggs, only forty-six of which have survived.

 

Of the misplaced eight Imperial eggs, photographs only exist of two the 1903 Royal Danish, and the 1909 Aleksandr III Commemorative Eggs.

 

Only one, the 1916's Order of St. George Egg, left Bolshevik Russia with its original recipient, the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna. The rest remained in Petrograd.

 

After the collection in the Kremlin Armoury, the largest gathering of Fabergé eggs was assembled by Malcolm Forbes, and displayed in New York City. Totaling nine eggs, and approximately 180 other Fabergé objects, the collection was put up for auction at Sotheby’s in February 2004 by Forbes' heirs. Before the auction even began the collection was purchased in its entirety by the oligarch Victor Vekselberg for a sum estimated between $90 and $120 million. The egg is now back in Moscow and visible in the Svyaz' Vremyon Fund - Viktor Vekselberg collection - Moscow.


Listing of Fabergé Eggs

 1885 Hen or Jeweled Hen Egg

1886 Hen with Sapphire Pendant

1887 Blue Serpent Clock

1888 Cherub with Chariot

1889 Necessaire

1890 Danish Palaces

1891 Memory of Azov

1892 Diamond Trellis

1893 Caucasus

1894 Renaissance

1895 Rosebud

1895 Twelve Monograms

1896 Revolving Miniatures

1896 Aleksandr III Portraits

1897 Coronation

1897 Doweger (or Pelican)

1898 Lilies of the Valley

1898 Mauve

1899 Bouquet of Lilies Clock

1899 Pansy

1900 Trans-Siberian Railway

1900 Cockerel

1901 Basket of Wild Flowers

1901 Gatchina Palace

1902 Clover Leaf

1902 Empire Nephrite

1903 Peter the Great

1903 Royal Danish

1909 Standart Yacht

1909 Aleksandr III Commemorative

1910 Colonnade

1910 Aleksandr III Equestrian

1911 Fifteenth Anniversary

1911 Bay Tree

1912 Czarevich

1912 Napoleonic

1913 Romanov Tercentenary

1913 Winter

1914 Mosaic

1914 Grisaille

1915 Red Cross with Triptych

1915 Red Cross with Imperial Portraits

1916 Steel Military

1916 Order of St. George

1917 Karelian Birch

1917 Constellation

1904 No eggs known

1905 No eggs known

1906 Moscow Kremlin

1906 Swan

1907 Rose Trellis

1907 Cradle with Garlands

1908 Aleksandr  Palace

1908 Peacock

 

†missing eggs

 

1885 – First Hen Egg or Jeweled Hen Egg

Dimensions : length 6.4 cm (2 .5 inches), width 3.5 cm (1.4 inches)

The egg is made of gold, completely coated with opaque white enamel to look like a real egg shell. A thin band of gold is visible in the middle, where the two halves of the shell meet. The two halves of the outer shell fit together in a bayonet-style fitting which opens when twisted to reveal the surprise.

The two halves open to reveal a gold yolk with a matte finish, containing a multicolored gold hen with ruby eyes. The tail feathers of the hen are hinged allowing the hen to be opened to reveal two additional surprises which are now missing.

The first of these surprises was a gold and diamond replica of the Imperial crown, suspended within the crown as the final surprise was a tiny ruby pendant. A necklace chain was included so the Czarina could wear the pendant.

 

The crafting of the first Imperial egg is attributed to Erik Kollin of Fabergé's shop.

 

The Czarina was impressed and delighted by the Easter gift from her husband.

 

The egg was kept in the Anichkov Palace until the 1917 revolution. At that time the revolutionaries seized the First Hen Egg along with the rest of the Imperial eggs and sent it to the Armory Palace of the Kremlin.

 

A London dealer named either Derek or Frederick Berry purchased the egg from Russian officials around 1920, probably in either Berlin or Paris. Christie’s of London sold the egg as lot 55 of the Berry Collection for 85 pounds ($430) to Mr. R. Suenson-Taylor in 1934. Taylor was made Lord Grantchester in 1955, and the egg was the provenance of the Grantchester estate when both Lord and Lady Taylor died within months of one another in 1976.

 

A La Vieille Russie of New York acquired the egg from the estate and sold it with the Resurrection Egg to the Forbes Magazine Collection in 1978. Viktor Vekselberg purchased the First Hen Egg along with eight others from Forbes before they were to be auctioned and returned the eggs to Moscow where they are now on display.

 

 

1886 – Lapislazuli Hen with Sapphire Pendant or Egg with Hen in Basket

Dimensions: height 6.4 cm (2.5 inches)

 

From the outside the egg appears to be very simple. Inside is a golden yolk; within the yolk is a gold and diamond studded hen with ruby eyes; and in the hens beak is a diamond miniature of the royal crown and a tiny sapphire egg. In the Imperial archive, dated February 15, 1886, this egg is described as "a hen of gold and rose diamonds taking a sapphire egg out of a nest". The sapphire egg was loosely held in the hen's beak. The hen and the basket were both made of gold, studded with hundreds of rose-cut diamonds.

 

The archive of the Russian Provisional Government describes the hen as being silver on a stand of gold, though this description is certainly wrong since the orders for the 1886 Czar egg specifically stated the present was to be made of gold.

 

The Lapislazuli Hen Egg was sent to Czar Aleksandr III on April 5th 1886 from Fabergé's workshop.

 

The egg was presented by the Czar to Czarina Maria Fyodorovna on April 13th of the same year.

 

The egg was housed in the Anichkov Palace until the Revolution. The last documented location of the egg is from the archive of the the provisional government's inventory in 1922 when the egg was held in the Armory Palace of the Kremlin. It is no known in what year India Early Minshall acquired this egg. Today this egg can be seen in The Cleveland Museum of Art.

 

 

1887 - Blue Serpent Clock Egg

 

The egg stands on a base of gold that is painted in opalescent white enamel. The base features three panels with raised motifs in four gold colors, representing the arts and sciences. The top of the egg is encircled by a white band with roman numerals, rotating around the egg, driven by a clock inside the egg. A serpent, set with diamonds, coils around the base up to the middle of the egg. Its head points to the hour, indicating the time.

 

The egg is enameled in translucent blue and has diamond-studded gold garlands surrounding the top and bottom of the egg. On each side of the egg a sculpted gold handle arches up in a "C" shape. It is attached to the egg on the top near the apex and on the lower half of the egg, near the center.

 

This is the first of the Imperial Fabergé eggs to feature a working clock.

 

Since this egg is a working clock, it contains no surprise.

The crafting of this Imperial egg is credited to Mikhail Perkhin of Fabergé's shop.

 

Fabergé created a very similar egg in 1902, the Duchess of Marlborough Egg for Consuelo Vanderbilt. This clock egg is larger than the Blue Serpent Clock Egg and is enameled in a pink, rather than blue.

 

Descriptions from the Russian State Historical Archives, the 1917 inventory of confiscated Imperial treasure and the 1922 transfer documents for the egg all describe it as containing sapphires. However, the Blue Serpent Clock Egg contains no sapphire. No one knows what happened to the sapphires.

 

The Blue Serpent Clock Egg was presented by Czar Aleksandr III to Maria Fyodorovna on Easter day, April 5th, 1887. It is possible that by this time, the egg gift was already an established tradition, allowing Fabergé and his craftsmen an entire year to craft the next egg. This would explain in part why this egg is so much more elaborate than the first Imperial Easter egg.

 

This egg, along with the First Hen Egg, is the only known surviving Imperial egg from the 1880's.

 

The egg was housed in the Anichkov Palace until the 1917 revolution. Along with the other Fabergé eggs in the palace, the Serpent Clock Egg was transferred to the Armory Palace of the Kremlin in mid September of 1917. In 1922 the egg was likely transferred to the Sovnarkom where it was held until it was sold abroad to Michel Norman of the Australian Pearl Company. Between 1922 and 1950 the egg was bought by Emanuel Snowman of Wartski Jewelers, sold, and bought back by Wartski. The egg was sold again by Wartski around 1974 to an unknown party, and was held in a private collection in Switzerland in 1989. In 1992 it was owned by Prince Rainier III of Monaco. When Rainier III died in 2005, Prince Albert II inherited the egg along with the throne.

 

 

1888 - Cherub with Chariot Egg

 

This is one of the misplaced Imperial eggs, few details are known about it. There are no known drawings or photographs. A brief description from the Imperial records in the Russian State Historical Archives in Moscow describes the egg as "Angel pulling chariot with egg - 1500 rubles, angel with a clock in a gold egg 600 rubles."

 

According to Marina Lopato in Fabergé: Imperial Jeweller (1993) this description means the clock is inside the gold egg, which is in the chariot being pulled by the angel. Fabergé's invoice carries a similar description, itemizing a cherub pulling a chariot with an egg and a cherub with clock in a gold egg. These two descriptions are backed up by the 1917 inventory of seized Imperial treasure which reads "gold egg, decorated with brilliants (diamonds), a sapphire; with a silver, golded [sic] stand in the form of a two-wheeled wagon with a putto." The surprise would have been the clock being inside the egg on the chariot, though the exact design is not known.

 

The egg would have been presented by Czar Aleksandr III to Maria Fyodorovna on April 24th, 1888.

 

The egg was kept in the Gatchina Palace, and was one of 40 or so eggs sent to the Armory Palace of the Kremlin in 1917 after the Revolution. In 1922 it was transferred to the Sovnarkom, after which the exact whereabouts of the egg are unknown.

 

In the 1930's Victor and Armand Hammer may have purchased the egg. A sales catalog for Armand Hammer’s 1934 exhibition at Lord and Taylor in New York describes a "miniature silver armor holding wheelbarrow with Easter Egg, made by Fabergé, court jeweler" which seems to describe the Cherub with Chariot Egg. Armand Hammer may have been unaware of the significance of this item. If he had known that it was in fact the 1888 Imperial egg, he would have certainly promoted it as such. The whereabouts of the egg are today unknown.

 

1889 - Nécessaire Egg

 

There are no known pictures of the egg or any of the items within it. A few brief descriptions help determine parts of the design of the egg and the nature of the surprise.

 

The egg was designed as an etui containing woman's toiletry items. It is described in the 1917 inventory of confiscated Imperial treasure as being decorated with "multi-colored stones and brilliants, rubies, emeralds and sapphires."

 

The surprise is likely the set of 20 diamond-encrusted woman's toiletry items.

 

On April 9th, 1889 Czar Aleksandr III presented the egg to his wife, Maria Fyodorovna.

 

The egg was housed at the Gatchina Palace and was taken on at least one trip to Moscow as demonstrated by an invoice for the trip which describes the egg.

 

After the 1917 Revolution the Nécessaire Egg was seized along with the rest of the Imperial eggs and sent to the Armory Palace of the Kremlin. During the early part of 1922 the egg was transferred to the Sovnarkom. The egg was sold via Warsky in 1952 to an anonymous British buyer and has not been seen since.

 

 

1889 - Pearl Egg

 

The Pearl Egg is often included in the descriptions of the Nécessaire Egg due to the confusion within the incomplete archive records. For some time the Resurrection Egg was believed to be the Pearl Egg due to conclusions drawn by Marina Lopato in her January 1984 article in Apoll. However, a closer examination demonstrates that the two eggs can not be the same since the Resurrection Egg does not open, and there is no place for the pearl ring described by Fabergé's invoice.

 

The Pearl Egg was presented to Aleksandr III on March 16th, 1889 but there is no indication it was ever presented as an Easter present to his wife. It is possible that due to some problem with the Pearl Egg, the Nécessaire Egg was made as the Easter gift for 1889. This is supported by the fact that both the Nécessaire Egg and the Pearl Egg cost significantly less than eggs made both before and after 1889.

 

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