Friday, April 6, 2012

Background on Fabergé's First Egg

forbes.com

Carl Fabergé was born in 1846, four years after his father, Gustav, opened a jewelry business in a St. Petersburg basement.

The Art of Carl Fabergé  |  Kenneth Snowman  |  1952

Above is a bracelet by Gustav Fabergé. While Gustav's designs were not remarkable, Gustav was successful enough to send Carl to good schools in Russia, and artistic training in Dresden (where Gustav eventually retired) and Frankfurt. Carl also visited England long enough to learn English.

Louis XV snuff box  |  christies.com

Gustav Fabergé then treated Carl to a Grand Tour of Europe, which included exposure to Florentine enamelers and goldsmiths, and to the treasures of the Louvre and Versailles, where Carl was bewitched by all that was Baroque.

In 1870, Gustav retired and Carl Fabergé, age 24, took over the business. 1870 also happened to be the year that the Tsar's favored jeweler closed his doors, leaving an opening for someone new.

forbes.com

Carl Fabergé almost immediately moved the family business to a ground floor across the street. Then, in consultation with his father and brother, Agathon (who remained one of his best designers), Fabergé decided to include jeweled objets d'art in the company line. This momentous decision seems like a no-brainer in retrospect, but at the time, the production of such pieces had the potential to be less profitable.

Above is the first Fabergé Easter Egg, made in 1884 by Carl and Agathon. A white enameled egg opens to reveal a golden yolk, which in turn reveals a golden hen. A ruby heart dangles inside the hen. The egg was an Easter gift from Tsar Alexander III to his wife, Marie Feodorovna, and it must have caused much delight. For more than 30 years, Fabergé made Easter eggs for Marie Feodorovna and her daughter-in-law, Tsarina Alexandra, wife of Nicholas II.

alexanderpalace.com


Marie Feodorovna's sister was also named Alexandra — Queen Alexandra of England. Doubtlessly Tsarina Marie communicated her delight to her sister, and soon Fabergé was supplying eggs for King Edward VII of England to give to Queen Alexandra as birthday gifts. Above are the two sisters in old age, Queen Alexandra on the left and Dowager Empress Marie on the right.


wired.com

Incidentally, the movie Hugo has drawn attention to the amazing mechanical toys of the 18th and 19th centuries, toys that also fascinated Fabergé. When he was studying in Dresden, he often visited such toys at the Green Vaults Museum.

The Art of Carl Fabergé  |  Kenneth Snowman  |  1952

Fabergé created a number of moving objets d'art, including this toy of Catherine the Great in a sedan chair. When the chair is wound with a key, the standing figures move smoothly in unison. We know that this was created for the French or English market because it is signed "FABERGE" in English.

19 comments:

  1. The simplicity of that first egg brings out its cuteness and quality much more than the later complicated ones. To me it is a much more delightful object.
    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. Hello, Parnassus - I agree with you, and for that reason I am drawn to a lot of Fabergé's smaller utilitarian objects, like picture frames and parasol handles.

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  2. Happy Easter to you Mark - this is a fabulous post - thank you.
    Many years ago when we were holidaying in Italy we met the Curator of the Sir Julius Wernher collection, a wealthy diamond merchant. At that stage the collection was housed in his mansion, Luton Hoo, now alas no longer. She invited me to the house on a private visit, and I was particularly thrilled by his collection of Fabergé objects, the second largest to the Queen's. I was allowed to handled them wearing gloves, something I have never forgotten.
    Quite often pieces turn up on the Antique Roadshow and their owners do not have a clue that they are Fabergé. I find that amazing, as to my eyes they are so distinctive with their exquisite fine detail, the use of gold, enamel and precious jewels.

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    1. Dear Rosemary - How exciting to have actally handled Fabergé pieces! I've seen two very good collections of Fabergé, one at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, in Richmond, Virginia, and the other at the Washington, D. C. estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post, Hillwood. Mrs. Post (the heiress of Post Cereal, who increased her fortune many times by forming General Foods and promoting frozen foods) was at one time married to the second American ambassador to the Soviet Union, Joseph E. Davies. At that time (1938-39), the Soviet government was selling Fabergé items at the face value of their material, and Mrs. Post snapped up as much as she could. One has to make reservations to see Hillwood, but it's well worth the visit.

      Happy Easter to you.

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  3. Dear Mark, A wonerful post. Have always admired Faberge's work but have not seen it or touched (how special that must have been for Rosemary) it in person. Thank you for adding more history to the Faberge Legend.
    Have a great Easter weekend.

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    1. Dear Gina - I have also always admired Fabergé's work, from the time I first learned about him as a teenager. One can be awed by the beauty of his work, and his very original combination of precious and less precious materials, but I always appreciated his craftsmanship. Looking at that first egg, we see three obvious clasps. In later designs, the way the egg opened or came together would be almost invisible.

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  4. Hello Mark:
    We send you our warmest wishes for a joyous Eastertide.

    Yet another fascinating and informative post which is, of course, and doubtless as you intended, so very appropriate for this particular time. Sadly, we can muster very little enthusiasm for the work of Fabergé which we find somewhat over elaborate and rather too highly decorated. That said, the early egg which you illustrate here is, as you will know yourself, much plainer than later examples were to become. Having said that, we do of course admire the craftsmanship involved in all of Fabergé's work.

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    1. Hello, Jane and Lance: Happy Easter to you! I was going to send you a most charming diamond-encrusted egg with scenic views of Budapest and Brighton — it opened to reveal a rooster that sang Auld Lang Syne, too. Alas, it must go back in the closet for another occasion!

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    2. How foolish of us, dear Mark, to have missed out on such a gift for now!! You could always bring it with you if you come to visit us in Budapest!!

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    3. It's not in the budget for this year, but I would be delighted!

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  5. Hello Mark,
    To have the designing talent to do an exquisite piece of jewellery combined with the engineering capabilities to make it move on its own makes for a rare individual (using both sides of the brain). But there is something so say about proper training and being exposed to the artistic "meccas" of the world
    Very much enjoyed Tiffany as well.
    Have a lovely Easter weekend,
    Anyes
    XX

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    1. One would think that those mechanical toys were within the realm of watchmaking. It was Gustav Fabergé's friend Peter Hiskias Pendin, who guided Carl Fabergé to mechanical toys. Interestingly, Pendin had started out as an optician, and a number of the great 19th century makers of mechanical toys, including the Swiss Emil Wick, also were trained as opticians.

      Happy Easter!

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  6. I feel the need to interject a comment here. I have visited several sites relating to Carl Fabergé, including The Forbes Collection, that date his first egg to 1885. My source for dating it to 1884 is A. Kenneth Snowman, who wrote about Fabergé in the 1940s (his book was published in 1952). Snowman interviewed surviving Fabergé craftsmen, as well as Fabergé's son, Eugène. Eugène corroborated that the first egg was made in 1884, and that will be good enough for me.

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  7. Thank you Mark, for this interesting post. I love to learn the history of objects - place them in time, so to speak. Thanks for doing that for me, especially with this first egg, so deceptively simple. So beautiful.

    As for the Czar's jeweler retiring just as Carl Faberge took over his father's business - sometimes it's better to be good AND lucky.

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    1. Hello, Yvette - Your last comment reminds me of a favorite quotation from Louis Pasteur, who said, "Chance favors the prepared mind." What we perceive as luck sometimes is simply our ability to recognize the possibilities before us.

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  8. Mark these Faberge eggs have always represented works of exquisite art and so meaningful. Thank you as always for providing us with the history behind these most special pieces.Have a Blessed Day!

    xoxo
    Karena
    Art by Karena

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    1. Thank you, Karena! Have a happy Easter!

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  9. Did someone say "Faberge"?? I have a penchant for his designs. I own a few small pieces and love the first piece you featured.

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    1. Hi, Theresa - If you're referring to the green enameled box, that is not a Fabergé, but included to illustrate how strongly Fabergé was influenced by 18th-century French designs! It sure does look like a Fabergé, doesn't it?

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