Gold and Silver in St. Petersburg

The age-old orientation of St. Petersburg toward Western European culture and art persisted up to the early years of the twentieth century. St. Petersburg collections possessed far more examples of art-including decorative applied art-from Western Europe than from Russia; this was true of the Hermitage, Baron Stieglitz's museums, the Academy of Arts, and the collection of the Society for the Advancement of the Arts. Furthermore, international art exhibitions were held there much more often than were Russian art exhibitions. It was in S1. Petersburg that the artists' association “Mir Iskusstva” - The World of Art-arose, with its pronounced retrospective leanings and its aspiration to "Europeanize” Russian culture. In gold and silver work these tendencies were linked to a tradition dating back to the era of Peter I, when collaboration with artists from other countries had been encouraged. There were now outstanding artisans from Europe working in S1. Petersburg: Henrik Wigstrom, August Hollming, Stephan Wiikevii, Erik Kollin, Carl Hahn, and Frederick Kochli, Many works produced by Faberge, Hahn, Tillander, Britzin, and the 3rd Artel bear a strong affinity to those made in Western Europe, especially to those of Cartier.

St. Petersburg gold- and silversmiths believed that historicism was important to their art, although many of them also responded to Russia's desire for national forms. These forms are to be found on a vase with sculptured portrayals of peasant children reaping (by Nicholls and Plincke}, desk sets with themes from peasant life, an inkwell made to look like a driver on a horse-drawn sleigh (D. Smirnov), and glass holders in the shape of a log cabin or a fence (G. Weisenbaum and V. Viktorov). During this period Faberge, Hahn, Britzin, and Kochli chiefly produced articles in the Western European style, rarely in the Russian style or in style modern, H we compare the Russian style in Moscow with that in S1. Petersburg, we find the latter more subdued in form and coloring. In St. Petersburg a historical-archaeological approach to ornamentation prevailed, and very few articles were made in the neo-Russian style. The artisans preferred not to coat the entire object with a design in fibered enamel, but rather to preserve the smoothness of the metal and decorate it with an ornamental band or a cartouche, which created an appearance at once more austere and more elegant.

The world-famous firm of Faberge stood far above the others, not only in Russia, but in all of Europe. Based in St. Petersburg, the firm produced an extraordinary variety of articles, among them jewelry: jewelry boxes, clocks, enamel dishes, stone cut sculpture, and toilet articles and other objects for daily use. It won renown for the valuable Easter eggs it produced: They were exceptionally skillfully made and striking in their imaginativeness, in the wide variety of methods used to make them, and in the color range of the precious stones and enamels. They are justly considered masterpieces.

Faberge achieved its preeminent position in the art world due to the diverse ornamental motifs it used, its exceptionally profound knowledge and feeling for materials and their decorative possibilities, and a deep understanding of forms and the ways to express them with a broad range of jewelry materials. Faberge gathered all his most skillful artisans in the four-story building on Bolshaya Morskaya Street, which at the same time housed his family, a store, a large library, and a studio for the artists and modelers. More than twenty artists worked permanently in the studio, and Carl invited Benois, Schechtel, and Shishkin, very well-known artists, to work with him.

In 1890 Faberge decided to expand the firm's activities by opening a new branch under Allan Gibson in Odessa (1890-1918). Twenty-five artisans worked there, among them Gabriel Niukkanen and Gustav Lundell. In 1905 a branch in Kiev with ten artisans was opened under V. Drugov but it lasted only about five years, after which it was amalgamated with the Odessa branch under Drugov. In 1903 the first foreign branch was opened in London (1903-1915) under Arthur Bowe; in 1906 its management fell to Carl's son Nicholas and H. C. Bainbridge.