Faberge and Mir Iskusstva ("World of Art")

Faberge and Mir Iskusstva ("World of Art")

Faberge was associated with Mir Iskusstva ("World of Art"), a movement founded in 1898. Members of Mir Iskusstva took particular interest in the applied arts, as well as in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russian artistic movements. Prominent members of this association included Sergey Diaghilev, Alexander Benois, and Leon Bakst.

As to Faberge enamel, Faberge brought the art of enameling to technical perfection. The satisfaction of handling a flawlessly enameled, velvety smooth gold cigarette case, on whose invisible hinge the parts are perfectly aligned to snap tightly shut, was a pleasure shared by the last privileged classes of modern times. In the production of such a cigarette case Faberge was following in the tradition of the great French goldsmiths of the eighteenth century who concentrated their skills on the manufacture of gold snuff boxes to be presented as gifts by the king; the snuff box came to represent the pinnacle of the goldsmith's achievement during that period. Faberge, following a challenge by Tsar Alexander III, reproduced a French box in the collection of the Hermitage. It was reported that the Tsar was unable to distinguish the new from the old. Both boxes are now preserved in the collection of Forbes Magazine--the Paris snuff box by Joseph Etienne Blerzy and the Faberge box with the mark of work master Michael Perchin.

Faberge and European Royalty

Faberge was invited by Edward VII to create models of the domestic animals at Sandringham. Artists were dispatched from Russia to undertake the task. They returned to S1. Petersburg with wax form for the stonecutters to follow. The finished animals were then shipped to London for the king to approve and present to Queen Alexandra. She was, by all accounts, delighted. None of the queen's friends ever had to agonize over the question of selecting a gift for her: They needed only give her a creation by Faberge.

Among the rarest of Faberge's creations are the carved hard stone flowers, mounted in gold and placed in rock-crystal vases. Such flowers offered a reminder of summer during the long, dark S1. Petersburg winters. One of the most famous of these flower studies is the basket of lilies-of-the-valley presented to the Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna as a coronation gift from the "Iron-works management and dealers in the Siberian iron section of the Nijegorod Fair." It is now in the collection of the Matilda Geddings Gray Foundation in New Orleans.

Revolution and Faberge

When the Revolution came, Faberge's business in Russia ended and he left for Wiesbaden in Germany. In 1920, he moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, where he died on 24 September of that year. He had four sons, Eugene (1874-1960), Agaphon (1876-1951), Alexander (1877-1952), and Nicholas (1884-1939). All worked for the firm during their father's lifetime. In 1924, following their father's death, Eugene and Alexander Faberge opened a shop in Paris, where they carried on a moderately successful business under the name Faberge.

In the 1920s and 1930s, a substantial number of Faberge collection found their way to the West. Individuals such as Armand Hammer, Emanuel Snowman, and Alexander Schaffer brought Faberge pieces out of Russia. Also, the Soviet Union, in great need of hard currency, held an auction in Germany and thus dispersed a sizable quantity of works of art. In fact, the new Soviet authorities had no great affection for the creations of Carl Faberge, since he had been so closely associated with the last Tsars of imperial Russia. They were happy to use his creations as a source of income. Armand Hammer had gone to Russia in the early twenties and had begun trading with the new government. He had established a pencil factory there by the middle of the decade. When this business was appropriated by the government, he was allowed to take out antiques and works of art as compensation. He organized a traveling exhibition and sale at department stores in the United States from 1929 to 1933, starting at Scruggs Vandervoot in St. Louis, going to Marshall Field in Chicago, and ending at Lord and Taylor in New York. The traveling show was a big success in spite of the financial crash that began the Great Depression. At this time Lillian Thomas Pratt and Matilda Geddings Gray began what were to be their substantial Faberge collections.

The art and antique dealers Emanuel Snowman and Alexander Schaffer went to Russia to purchase items for their shops in London and New York. In this way, many imperial Easter eggs left Russia to be sold to Western collectors. In fact, the only imperial egg to leave Russia with its original owner was the Cross of St. George Egg, taken by the Empress Marie Feodorovna to Denmark, via England, in April 1919. It was sold in 1961 by her grandson, Prince Vasili Romanov, at Sotheby's in London for ?1l,000.

Marjorie Merriweather Post also built a substantial collection of Faberge and Russian works of art in her lifetime, some pieces of which were acquired when she went to Russia with her third husband, Joseph E. Davies, in 1936. Davies had been appointed the United States ambassador to the Soviet Union, and Marjorie, heiress to the Post cereal fortune used the opportunity to acquire a wide variety of Russian antiques and art. Some of these objects, at the time, were being offered in bulk or by the weight of the precious metal in exchange for much-needed foreign currency. Having begun collecting in the late 1920s, Post was already familiar with Faberge and the wider field of Russian art by the time she went to Russia. The house she later built in Washington, D.C., is stocked with objects d'art, including two Faberge imperial eggs. Now known as the Hillwood Museum, it is open to the public. Another well-known American, the publisher Malcolm Forbes, has amassed a stunning collection of Faberge works, all purchased in the West. His first major acquisition was the Duchess of Marlborough Egg in 1965. Within the next twelve months he acquired over two dozen pieces from the collection of the late Landsdell K. Christie, and in the years since he has built a veritable Faberge museum.

Faberge biography