As the Victoria & Albert Museum prepares to close Fabergé in London, the first major exhibition dedicated to the legendary Russian goldsmith which enjoyed prominence during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, we highlight some of the items – many of which are in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen. Sadly the firm was nationalized by the Bolsheviks after the1917 Russian Revolution it did not survive the 1920s, with the principal family members either dead or having fled Russia. The pieces remained popular, however, particularly among keen-eyed collectors who continued to seek out these exquisite artefacts. To this day they continue to command high prices at auction, renowned for their scarcity and craftmanship.
London was the only branch opened by the firm outside Russia, in 1903, soon attracting a wealthy and international clientele with an exclusive and fashionable reputation. Royal family members often gave one another gifts from its legendary workshops, following the lead of Tsar Alexander III who commissioned the first bejewelled Easter egg from Carl Fabergé for the Empress. The annual tradition continued with Tsar Nicholas and over 50 such eggs were evntially made.
King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra were already customers Fabergé collectors, and hardstone portraits of their farm animals bred at Sandringham were now created, along with objects enamelled in The King’s horse racing colours. The King commissioned models of his faithful wire-haired fox terrier Caesar, as well as Persimmon, his most loved and successful racehorse, in silver.
Mrs Keppel, the King’s mistress, gifted him an elegant art-nouveau cigarette case with a snake laid in diamonds biting its tail to symbolize unbroken and everlasting love. Other smoking ephemera included snuffboxes and a nephrite cigar box, set with a sepia enamelled view of the Houses of Parliament, was bought by Grand Duke Michael of Russia on 5 November 1908, the day of Guy Fawkes, and given to King Edward VII.
These historic items, over a century old, portray a unique moment in artistry and time.