Unknown Fabergé: New Finds and Re-Discoveries

The House of Fabergé, a leading supplier to the Russian Imperial Court and the elite of Russian society, was active from 1842 until 1917. The advent of the Russian Revolution in 1917 marked the end of the firm’s highly successful run. The Revolution spurred the exodus of Fabergé objects from Russia, as aristocratic and affluent families were forced to emigrate, some fortunate enough to leave with these precious possessions. Those objects of value left behind were confiscated by the new Soviet regime and brought to the Kremlin Armory in Moscow to be catalogued. However, their provenance was forbidden to be recorded, as the Soviet government sought not only to prevent any unfavorable legacy to remain, but also to remove these objects from society entirely. Gokhran, the State Depository of Valuables where the works were stored, sold many of these objects for hard currency, which was much needed to help build socialism in the fledgling Soviet Union. Some objects were brought to the West to be sold, while others were sent to state-owned commission shops and storerooms, where they were purchased by foreign diplomats and visitors.

Fabergé enjoyed an international profile before the Russian Revolution, its reputation abroad built by important exhibitions, such as the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, and through its London shop, which was patronized by European and American clients. However, it was through the Soviet art sales that Fabergé came to be more widely known and collected in the United States and Europe. In addition to being sold through the Soviet export agency Antikvariat, Russian art was sold in European capitals, especially Paris, and in New York and Palm Beach, by dealers such as Armand Hammer. Little information was available about the provenance and personal stories related to the objects, though, with the exception of those objects that escaped Russia with their original owners and were passed down to their descendants. With the political changes in Russia in the 1990s, the state archives in Moscow and St. Petersburg, once inaccessible, were opened to researchers for the first time. Information that was formerly suppressed began to emerge from original Fabergé invoices that were still preserved, and further details were discovered in the archives of the Imperial Cabinet, the State Archives of the Russian Federation, and other historical repositories.

Much new information has been found that sheds light on the more than eighty Fabergé objects on loan from American and European private and institutional collections that are on exhibit in Unknown Fabergé. The distinguished provenance of some works that have been in the West since the Soviet art sales has recently been re-discovered. Other objects, hidden away for decades in private collections, many with the descendants of the Russian Imperial family, have only now come to light. All of these objects provide visual insights into the culture and living history of the society for which they were made. And perhaps more importantly, the personal stories related to these objects add a dimension of interest and historical importance.

I was honored to have served as Guest Curator of the exhibition and editor of the exhibition catalogue for Unknown Fabergé: New Finds and Re-Discoveries. It was my privilege to help build many of the collections from which these objects were loaned for the exhibition, and to be entrusted with so many rare and exceptional objects by the House of Fabergé.

Unknown Fabergé: New Finds and Re-Discoveries is on view at The Museum of Russian Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota (tmora.org) until February 26, 2017.


IMAGES

SEDAN CHAIR
Fabergé, St. Petersburg, 1899–1903
Workmaster Mikhail Perkhin
Scratched inventory number 2707
Gold, rock crystal, mother-of-pearl, enamel
Height  3 1/2 inches.
Literature
G. von Habsburg, A. von Solodkoff, 1979, Fabergé: Court Jeweler to the Tsars, New York, 1979, color plate 89/90.
Fabergé: Imperial Jeweler, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1993–1994, no. 253.
Elsebeth Welander-Berggren, Carl Fabergé: Goldsmith to the Tsar, Stockholm, 1997, no. 150.
U. Tillander-Godenhielm; M. Engman; R. Niskanen; et al, Fabergé: loistavaa kultasepäntaidetta, Lahti, Finland, 1997.
G. von Habsburg, Fabergé: Imperial Craftsman and His World, London, 2000, p. 187, no. 432.
M. Saloniemi, U. Tillander-Godenhielm, T. Boettger, The Era of Fabergé, Tampere, Finland, 2006.
U. Tillander-Godenhielm, Fabergé: ja hänen suomalaiset mestarinsa, Helsinki, 2008, pp. 188–189.
U. Tillander-Godenhielm, Fabergén suomalaiset mestarit, Helsinki, 2011, pp. 82–83.
Exhibited
Helsinki, Fabergé and his Contemporaries, The Museum of Applied Arts, 1980.
St. Petersburg, Paris, London, Fabergé: Imperial Jeweler, State Hermitage Museum, St.Petersburg, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1993–1994, no. 253.
Stockholm, Carl Fabergé: Goldsmith to the Tsar, Nationalmuseum, June 6–October 19, 1997, no. 150.
Lahti, Fabergé: loistavaa kultasepäntaidetta, 1997.
Tampere, The Era of Fabergé, Museums in Finland and Moscow Kremlin Museum, June 17–October 1, 2006.
Shanghai, Christie’s, October 2014.
Provenance
Private Collection, Finland
Notes
This sedan chair was reputedly in the collection of the Neuscheller family of St. Petersburg, one of Fabergé’s foremost customers. The Neuscheller family was in business in the Russian capital since the mid-nineteenth century. In 1860, they established the Russian-American Rubber Company. Known in Russia for its galoshes, the company eventually became the world’s largest rubber company.
This sedan chair, which can be categorized among the pieces of miniature furniture produced by the firm, is one of the rarest types of object produced by Fabergé. It closely resembles another sedan chair, formerly in the Forbes Magazine Collection and the collections of J.P. Morgan and Lansdell Christie, which is now in the Sandoz Collection in Switzerland. Another Fabergé sedan chair of different form is preserved in the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg. Other notable examples of miniature furniture by Fabergé include a Louis XVI style table and a Louis XV style desk, preserved in the Royal Collection; a bidet, formerly in the India Early Minshall Collection and now preserved in the Cleveland Museum of Art; and a grand piano in the Sandoz Collection in Switzerland.

IMPERIAL PHOTOGRAPH FRAME
Fabergé, St. Petersburg, circa 1901
Workmaster Mikhail Perkhin
Scratched inventory number 3748
Gold, enamel, diamonds
Height 1 1/2 inches.
Provenance
Collection of Grand Duke George Mikhailovich (1863–1919), then by descent.
The Artie and Dorothy McFerrin Collection at The Houston Museum of Natural Science
Notes
This rare mechanical photograph frame contains original photographs of Grand Duke George, Grand Duchess Marie (1876–1940) and Princess Nina Georgievna (1901–1974) as an infant. The original purchase has not been traced, but the age of Nina in the photograph and the workmaster’s mark of Mikhail Perkhin (who died in 1903), suggest a date of 1901, the year of Nina’s birth. Each photograph is covered by functioning windows, which are operated by a diamond push-piece at the bottom edge of the frame and powered by an intricate mechanism located inside the back cover. The design and construction undoubtedly were inspired by the surprise in the Imperial Pansy Egg (1899), a similar enamel heart-shaped photograph frame with functioning windows, which also was made in Perkhin’s workshop.

IMPERIAL RHINOCEROS AUTOMATON
Fabergé, St. Petersburg, circa 1905
Workmaster possibly Julius Rappoport
Oxidized silver, key, in the original wood case
Length 2 7⁄8 inches.
Literature
M. Saloniemi, U. Tillander-Godenhielm, T. Boettger, The Era of Fabergé, Tampere, Finland, 2006.
U. Tillander-Godenhielm, Fabergé: ja hänen suomalaiset mestarinsa, Helsinki, 2008, pp. 340–341.
Exhibited
Tampere, The Era of Fabergé, Museums in Finland and Moscow Kremlin Museum, June 17–October 1, 2006.
Shanghai, Christie’s, October 2014.
Provenance
A gift of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna (1858–1939) to her grandson, Vasili Alexandrovich (1907–1989), then by descent.
Private Collection, Finland
Notes
Prince Vasili Alexandrovich was the youngest child of Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich  (1866–1933) and Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna (1875–1960), the daughter of Emperor Alexander III (1845–1894) and sister of Emperor Nicholas II (1868–1918). Vasili escaped Russia in 1919, at the age of 11, and later emigrated to the United States. There he met Princess Natalia Golitsyna, whom he married in 1931. The couple lived in California and had one daughter.
When the rhinoceros is wound with a key, it lumbers forward, raising and lowering its head and moving its tail. The oxidized silver simulates the coarse texture and color of the animal’s skin.
This rare silver rhinoceros automaton is one of only a small number known to have been produced by Fabergé. One was formerly in the Forbes Magazine Collection and is now preserved in the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg. The others are in private collections, including one which was given to Queen Alexandra (1844–1925) for her sixty-fifth birthday in 1909 by the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Howe (1861–1929).
 

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