Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs ~ Part I
With Easter fast approaching, I started searching for topics related to the holiday. Naturally eggs tend to come up, in some way or another, and I do have a couple of interesting egg-centric posts scheduled for next week. In fact, I intended to write a short blog for Easter week on the fabulous Fabergé Imperial Eggs with a handful of photos. Well, here I am two-weeks before Easter with a series of blogs instead! How did that happen?
I imagine I am similar to many people in that I knew OF the Fabergé Imperial Eggs and have seen the occasional photo, but truly had scant knowledge of the details. Basically, the more I tried to select only the most interesting details for a single post, the more I came to recognize that is impossible, and frankly tragic as they are all so fabulous. Therefore, this week will be devoted to the incredible creations of Peter Carl Fabergé for the Imperial Romanovs, the last royal rulers of Russia.
Before digging deeply into the individual Imperial Easter Eggs, a very brief history.
ABOUT KARL GUSTAVOVICH FABERGÉ
The jeweler most commonly known as Peter Carl Fabergé was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1846. His father was a jeweler with a successful business firm called House of Fabergé, which Peter Carl took over in 1882. Well educated and highly trained, as well as widely traveled, Fabergé was a titled Master Goldsmith who swiftly gained personal renown. This included with the Royal Court, already devoted admirers and customers of the House of Fabergé. Original Peter Carl Fabergé productions were displayed in the Hermitage and created a sensation at the 1882 Pan-Russian Exhibition in Moscow.
By the age of 38, Peter Carl Fabergé was a prominent jeweler in his own right who surely would have been listed amongst the greatest in history. The creation of the Imperial Easter Eggs secured him immortal status.
The Russian Revolution in 1917 brought about the violent end to the era of Fabergé. The family managed to escape Russia but only after the Bolsheviks confiscated the House of Fabergé in 1918. Peter Carl Fabergé fled to Germany, his wife and grown children scattered between Germany, Finland, and Switzerland. Fabergé never recovered from the tragedy, dying in September 1920 of what his family believed was a broken heart.
ABOUT THE IMPERIAL EGGS BY FABERGÉ
In 1885, Tsar Alexander III commissioned Peter Carl Fabergé to create a jeweled egg as an Easter gift for his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna. It was intended to be a one-time gift, but the Empress was so pleased that Tsar Alexander immediately placed an order for the following year.
Thus began a mostly-annual tradition continued by Tsar Nicholas II. In total, 50 Easter Eggs were made by Fabergé for the Imperial family over 32 years. Ten eggs were created from 1885 to 1894 as gifts from Alexander to Maria. From 1895 to 1916, two eggs were created each year, one a gift from Tsar Nicholas to his mother Maria, and another to his wife, Empress Alexandra. The only years with no Imperial Eggs presented were 1904 (due to the Russo-Japanese War) and 1905 (cue to civil unrest in Russia).
With the exception of the original egg in 1885, the First Hen Egg, Fabergé was given free-reign to design the eggs. Each one was a tightly controlled secret, even from the Tsar, until unveiled when gifted on or near Easter Day.
Fabergé personally oversaw production, but the eggs were crafted by teams of metalsmiths, jewelers, designers, and other specialists who in turn were given wide artistic latitude. Although the eggs were made from precious materials, their value lay not in the cost of the particular jewels or metals used (some eggs were comparatively modest in that regard) but in the inventiveness and skill the artists brought to each one. Every egg was utterly unique, the decorative arts employed intricate and with evolving layers of interest. The eggs providing a visual and tactile history of a 32-year-long virtuosic performance by Peter Carl Fabergé and his preeminent art firm.
Additionally, the eggs provided an intimate glimpse into the lives of the Royal family since each one was designed as a personal gift to a beloved relative. In other words, they were never intended to be museum or public showpieces. Of course, that is what they became, as many great works of art often do. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that the tragic circumstances led to an intense enthusiasm deeper than what surrounds other works of jeweled art, even by Fabergé.
The violent Russian revolution of 1917 saw the end of the Easter Egg tradition. The Empire was overthrown by the Bolsheviks, most of the royal treasures confiscated and eventually sold. None of the eggs and very few of the costly objects owned by the Romanovs evaded Bolshevik seizure, escaping safely in possession of family members fortunate to flee Russia.
The Imperial Eggs scattered far and wide after the war, each one undertaking a journey and weaving its own story. Of the 50 created by Fabergé, seven have not yet been found. Searchers continue the quest, always hoping another will be unearthed despite the negative odds after one-hundred years. The Third Imperial Egg, lost for over 100 years, was recovered in 2014 (that story below) so anything is possible!
The 43 recovered eggs belong to an assortment of private art collectors and public museums. Media magnate Malcolm Forbes collected nine of the Fabergé eggs, before they were all purchased by Russian oil and metal mogul Viktor Vekselberg for the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg. Today these rare and precious eggs are worth upwards to $30 million dollars.
THE IMPERIAL EGGS GIFTED BY TSAR ALEXANDER III
Of the 10 Easter Eggs Fabergé created for Tsar Alexander III as a gift to his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna, these three remain lost—
- Hen Egg with Sapphire Pendant (1886)
- Cherub with Chariot Egg (1888)
- Nécessaire Egg/Pearl Egg (1889)
The remainder of today’s blog highlights the 7 which have been recovered. Links at the end provide more information on Fabergé, the first three with minute details on each egg, including specifics on the egg’s journey and many more detailed photos. I highly recommend clicking over for the photos if nothing else.
The cards below are created by me with basic details on each egg (from the links mentioned above) and are in chronological order of the year when the egg was gifted. Each card can be clicked for a bigger-image view.