Rapaport Magazine

Fabergé’s Royal Creations

The art and artistry of the extraordinary items created by the famed jeweler to the tsars, Peter Carl Fabergé, are on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

By Phyllis Schiller
Famed Russian goldsmith and jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé (1846-1920), whose clients included the nobility of Russia and Europe, left a legacy of superbly created rarities that run the gamut from decorative objets d’art to exquisite jewelry. Even the more “everyday” items that his workshops turned out carried the same hallmarks of exquisite craftsmanship as his royal “creations.” A treasure trove of these incredible pieces, from snuff boxes, picture frames and carved hard stone animals to a white diamond tiara, is now on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) in the exhibition, “Fabergé: From a Snowflake to an Iceberg.”
   Bringing a unique sense of history, many of the items have a royal provenance, having been commissioned by the Romanov family, including Imperial pieces once owned by Nicholas II, Alexander III and their families. “The collection covers the span of Fabergé’s entire career,” points out Latha Thomas, vice president of marketing and communications at HMNS. “The Fabergé Company was founded in 1842 by Gustav Fabergé. The pieces we display focus mainly on the time in which his son Peter Carl Fabergé took over until 1917, when the Russian Revolution brought an abrupt end to the House of Fabergé as well as the Romanov dynasty.”
A World-Class Collection
   The present showing is, in fact, an expansion of a 2013 exhibition at the museum, “A Brilliant Vision.” An impressive 150 additional items bring the number of pieces on display to 500. All of the items are part of the McFerrin Collection, one of the largest privately owned collections of authentic Fabergé items in the U.S. Dorothy and Artie McFerrin are, says Thomas, “a part of the museum family” and have offered the pieces to HMNS on a long-time loan basis.
   The title of the exhibition is an homage to both the jeweler and the incredible range of the McFerrin Collection, according to Thomas. “The McFerrins started this whole collection with their first Fabergé egg…or what they thought was a Fabergé egg. It turned out to be a fake but it sparked an interest in all things Fabergé. The title means that the collection started with one piece, a snowflake, and continued to grow into what it is today, an iceberg.”

Timeless Elegance
   On display is a wide variety of pieces, says Thomas, from jewelry to gift boxes, clocks and more. “Some of the newer pieces installed include a metronome, bell pushes and an extraordinary lamp. There are also many new hand fans — each with a unique hand-painted design.”
   The exhibition is organized thematically, with the items grouped generally by type and whether or not they belonged to the Romanov family. So, says Thomas, “the fans are in one section while the cigarette cases are in another. Many of the Romanov pieces are grouped together, as are the compasses, bell pushes, etc.”

Extraordinary Eggs
   For many, of course, the name Fabergé is forever synonymous with the gloriously bejeweled “Easter Eggs” that open to reveal intricately designed “surprises” that represented miniature works of art. Adding what Thomas calls a “wow” factor, the exhibition has not just one but three of these eggs.
   The first, the Diamond Trellis Egg, was commissioned in 1892 by the Emperor Alexander III for presentation to his wife, the Empress Maria Feodorovna. Its “surprise,” in the form of an elephant, however, was separated from the egg.
   The second, and most elaborate of the eggs on display, is part of a seven-egg series, created from 1898 through 1904. It was commissioned by a Russian nobleman, Alexander Kelch, as a gift for his wife. Known as the “Rocaille Egg,” it dates from 1902. It features translucent green enameling and lavish Rococo styling with gold scrolls, platinum flowers, diamonds and gold palm trees. It is shown with its original “surprise,” a gold tripod topped with a pink heart that fans out to reveal three heart-shaped frames.
   Rounding out the trio is the Nobel Ice Egg, which was made for Swedish-Russian oil baron Dr. Emmanuel Nobel, whose brother, Alfred, established the Nobel Peace Prize. The egg features a wintry theme created with snowflakes of rose-cut diamonds set in platinum and rock crystal “frost,” embellished with rose-cut diamonds set in platinum.

Superb Workmanship
   “It’s easy to think of Fabergé and think of the eggs,” sums up Thomas. “But Fabergé created all sorts of things — fans, cigarette cases, table clocks, enamel gift boxes, parasol handles and so much more. We want patrons to realize the depth and breadth of his work as well as the superb workmanship that is just not done these days.” All of these items, she says, exemplify Fabergé’s craftsmanship and his ability to impart beauty to even everyday things. And moreover, as a good museum exhibition does, “they tell a story. These objects are a part of history and they provide a window into life in a different part of the world at a different time.”
   “Fabergé: From a Snowflake to an Iceberg” is on exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Drive, Houston, Texas 77030; www.hmns.org.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - July 2016. To subscribe click here.

Comment Comment Email Email Print Print Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Share Share