History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

15 February 2008

Peter Carl Faberge

Peter Carl Faberge is considered to be the premier jeweler of the late 19th century. Under Faberge's leaadership a school of brilliant artisans designed and produced the objets d’art that are his greatest legacy.

Famous for the Imperial Eggs that were Easter gifts given by Czar Alexander III and, his son Czar Nicholas II to their wives (Maria and Alexandra), the Faberge studio also created animals in silver, jade and other semi-precious stones, jewelry, clocks and a range of items that were of practical use raised to a work of art, such as cigarette cases, pen holders and parasol handles.

My interest in Faberge grew from the book The Romanov Ranson by Evelyn Armstrong Anthony first published in 1978. Them novel centers around twelve Faberge Imperial Easter Eggs that disappeared at the time of the Russian Revolution. From my first reading, I have been fascinated by Faberge eggs and his other creations. For years I collected eggs and did research to find out if, indeed, there were twelve eggs unaccounted for. (According to the Forbes Collection there are eight that are unaccounted for. Of those there is no extant rendering of four designs. ) There is the fabulous story of one (non Imperial) Faberge Egg that was destroyed in a domestic argument when the enraged wife threw it at her husband.

Faberge’s Moscow work force once numbered as high as 500 – which included as many as a dozen carpenters who worked full time constructing the individual presentation boxes that held the masterpieces. Faberge functioned much as a film producer, organizing all the elements of a work and then became the director, overseeing the project, making design presentations to his clients. He rarely spent time working on the pieces but all show the influence of his unique style.

Despite the fact that he drew design inspiration from all eras of artistic expression -- Ancient Greece through Neoclassical-- and at the end of his career was a precursor of Art Deco, his work is “instantly recognizable and always original”

Do I have to tell you that I own at least five books on Faberge? The information for this blog came from FABERGE by Greza Von Habsburg, a definitive work that was the catalog accompanying the major Faberge exhibition of 2000. Pictures tell his story best.

My personal favorite are the works with an enamel finish. I am constantly amazed at the depth or “opalescent quality”. The use of paintings under the glaze or complicated cut-out designs in gold paillons fascinate me. How were his jewelers able to achieve such perfection? In the last phase of the process, the worker spent hours and hours of buffing the final coat with a shammy [sic] cloth.

Have you noticed that I am really into things that glitter and shine. (I have written previously on Tiaras) I have no desire to own them. (Okay, I would like one piece of Faberge enamel.) It's the physical beauty that captivates me, not the value. A beautiful day will stir my heart as surely as a work of art or a perfect diamond.

Regarding the illustrations: These four of thousands were chosen to illustrate Faberge's artisans expertise at the enamelling process. The Imperial Easter Egg shown is a "mat white opalescent egg underpainted with a green garlanded tellises and the Cross of St George in red and white." A ribbon in the colors of the order encircles the egg and two medals. Under the medals are portraits of the Czar and his son. It was presented to the Empress in April, 1916.

The dark blue with gold flowers is a detail of an Art Nouveau enameled cigarette case. The detail pattern in the enamel is an example of paillons referred to above.

The enameled miniature sedan chair recalls Louis XVI design. The translucent pink is painted over starburst guilloche ground with gold leaf within opaque white enamel borders. This is one of the most impressive examples of the enamel technique.

So what captivates you? What do you collect? What books have led you to a lifelong interest in some THING or IDEA?


Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Great post Mary. I too love Faberge, which grew out of my interest in the Romanov's particularly Nicholas and Alexandra. I was lucky to see an exhibition on Faberge at the Met about ten years ago, as well as an additional exhibition at the museum in Newark, NJ. My personal interests are so wide and varied, from the pre-Raphaelites to the Impressionists and Tiffany but I've recently become interested in the Art Deco and Art Nouveau eras. I would love to own one of the two Frances MacDonald paintings that Christie's is auctioning off in May. I do own an Erte scarf.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

What a fun and fascinating post, Mary! Fabergé things are so beautiful. I love Regency things, though I can pretty much only afford reproductions. And I love period jewelry--again, a lot of what I have are reproductions (the Met and other museums are so great for that). The earrings I have on today are from the Met, copied from a Monet painting.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Cynthia Owens said...

Great post! I too am a colletor of sorts. I love music boxes. Not necessarily antique (though I have a few of those) but just unusual ones, with different shapes -- snow globes, a single rose on a pedestal. One of my favorites is a Victorian sletigh that plays "White Christmas."

3:32 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Elizabeth-- I cannot tell you how many time I went to see the Fabergé Eggs eggs at the Forbes collection. We were living on Governors Island then and I could always convince my boys to go because they loved the Forbes collection of toy soldiers -- something for everybody. I know that the Imperial Eggs in the collection were returned to Russia but I wonder if Forbes still exhibits the other Fabergé items they own.

Tracy -- the Met is great for so many different kinds of reproductions. I will have to do a blog sometime on the treasures for research one can find in museum gift shops.

Cynthia -- I maintain that I collect "one of everything" -- eggs being the exception -- though that interest is gone since we no longer have a place to display them due to downsizing.

5:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm the sort of bull-in-a-china-shop person who can't be trusted around lovely, fragile things. So I have to content myself with stuff like wonderful little cheap Mexican toys and ornaments, some of them meant for Christmas trees, strung about the windows of my study (which is an old screened porch sort of room, with lots and lots of windows). I admire collectors, though, and love visiting my friend art and food critic Jeff Weinstein, whose cathedral-ceilinged livingroom wall boasts shelves and shelves of brilliantly-hued American teapots.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Pam - I have a number of glittery things and a piece of stained glass hanging in my (two) office windows. I think of teapots as being a fairly traditional collectible though the display technique sounds fabulous.

Which brings me to the question -- how do you display your collection.

One of my sons long ago girl friends collected ornate old frames which she hung on the wall empty of artwork. It looked great. Another solved the NYC-small-apartment storage problem by using all her handbags as artwork, hanging them on her walls.

8:15 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Here is an example of an idea that is fixed in my memory and applies to different situations today. CW Cash's book THE MIND OF THE SOUTH. I read it in college and the premise I recall to this day is that poor whites were hated blacks because color was the only distinction between them. Their economic status was the same, only the color of their skin was different.

So many times I have used that concept to explain, to myself at least, why certain prejudices exist.

Do you have any simple idea you read about that took root...

9:23 AM  
Blogger Cynthia Owens said...

Mary, I display my music boxes on an old-fashioned Victorian tea cart -- the kind you'd roll into a drawing room and it would have the tea set (silver, of course) with the sugar bowl and creamer. It's a reproduction, of course, but I love it.

4:41 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Checking in from vacation....

What a beautiful post, Mary! I adore Faberge eggs and remember seeing a special exhibition some years ago -- though not the Forbes collection.

I tend to collect things that are redolent of what I'm writing. I have a lot of Nelsoniana and Emma Hamilton memorabilia, which I amassed why I was working on TOO GREAT A LADY, and I have some Sarah Bernhardt memorabilia, and even some things that belonged to her unfortunate sister, who died as a result of morphine addiction, which I purchased when I was writing a book from Bernhardt's POV, a manuscript that has yet to see the light of day. I always try to have something on my desk that I can admire, touch, etc., while I'm writing a novel about the person who owned that item, or lived when it was made.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Lynna Banning said...

Mostly I collect, well... books!
And I'm a nut about old, sepia-toned photos, especially of grim-faced old ladies I do not know, dressed in black. I imagine there must be a fascinating story behind each one.

11:27 AM  

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