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Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution Exhibition at V&A

Frances has many years' experience writing about exhibitions in art galleries and museums.

Rothschild Clock Egg. Chief Workmaster: Michael Perchin, Clockmaker: Nikolay Rode 1902.

Rothschild Clock Egg 1902. The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (3-18382). Image by Frances Spiegel (2021) with permission from the V&A. All Rights Reserved.

Rothschild Clock Egg 1902. The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (3-18382). Image by Frances Spiegel (2021) with permission from the V&A. All Rights Reserved.

“Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution”

The exhibition showcases the work of the legendary Russian goldsmith, Carl Fabergé, looking in particular at his time in London. His creations included not only the Imperial Eggs but also animal statues, family portrait miniatures, and practical items such as crystal vases, drinking vessels, enamelled clocks and munitions.

Layout of the Exhibition

The exhibition, curated by Kieran McCarthy and Hanne Faurby, is divided into three main sections featuring more than 200 pieces. We learn about the man himself, his patrons, his workshops, and the beautiful and luxurious items he created.

Statue of "Persimmon" the racehorse 1908. Chief Workmaster: Henrik Wigstrom.

Statue of ‘Persimmon’ the racehorse 1908. Lent by Her Majesty The Queen. Image by Frances Spiegel (2021) with permission from the V&A. All Rights Reserved.

Statue of ‘Persimmon’ the racehorse 1908. Lent by Her Majesty The Queen. Image by Frances Spiegel (2021) with permission from the V&A. All Rights Reserved.

Fabergé – Innovative and Highly Imaginative

The first part of the exhibition explores the artist’s youth. Born in St. Petersburg on 30th May 1846, he travelled widely throughout Europe before entering into the family business.

His work was luxurious, innovative, and highly imaginative, and we see his mastery of delicate techniques and intricate detailing. Although extremely talented he didn’t actually do the work himself, controlling and directing a workshop of highly skilled designers and craftsmen who produced items of unimaginable beauty.

Important Russian patrons included the Romanov family who frequently gave each other gifts created by Fabergé.

Cigarette Case Designed by Alice Keppel 1905

Cigarette case 1905. Lent by Her Majesty The Queen. Image by Frances Spiegel (2021) with permission from the V&A. All Rights Reserved.

Cigarette case 1905. Lent by Her Majesty The Queen. Image by Frances Spiegel (2021) with permission from the V&A. All Rights Reserved.

Fabergé in London and Patronage in Europe

The second part of the exhibition explores Fabergé’s time in London.

When Fabergé opened his London store in 1903, London was not only a luxury retail destination, but also the financial capital of the world and home to a large number of international customers. His clientele included the Royal Family, the Rothschilds, aristocrats, American heiresses, exiled Russian Grand Dukes, Maharajas, wealthy financiers and well-healed socialites.

Edward VII and Queen Alexandra were already keen Fabergé collectors and the display includes a hardstone portrait of the King’s wire-haired fox terrier Caesar and a silver model portrait of Persimmon, one of his very successful racehorses.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Charles are both keen collectors in the 21st century.

Fabergé’s time in London was short-lived. The impact of the Great War was huge. In London production of the artist’s beautiful items ceased and the company supported the war effort by manufacturing munitions. At home in Russia the revolution stopped work at Fabergé’s workshops and the London store closed.

Two Model 1914 Hand Grenades - Craftspeople Unknown

Two Model 1914 Hand Grenades. Mr. Stephen Perrott. Image by Frances Spiegel (2021) with permission from the V&A. All Rights Reserved.

Two Model 1914 Hand Grenades. Mr. Stephen Perrott. Image by Frances Spiegel (2021) with permission from the V&A. All Rights Reserved.

Fabergé’s Enduring Legacy - Imperial Easter Eggs

The final section of the exhibition looks at Fabergé’s enduring legacy through fifteen of his most iconic pieces – the Imperial Easter Eggs – many of which have not been shown in the UK until now.

One item in particular caught my attention and I spoke to curator/ Fabergé expert Kieran McCarthy – see interview below.

Its story is fascinating. Commissioned in 1887 by Emperor Alexander III as an Easter gift for Empress Marie Feodorovna, the Third Imperial Easter Egg disappeared many years ago. It was found in 2011 by an American scrap-metal dealer who bought it for its gold weight at a Midwest flea market. The buyer subsequently contacted Fabergé experts Wartski who confirmed its authenticity. A rare missing egg had been found!

The jewelled and ridged yellow-gold egg sits on a tripod pedestal. The egg is encircled by coloured gold garlands suspended from blue cabochon sapphires and topped with rose diamond-set bows. The egg contains a surprise in the form of a lady’s watch by Vacheron Constantin. The watch has a white enamel dial and openwork diamond-set gold hands.

Third Imperial Easter Egg, Workmaster: August Holmstrom 1886-7

Third Imperial Egg, 1886–7. Private collection. Used with permission from V&A Museum. All rights reserved

Third Imperial Egg, 1886–7. Private collection. Used with permission from V&A Museum. All rights reserved

Kieran McCarthy Spoke Exclusively to HubPages

HubPages: I’m particularly interested in the Third Imperial Easter Egg. I was very surprised to learn that Carl Fabergé, whilst being very talented, didn’t actually do the work himself.

Kieran: No, he’s the eponymous hero. The items were all entrusted to his craftspeople who were very firmly under his control and direction, but the hands-on work, the application of the materials, were done by others working under his tutelage.

HubPages: When you first saw the egg how did you feel? Were you excited?

Kieran: There were stages to it. I first saw a photograph, and the photograph was just ‘wow’, this is it! But then you go through all the different questions and considerations.

So, I saw the photograph, but the photograph wasn’t quite good enough. You’ve got to see the real egg. From the photograph and from the story that emerged behind the photograph things began to fall into place. They fall into place as much as you want and then you actually see it, and the second I saw it all of Fabergé’s beautiful craft, the beauty of Fabergé’s ability, at the highest echelons of his work, was a moment of yes – a revelation!

HubPages: The Third Imperial Easter Egg, set amongst all these other sumptuous eggs, almost appears plain by comparison. Do you think it survived because it is so plain?

Kieran: No, I think ‘plain’ is unfair. When you look at it closely it is the most subtle manipulations of gold, it’s a piece of artistry and sculpture. The feet, the stand, the proportions of it are absolutely exquisite. The earlier eggs are humbler and more modest. I don’t think you could ever describe it as ‘plain’. They are humble homages to eighteenth-century goldsmiths’ work and we have two here in the exhibition. The great thing about having these Easter Eggs next to their siblings is that you can see the relationships between them and the evolution of the Easter Eggs over this period. I think that is essential and we can do that here.

HubPages: Do you think it’s likely that any more will come to light?

Kieran: Hopefully. We live in hope, and you can never say never, so yes.

HubPages: Do you think there are any jewellers working today who are capable of achieving this sort of standard?

Kieran: Yes, there are exceptional jewellers today. My real perception of Fabergé is that he was exceptional and has been written into the history of goldsmithing. He has entered into the very top spot of it. There are great jewellers working today in different forms, in different ways. Fabergé is a product of this time, the last days of the Russian Empire, the golden, innocent, opulent times before the Great War. This is where Fabergé resides and I think that story can never be recreated.

HubPages: It you’re out and about at say, a bric-a-brac sale or a car boot sale, do you find your subconscious is always on the lookout?

Kieran: Oh definitely! Absolutely! It’s almost like open-cast archaeology, you have to look, and you have to look with a very open eye. In searching for treasures you have to have some idea of the history and the status and the forms of them but you’ve also got to keep your eyes wide open. Yes, wherever you go, keep your eyes wide open because there’s another Fabergé egg out there waiting to be found!

Pan Pacific London and Supporters

The V&A is grateful for the generous support received for this exhibition from their supporting partners Pan Pacific London and numerous individuals who prefer to remain anonymous.

The exhibition runs from 20th November 2021 – 8th May 2022. Tickets and further information can be obtained directly from the V&A Museum.

“Fabergé Romance to Revolution” – A V&A Publication

In support of “Fabergé in London” the V&A has released a very luxurious full-colour publication. “Fabergé: Romance to Revolution” develops the themes of the exhibition and provides a very beautiful lasting record. The book is available from the V&A Museum.

Tickets and Further Information

The exhibition runs from 20 November 2021 – 8 May 2022. Tickets and further information can be obtained directly from the V&A Museum.


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© 2021 Frances Spiegel

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