Over 100 masterpieces by Peter Carl Fabergé, the greatest Russian jeweller and goldsmith of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, will go on display in a special exhibition at the Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace. Royal Fabergé explores how six successive generations of the British Royal Family, from Queen Victoria to Her Majesty The Queen and
His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, have shaped the finest collection of Fabergé in the world – unparalleled in size, range and quality. The exhibition includes a number of works on public display for the first time.
From dazzling Imperial Easter eggs, delicate flower ornaments and enchanting animal sculptures to cigarette cases, photograph frames and desk clocks, Fabergé produced a diverse range of works, often turning the most routine object into a miniature work of art. The vast majority of his designs were never repeated, and most pieces were made entirely by hand. Fabergé was appointed as Supplier to the Imperial Court by
Tsar Alexander III of Russia in 1885. The success of his business was inextricably linked to the patronage of the Romanov dynasty and the close ties between the British, Danish and Russian royal families, who often exchanged works by Fabergé as personal gifts.
Queen Victoria was the first reigning British monarch to acquire an object by Fabergé, when in December 1896 she was presented with a notebook and case on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee. The gift was made by Tsar Nicholas II and one of her favourite granddaughters, Alix of Hesse, who had become Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna two years earlier. The notebook is signed by the crowned heads of Europe who attended the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations at Buckingham Palace.
The most significant influence on the formation of the royal Fabergé collection was the Danish Princess Alexandra, the future consort of
King Edward VII. Her sister Dagmar became Tsarina Maria Feodorovna upon her marriage to Tsar Alexander III in 1866. King Edward VII and Queen Alexandrashared a mutual admiration for Fabergé’s creations, and the Tsar and Tsarina regularly sent them pieces from Russia. The Queen acquired examples of virtually every type of object that the firm produced, particularly favouring the intricate flower studies and miniature carvings of animals. In 1907 King Edward VII commissioned Fabergé to produce portrait models of the horses and dogs on the Sandringham Estate, including his beloved Norfolk terrier, Caesar, as a gift for Queen Alexandra. The royal couple’s enthusiastic joint patronage of Fabergé undoubtedly prompted the firm to open a London branch.
The next generation of royal collectors, King George V and Queen Mary, were regular customers at Fabergé’s London branch. The King formed an important collection of boxes and cigarette cases, but also appreciated Fabergé’s humorous creations, receiving a clockwork elephant automaton from his family for Christmas 1929. Queen Mary was particularly keen on Fabergé’s objets de fantasie and acquired several miniature objects, including furniture, a grand piano and a tea set. During the 1930s King George V and Queen Mary made significant additions to the collection when they purchased three magnificent Imperial Easter Eggs, formerly in the possession of Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna and confiscated during the Russian Revolution in 1917.
King George VI inherited and regularly used the collection of Fabergé cigarette cases created by his father and grandfather, and added to it during his reign. In 1946 the King purchased a number of pieces for Queen Elizabeth, including a charming miniature desk. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother had a life-long interest in the works of Fabergé and between the 1940s and 1970s acquired a number of pieces, ranging from animals and flowers to works in the traditional Russian style. A special viewing of the 1977 ground-breaking Fabergé exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum was organised in her honour.
The Royal Family today continues the tradition of interest in the works of Fabergé. A number of pieces have been added to the royal Fabergé collection during the reign of Her Majesty The Queen and are on display for the first time, including a crystal inkwell presented to The Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) and The Duke of Edinburgh on the occasion of their wedding in November 1947, and a clock purchased by The Queen in 1959. Works by Fabergé belonging to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales will also go on display, including a desk seal in the form of a frog and, on display for the first time, pieces from a bequest made in 2006 by Princess Irina Bagration-Mukhransky, whose husband Prince Teymuraz Bagration was a descendant of Grand Duke Constantine, the second son of Tsar Nicholas I.
The exhibition’s curator, Caroline de Guitaut, said, ‘The British Royal Collection of Fabergé is unique and gives a remarkable insight into the dynastic relationships between the British, Danish and Russian royal families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The exhibition shows a royal enthusiasm for Fabergé that has lasted more than 100 years.’
Exhibition highlights include:
• On display for the first time from the collection of Her Majesty The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, a charming double photograph frame. It contains official portraits of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth taken by Dorothy Wilding in 1946 to mark a tour of southern Africa the following year.
• A study of cornflowers and oats, one of Fabergé’s most exquisite creations. It was purchased on
27 June 1944 by Queen Elizabeth, who described it as ‘a charming thing and so beautifully unwarlike’. Queen Mary contributed to its purchase to cheer up Queen Elizabeth’s shelter room at Buckingham Palace.
• The Mosaic Imperial Egg, made from tiny cut emeralds, rubies and diamonds and including a ‘surprise’ medallion decorated with the portraits of the five children of Tsar Nicholas II and
Tsarina Alexandra. A gift from the Tsar to his wife in 1914, it was confiscated during the Russian Revolution before being purchased by King George V in 1933, probably for Queen Mary’s birthday.
• On display for the first time, a miniature tea set originally belonging to Queen Alexandra. Comprising of a teapot, coffee pot, sugar bowl and milk jug, it is exquisitely enamelled to give the impression of porcelain.
• A sumptuous cigarette case given to King Edward VII by his sister-in-law, the Dowager Tsarina Marie Feodorovna, to mark the occasion of his 40th wedding anniversary on 10 March 1903. Made of red, yellow and white gold, it includes the cipher of Edward and Alexandra set in diamonds.
Royal Fabergé is part of a visit to the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, 23 July – 3 October 2011. Advance tickets and visitor information: www.royalcollection.org.uk or (+44) (0)20 7766 7300.
Admission to Buckingham Palace is managed by the Royal Collection Trust, a charity registered in England and Wales (1016972) and in Scotland (SCO39772).