Russian Fabergé exhibition contains 'at least 20 fakes', expert says
Andre Ruzhnikov accuses director Mikhail Piotrovsky of ‘destroying the authority of the museum’
Lanre Bakare Arts and culture correspondent
Mon 1 Feb 2021 17.11 GMT
A Russian museum has been asked to close a Fabergé exhibition that contains items loaned from the personal collection of a billionaire, after a prominent expert said it contained more than a dozen fakes.
In a letter, the art dealer Andre Ruzhnikov accused the Hermitage Museum’s director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, of “destroying the authority of the museum” by hosting the Fabergé: Jeweller to the Imperial Court show, which runs until 14 March.
Ruzhnikov told the Guardian that the exhibition included at least 20 fakes, and that he thought the exhibition, which is the first big Fabergé event at the St Petersburg institution since 1993, should close immediately. He said: “I want the shame to end. I want this show to be closed and forgotten, and that’s it. You cannot subject the Hermitage to such shame.”
The Hermitage and Alexander Ivanov have denied the claims and the billionaire produced documents that support the authenticity of the items that were loaned from the Fabergé Museum in Baden-Baden, which he established in 2009.
Piotrovsky and the Hermitage did not respond to a request for comment.
Earlier Piotrovsky directed press to the show’s catalogue preface, which says: “The authenticity of each fresh item that appears on the market can always be challenged and disputed … the consensus of the expert community is not easy to obtain and is often lacking.”
One of the items at the centre of the Hermitage dispute is the Wedding Anniversary Egg that was purportedly gifted by Tsar Nicholas II to Empress Alexandra on their 10th wedding anniversary in 1904.
Last year a Fabergé researcher, DeeAnn Hoff, raised discrepancies with the item, including the claim that some of the portraits on the egg were based on recently colourised photographs taken after 1904.
Hoff also said the portrait of the Tsar seemed to come from an outdated photograph from 1894 that pictured him with four rather than five medals that he wore on his uniform from 1896 onwards.
Russian interest in Peter Carl Fabergé, the St Petersburg-based jeweller whose workshop officially supplied the Russian imperial court from 1885 until the revolution in 1917, has boomed in recent years, fuelled partly by patriotism with about 80% of buyers in the market estimated to be Russian speakers.
As interest has risen, Ivanov has become a leading intermediary – connecting collectors with Fabergé items. “There’s always a queue of people who want to buy things for me,” he told the Independent in 2010. “If I’ve bought it, people know it’s worth something.”
Ivanov rose to prominence in Europe after making several high-profile Fabergé acquisitions, including the £9m purchase of an egg that once belonged to the Rothschild banking dynasty and was the subject to a dispute over a missing VAT payment.
Ivanov served in the Soviet navy before starting business ventures including selling Amstrad computers at significant markups to Soviet factories. He has become one of Russia’s most prominent Fabergé buyers alongside the oil billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who opened a rival Fabergé museum.
Peter Carl Fabergé, also known as Karl Gustavovich Fabergé (Russian: Карл Гу́ставович Фаберже́, Karl Gustavovich Faberzhe; 30 May 1846 – 24 September 1920), was a Russian jeweller best known for the famous Fabergé eggs made in the style of genuine Easter eggs, but using precious metals and gemstones rather than more mundane materials. He was one of the sons of the founder of the famous jewelry legacy House of Fabergé.
Faberge was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, to the Baltic German jeweller Gustav Fabergé and his Danish wife Charlotte Jungstedt. Gustav Fabergé's paternal ancestors were Huguenots, originally from La Bouteille, Picardy, who fled from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, first to Germany near Berlin, then in 1800 to the Pernau (today Pärnu) Baltic province of Livonia, then part of Russia, now Estonia.
Until he was 14 years old he went to the German St Anne School in Saint Petersburg, Russia. In 1860 his father retired from his jewelry business and moved with his family to Germany. He left the House of Fabergé in Saint Petersburg in the hands of his business partner. Carl Fabergé undertook a course at the Dresden Arts and Crafts School. In 1862 Agathon Fabergé, the Fabergés' second son, was born in Dresden, Germany, where he went to school as well.
In 1864, Peter Carl Fabergé embarked upon a Grand Tour of Europe. He received tuition from respected goldsmiths in Germany, France and England, attended a course at Schloss's Commercial College in Paris, and viewed the objects in the galleries of Europe's leading museums.
His travel and study continued until 1872, when at the age of 26 he returned to St. Petersburg and married Augusta Julia Jacobs. 1874 saw the arrival of his first child, Eugene Fabergé and two years later, Agathon Fabergé was born; Alexander Fabergé and Nicholas Fabergé followed in 1877 and 1884 respectively. For the following 10 years, his father's trusted workmaster Hiskias Pendin acted as his mentor and tutor. The company was also involved with cataloguing, repairing, and restoring objects in the Hermitage during the 1870s. In 1881 the business moved to larger street-level premises at 16/18 Bolshaya Morskaya.
Upon the death of Hiskias Pendin in 1882, Carl Fabergé took sole responsibility for running the company. Carl was awarded the title Master Goldsmith, which permitted him to use his own hallmark in addition to that of the firm. In 1885 his brother Agathon Fabergé joined the firm and became Carl Faberge's main assistant in the designing of jewelry.
Carl and Agathon Fabergé Sr. were a sensation at the Pan-Russian Exhibition held in Moscow in 1882. Carl was awarded a gold medal and the St. Stanisias Medal. One of the Fabergé pieces displayed was a replica of a 4th-century BC gold bangle from the Scythian Treasure in the Hermitage. The Tsar, Alexander III, "Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russians", declared that he could not distinguish the Fabergé's work from the original and ordered that objects by the House of Fabergé should be displayed in the Hermitage as examples of superb contemporary Russian craftsmanship. The House of Fabergé with its range of jewels was now within the focus of Russia's Imperial Court.
When Peter Carl took over the House, there was a move from producing jewellery in the then-fashionable French 18th century style to becoming artist-jewellers. Fabergé's production of the very first so-called Fabergé egg, the Hen Egg, given as a gift from the Tsar to his wife Maria Fyodorovna on Orthodox Easter (24 March) of 1885 so delighted her that on 1 May the Emperor assigned Fabergé the title Goldsmith by special appointment to the Imperial Crown of that year. This meant that Fabergé now had full personal access to the important Hermitage Collection, where he was able to study and find inspiration for developing his unique personal style. Influenced by the jewelled bouquets created by the eighteenth century goldsmiths Jean-Jacques Duval and Jérémie Pauzié, Fabergé re-worked their ideas combining them with his accurate observations and his fascination for Japanese art. This resulted in a revival of the lost art of enameling and a focus on the setting of every single gemstone in a piece to its best visual advantage. Indeed, it was not unusual for Agathon to make ten or more wax models so that all possibilities could be exhausted before deciding on a final design. Shortly after Agathon joined the firm, the House introduced objects deluxe: gold bejewelled items embellished with enamel ranging from electric bell pushes to cigarette cases and including objects de fantaisie.
In light of the Empress' response to receiving one of Fabergé's eggs on Easter, the Tsar soon commissioned the company to make an Easter egg as a gift for her every year thereafter. The Tsar placed an order for another egg the following year. Beginning in 1887, the Tsar apparently gave Carl Fabergé complete freedom with regard to egg designs, which then became more and more elaborate. According to Fabergé Family tradition, not even the Tsar knew what form they would take— the only stipulation was that each one should be unique and each should contain a surprise. Upon the death of Alexander III, his son, the next Tsar, Nicholas II, followed this tradition and expanded it by requesting that there be two eggs each year, one for his mother (who was eventually given a total of 30 such eggs) and one for his wife, Alexandra (who received another 20). These Easter gift eggs are today distinguished from the other jeweled eggs Fabergé ended up producing by their designation as "Imperial Easter eggs" or "Tsar Imperial Easter eggs". The tradition continued until the October Revolution when the entire Romanov dynasty was executed and the eggs and many other treasures were confiscated by the interim government. The two final eggs were never delivered nor paid for.
Although today the House of Fabergé is famed for its Imperial Easter eggs, it made many more objects ranging from silver tableware to fine jewelry which were also of exceptional quality and beauty, and until its departure from Russia during the revolution, Fabergé's company became the largest jewelry business in the country. In addition to its Saint Petersburg headquarters, it had branches in Moscow, Odessa, Kiev and London. It produced some 150,000 to 200,000 objects from 1882 until 1917.
In 1900, Fabergé's work represented Russia at the 1900 World's Fair in Paris. As Carl Fabergé was a member of the jury, the House of Fabergé exhibited hors concours (without competing). Nevertheless, the House was awarded a gold medal and the city's jewelers recognized Carl Fabergé as a maître. Additionally, France recognized Carl Fabergé with one of the most prestigious of French awards, appointing him a knight of the Legion of Honour. Two of Carl's sons and his head workmaster were also honored. Commercially, the exposition was a great success and the firm acquired a great many orders and clients.
Stock, Russian Revolution and nationalisation
In 1916, the House of Fabergé became a joint-stock company with a capital of 3-million rubles.
The following year upon the outbreak of the October Revolution, the business was taken over by a 'Committee of the Employees of the Company K Fabergé. In 1918 The House of Fabergé was seized by the Bolsheviks. In early October the stock was confiscated. The House of Fabergé was no more.
After the nationalisation of the business, Carl Fabergé left St. Petersburg on the last diplomatic train for Riga. In mid-November, the Revolution having reached Latvia, he fled to Germany and first settled in Bad Homburg and then in Wiesbaden. Eugène, the Fabergés' eldest, travelled with his mother in darkness by sleigh and on foot through snow-covered woods and reached Finland in December 1918. During June 1920, Eugène reached Wiesbaden and accompanied his father to Switzerland where other members of the family had taken refuge at the Bellevue Hotel in Pully, near Lausanne.
Peter Carl Fabergé never recovered from the shock of the Russian Revolution. He died in Switzerland on September 24, 1920. His family believed he died of a broken heart. His wife, Augusta, died in 1925. The two were reunited in 1929 when Eugène Fabergé took his father's ashes from Lausanne and buried them in his mother's grave at the Cimetière du Grand Jas in Cannes, France.
Fabergé had five sons, four of whom lived to adulthood: Eugène (1874–1960), Agathon (1876–1951), Alexander (1877–1952), Nikolai (1881-1883), and Nicholas (1884–1939). Descendants of Peter Carl Fabergé live in mainland Europe, Scandinavia and South America.
Henry Bainbridge, a manager of the London branch of the House of Fabergé, recorded recollections of his meetings with his employer in both his autobiography and the book he wrote about Fabergé.The autobiography also given an insight into the man from the recollections of François Birbaum, Fabergé's senior master craftsman from 1893 until the House's demise.
A Fabergé egg (Russian: Яйца Фаберже́, yaytsa faberzhe) is a jewelled egg created by the jewellery firm House of Fabergé, in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire. Possibly as many as 69 were created, of which 57 survive today. Virtually all were manufactured under the supervision of Peter Carl Fabergé between 1885 and 1917, the most famous being the 52 "Imperial" eggs, 46 of which survive, made for the Russian Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II as Easter gifts for their wives and mothers.
Prior to 1885, Tsar Alexander III gave his wife Empress Maria Feodorovna jeweled Easter eggs. For Easter in 1883, before his coronation, Alexander III and Feodorovna received eggs, one of which contained a silver dagger and two skulls. The egg came with messages including "Christ is risen" and "You may crush us–but we Nihilists shall rise again!" Before Easter 1885, Alexander III's brother Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich suggested Peter Carl Fabergé to create the jeweled egg. The inspiration for the egg is believed to come from an ivory hen egg made for the Danish Royal Collection in the 18th century. Known as the Hen Egg, it has a 2.5 inch outer enamel shell and a golden band around the middle.The egg opens to reveal a golden "yolk" within, which then opened to revealed a golden hen sitting on golden straw. Inside the hen lay a miniature diamond replica of the Imperial crown and a ruby pendant, though these two elements have been lost. It was given to the tsarina on 1 May 1885. The creation's cost was then 4,151 rubles. Just six weeks later, the tsar made Fabergé the supplier to the Imperial Court.
Maria was so delighted by the gift that Alexander appointed Fabergé a "goldsmith by special appointment to the Imperial Crown" and commissioned another egg the next year. After that, Peter Carl Fabergé was apparently given complete freedom for the design of future imperial Easter eggs, and their designs became more elaborate. According to Fabergé family lore, not even the Tsar knew what form they would take—the only requirements were that each contain a surprise, and that each be unique. Once Fabergé had approved an initial design, the work was carried out by a team of craftsmen, among them Michael Perkhin, Henrik Wigström and Erik August Kollin.
After Alexander III's death on 1 November 1894, his son, Nicholas II, presented a Fabergé egg to both his wife, Alexandra Fedorovna, and his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna. Records have shown that of the 50 imperial Easter eggs, 20 were given to the former and 30 to the latter. Eggs were made each year except 1904 and 1905, during the Russo-Japanese War.
The imperial eggs enjoyed great fame, and Fabergé was commissioned to make similar eggs for a few private clients, including the Duchess of Marlborough, the Rothschild family and the Yusupovs. Fabergé was also commissioned to make twelve eggs for the industrialist Alexander Kelch, though only seven appear to have been completed.
Following the revolution and the nationalization of the Fabergé workshop in St. Petersburg by the bolsheviks in 1918, the Fabergé family left Russia. The Fabergé trademark has since been sold several times and several companies have retailed egg-related merchandise using the Fabergé name. The Victor Mayer jewelry company produced limited edition heirloom quality Fabergé eggs authorized under Unilever's license from 1998 to 2009. The trademark is now owned by Fabergé Limited, which makes egg-themed jewelry.