A fancy Fabergé holiday: Hop on over to HMNS for a regal Easter

Easter has long been considered a time of rebirth and renewal. In late nineteenth century Russia, there was no better way to celebrate this Christian holiday than with the gift of Easter eggs. Family members would often be given eggs with small chocolates or other surprises inside.

But for members of the Russian Imperial family, more was always more. So why would you settle on chocolate when you could give diamonds? Expanding the simple Easter tradition to extravagant extremes, the Russian Imperial family enlisted the help of the House of Fabergé to begin a tradition that would last a generation.

The first Imperial Easter Egg is known as the Hen Egg, and was made of gold coated in white enamel to look like a real egg. When opened, the egg revealed a matte finish gold yolk, containing a hen wearing a miniature crown and pendant.

This gift was such a success that Fabergé and his group of master artisans were given complete freedom over any future designs. Each Imperial Egg was uniquely designed to delight and surprise its owner.

The eighth Fabergé egg, presented in 1892 on Easter morning to Empress Maria Fedorovna, was a gift from her husband Tsar Alexander III. This stunning jadeite egg with rose-cut diamonds contained an ivory elephant surprise tucked inside. The beautiful egg, known as the Diamond Trellis Egg, was kept at the Anichkov Palace until the revolution in 1917. Visitors can now view it on display at HMNS with other Fabergé masterpieces in the Fabergé: A Brilliant Vision exhibition.

Learn more about the history and significance of Fabergé Easter eggs from collector Dorothy McFerrin in a presentation at HMNS on Mon., April 7 at 6:30 p.m. Click here for advance tickets.

Come early to the presentation and do your Easter shopping! From 4 to 6 p.m., the HMNS Museum Store is hosting a special Fabergé Trunk Show. Featuring enameled egg pendants and other Fabergé-inspired baubles —the perfect addition to any Easter basket, ahem, — this Trunk Show includes a reception and book signing of From a Snowflake to an Iceberg with Dorothy McFerrin from 5 to 6 p.m. prior to the evening lecture, “The Splendor of Fabergé Eggs” at 6:30 p.m.


Was Peter Carl Fabergé the ultimate craftsmen or the ultimate copycat?

Every artist seeks inspiration, and this was certainly true for Carl Fabergé. After attending the Fabergé Symposium in January of this year and listening to his great-granddaughter, Tatiana Fabergé, speak, I was initially surprised by what she was showing us. However, once I considered the artist that was Fabergé, her presentation came into clear focus.

Tatiana presented various screen shots of objects found in Dresden, Germany, as well as work completed by Fabergé. What was so shocking, you might ask? It was the eerie similarities of older, famous items to renowned Fabergé pieces. These works of art, side by side, were almost identical. Although to be fair (or maybe a bit biased) the Fabergé pieces were just a little more beautiful.

My first shocking thought was that Fabergé might have made a job out of creating replicas. However, after continued study of the objects in the presentation, I began to see what was unique to Fabergé. It became evident that he did not steal designs; he was inspired by them and created something even more beautiful and, in some cases, more functional. Like any good artist, Fabergé sought inspiration outside of his own sphere, using what he found to create stunning, unique pieces.

Tatiana went on to explain that her great-grandfather had been sent around the world to study the best types of jewelry-making and goldsmithing. However, it was when his family moved to Dresden that Fabergé would find significant inspiration. The city had treasures of baroque art that could stir the imagination of a young artist. One piece Fabergé studied that is of interest to us in particular was a cup made of rhinoceros horn, held by an oriental figure. The Houston Museum of Natural Science, with gratitude to the McFerrin Collection, has the honor of displaying the object that was created from this inspiration.

Faberge's Dresden Inspiration

This particular statuette, a near replica, is made of nephrite and smoked topaz with pearls and small precious stones. It was shown in the 1893 Fabergé Moscow catalog and sold for 4,000 rubles, the same amount the Russian Royal Family paid for a single Imperial Easter Egg. It is uniquely Fabergé, yet German baroque art as well.

Faberge's Dresden Inspiration

Visit the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Fabergé: A Brilliant Vision to see this object among others that Fabergé sought to create in his own style.

Making the common uncommonly beautiful: Fabergé takes on the bell-push

Editor’s note: This blog comes to us from Fabergé historian and guest curator Timothy Adams. Adams has 30 years of experience in the jewelry industry and was a guest scholar for the “Fabergé: Imperial Jeweler to the Tsars” exhibition at The Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana, Calif., which also featured pieces from the McFerrin Collection.

The turn of the century brought many new inventions to the lifestyles of those who prospered from the industrial revolution of the late 19th Century. With the advent of electricity came the electric light, the telephone and one of my favorite items: the bell push.

Many people wonder what a bell push is when they see a case of them in the HMNS exhibition Fabergé: A Brilliant Vision. A bell push was another convenience of the Edwardian age that Fabergé set his imaginative mind to designing.

The stately homes of the aristocracy and wealthy merchant class were often staffed with many servants. For centuries, when one needed to call for a servant, one walked over to the wall and used the “bell pull.” This was a long piece of fabric, often with a beautiful tapestry design with a tassel, that was attached to a cable that ran inside the wall down to the servants quarters “downstairs” and rang a bell when pulled.

With the invention of electricity, a simple button attached to an electrical wire could set off a buzzer and/or electric light downstairs, letting the servants know which room needed their assistance.

The McFerrins have collected some beautiful examples of Fabergé bell pushes made of many different materials and gemstones. No two items from Fabergé were ever exactly alike. These are wonderful examples of his enamel work and use of hardstones like nephrite and bowenite, as well as wood.

Fabergé liked to use cabochon-cut gemstones for the actual button or “thumb push.” The bell pushes seen here are round, square and triangular and come in a variety of styles from neoclassical to art nouveau.

"Fabergé: A Brilliant Vision" Exhibit, Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston, Texas 2013.02.10Image via Pixel Party attendee and Flickr user fossilmike

One of the most unique is the three-elephant bell push believed to be purchased by Nicholas II for his mother. It has three elephants with castles on their backs, which is the symbol of the Danish Royal House, and the Dowager Empress was born in Denmark. There is an invoice dated December 24, 1898 that shows the Emperor purchasing a bell push with three elephants. This bell push had to be for a large, important house to have not just one or two buttons, but three. Each thumb push, or button, is a different color cabochon-cut stone. As each stone is pressed, the elephant and carpet it stands on lowers to activate the bell push.

Fabergé makes the common uncommonly beautiful. Read more about his intricate bell pushes on the Beyond Bones blogA whimsical design for a utilitarian object is one of the hallmarks of the House of Fabergé.  With unlimited imagination, Fabergé made the common place extraordinary.

An interview with Caroline de Guitaut, Royal Curator, pretty talker and bona fide Fabergé expert

Caroline de Guitaut is many things. Her curator post at The Royal Collection Trust in London — where she oversees the Queen’s impressive Fabergé collection — is nothing to be sniffed at, but de Guitaut is perhaps first and foremost the organizer of Kate Middleton’s the Duchess of Cambridge’s bridal archive. Swoon.

We controlled our impulses to ask about all things Royal Wedding, however, to discuss our (very) special new exhibit, Fabergé: A Brilliant Vision, prior to de Guitaut’s Distinguished Lecture here at the Museum.

HMNS: So, what are your first impressions of the exhibit?

Caroline de Guitaut: It’s really interesting. It is an exciting thing, all formed over the last 10 years. The Royal Collection was formed primarily during Fabergé’s lifetime, while he was still producing. This collection is very modern. The Provenance is so good; it focuses on pieces with a lot of history.

Pixel Party: Fabergé!

HMNS: How would you term the House of Fabergé’s historical importance, particularly to England?

CDG: The Royal Collection can only now be seen, with modern eyes, as a museum collection. When it was formed, the objects were exchanged as gifts — fashionable, whimsical luxury items. It was only post-revolution, really, that the objects have acquired this mythical sort of importance. So many pieces are superbly personal — hand-inscribed tokens of affection.

HMNS: Do you have a favorite piece or a particular item/type of item that you find yourself coming back to again and again?

CDG: I like the more simple objects. The animals are charming, whimsical and fun. They demonstrate the whole range of hardstone carving. There is one particular object — a cigarette case in deep blue enamel. It’s so sumptuous and rich. A snake in fold and diamonds winds around both sides biting its own tail — the symbol of everlasting love. It was a present from Edward VII’s mistress to the king. It is in the art nouveau style with the concealed hinges that are a signature of Faberge, and when the King died in 1910, his wife gifted it back to his mistress as a token. The mistress, Alice Keppel, gave it to Queen Mary in 1936 and it returned to the Collection.

Visit Fabergé: A Brilliant Vision to see more objects of exquisite beauty and learn their (often romantic) stories. This special exhibition closes Dec. 31, 2013.