The Faberge Museum in St. Petersburg
The Faberge Museum in St. Petersburg is its own meticulously created gem. Located in a small 18th century palace (if there is such a thing) and only in existence since 2013 it has smaller crowds and better access to the exhibits than larger museums.
The museum is a project of The Link of Times Foundation which is primarily funded by Viktor Vekselberg, one of the wealthiest men in Russia. Mr. Vekselberg has dedicated his efforts to “repatriating” Russian art that has been sold (kindest interpretation) to other parts of the world. He is actively bringing Russia’s artistic artifacts home and exhibiting them to the public.
In the case of the Faberge Museum the collection of 9 eggs, which were made for the last two Russian Tsars, was purchased from the late American publisher Malcolm Forbes. We were told Sotheby’s was to auction the egg collection for Mr. Forbes at a floor price of 101 million dollars. The auction house was approached by Mr. Vekselberg’s foundation and offered more than double amount for a direct purchase without going to auction. For the first time in Sotheby’s history that arrangement was agreed to.
Mr. Vekselberg acquired the 18th century Shvalov Palace on the Fontanka River Embankment in St. Petersburg with the goal of making it into a museum. After 7 years of meticulous restoration with all of the interiors given their former beauty back the museum opened.
The stories of some of the Faberge eggs
Faberge eggs were Easter gifts made for the Russian imperial family. The Hen Egg above was the first of 50 eggs made by the House of Faberge between 1885 and 1916. This egg was a gift from Alexander III to his wife, the Empress Maria Fyodorovna in 1885.
The egg is white enamel to resemble an egg shell, the yolk is made of brushed gold and the hen is made of colorful “mosiac gold”, inside of which is a miniature imperial crown in the shape of a ruby egg-pendant. The Emperor was nervous about whether or not his wife would like the egg but she liked it so much that Faberge was named an Official Court Supplier which, to put it mildly, was good for his business. (He had quite a staff who made many more items than the eggs.)
Blonde’s favorite Faberge egg (of which she now possesses a handsome replica) is in the Art Nouveau style. It was a gift from Emperor Nicholas II to his wife, the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna. He chose lillies of the valley as they were her favorite flower and symbolized purity. The egg is made of gold, diamonds, rubies, pearl, glass, guilloche enamel, casting, stamping, engraving, gilding and watercolor.
Each Faberge egg contained a surprise and for this egg it was the miniature portrait of the Emperor and his two oldest daughters. (And your husband gave you a chocolate egg for Easter if you were lucky.)
The Coronation Easter Egg of 1897 is one of the most famous works of Carl Faberge and was to commemorate the coronation of Nicholas II and his wife. The miniature carriage was the surprise in this egg and was an exact copy of the actual coronation carriage. The egg features the double-headed eagle representing two families joined together in ruling the country and a diamond crown on top that cannot be seen in this picture.
The Renaissance Egg was given to Maria Fydorovna from her husband Alexander III who died in October of the year he presented her with this gift (not cause and effect, we presume). This egg was made at a time when so called “antique art” was very fashionable and Carl Faberge was one of the leaders of the trend.
Prior to the creation of these two eggs the designs had been left to Carl Faberge. These two eggs were made to the order of the royal family and neither egg contained one of the signature interior “surprises”.
The Fifteenth Anniversary Easter Egg had portraits of the Tsar’s family – Nicholas II, Alexandra Fyodorovna and their five children – as well as compositions showing the key events from the reign of the Emperor.
The Order of St. George Easter Egg has a modest design (by Faberge standards). It was made during World War I and intended to be in keeping with the austerity of the day (at least as an Emperor defines auterity). There wasn’t any surprise or any complex mechanisms as many of the best craftspeople of the House of Faberge had been called to the front of the war.
This egg was the only one Maria Fydorovna was able to take with her when she fled the revolution in 1919. She kept the egg until her death in Denmark in 1928.
There are more eggs in the museum as well as a beautifully curated collection of other works by Faberge and works done by his contemporaries. The Palace halls are decorated with paintings of well-known Russian and European painters.
We visited the Faberge Museum as an optional excursion on Viking River’s Waterways of the Tsars river cruise. They took us there, provided our tickets and an excellent local guide. The Faberge museum was one of our favorite memories because of the beauty of the building, the exquisite artistry of the items in the collection and the fact they allowed us to take pictures (without flash).
The only downside is the excellent gift shop which extracted quite a few rubles from Blonde’s purse.
Disclosure: We were the guests of Viking River Cruises on the Waterways of the Tsars cruise but were not required to see or like any Faberge eggs!