This weekend, a fantastic exhibit of jewels and objets d’art by Fabergé opened at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London—and thanks to a press preview, we’ve got a peek inside!
Journalists and photographers were invited to the V&A last Wednesday for a preview of the exhibition, which includes numerous Fabergé imperial eggs. These elaborate, bejeweled eggs, 46 of which survive, were ordered by the last two Russian tsars as Easter gifts for their wives. Eggs, and other art objects, were loaned by several prominent collectors, including the Queen, the McFerrins, and the Kremlin. The exhibit especially highlights the firm’s London branch, which was opened in 1903.
The press preview gave us a view of a selection of the imperial eggs on display. This is the Red Cross Triptych Egg, commissioned in 1915 by Emperor Nicholas II as a gift for his wife, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. Henrik Wigström made the egg, which features a set of miniature paintings inside depicting a traditional Orthodox representation of the Resurrection in the center, and portraits of Saints Olga and Tatiana on either side. The egg is made of silver, gold, and red and white enamel. It was loaned by the Cleveland Museum of Art for the exhibition. The American oil heiress India Early Minshall bequeathed the egg to the museum in 1965.
The Queen loaned the elaborate Colonnade Egg to the exhibition. It was commissioned by Nicholas II in 1910 as a gift for Alexandra, and it celebrates their son and heir, the Tsarevich Alexei, who was born in 1904. Also made by Henrik Wigström, the piece is a clock egg rather than an egg that opens to reveal a surprise; you’ll note the numbers that encircle the egg at the top of the piece. The entire piece is a representation of Nicholas and Alexandra’s marriage, with a pair of doves inside a temple of love. Four cherubs at the base of the temple represent the couple’s four daughters, while Alexei, their heir and crowning achievement, is represented by the cupid figure atop the egg. Queen Mary purchased the egg from Wartski in 1929.
The Colonnade Egg is displayed alongside another imperial egg, the Alexander Palace Egg, in the exhibition. (It’s the green egg shown out of focus in the image above; here’s a clearer view.) That egg, made by Henrik Wigström in 1908, was another gift from Nicholas II to Alexandra. The egg is made of nephrite, diamonds, rubies, and gold, and it features miniature portraits of the couple’s five children. It takes its name from its surprise: a tiny model of the Alexander Palace, a favorite residence of the imperial family. This is a rare example of an imperial egg that was not sold after the revolution. It’s still owned by the Kremlin Museums today, and they’re the ones who loaned it to the V&A for the exhibition.
It probably won’t come as a surprise that the Moscow Kremlin Egg (on the left above) is another imperial egg that was not sold and is still part of the Kremlin Museums collection today. The egg is inspired by the architecture of the Kremlin complex, including the Uspenski Cathedral. Nicholas commissioned it as a gift for Alexandra for Easter 1906, as a memento of their visit to Moscow in 1903. Why the three-year delay? It was supposed to be presented to the empress in 1904, but several events (the war with Japan in 1904-05, and then the assassination of Grand Duke Sergei in Moscow in 1905) meant that the egg was shelved for several years.
On the right in the image above is the lovely Swan Egg, Nicholas II’s 1906 Easter gift for his mother, Empress Marie Feodorovna. The egg was designed to mark the 40th anniversary of her marriage to her late husband, Tsar Alexander III. The egg’s design is relatively simple: mauve enamel crisscrossed by a latticework of diamond ribbons. But the piece takes its name from the complicated surprise inside, a gold and silver swan automaton that swims on an aquamarine lake. In the years after the revolution, the Swan Egg was acquired at one point by King Farouk of Egypt, but now it belongs to the Edouard and Maurice Sandoz Foundation in Switzerland, which has loaned it for this exhibition.
The Basket of Flowers Egg was Nicholas II’s Easter gift to Alexandra in 1901. Its provenance was debated for many years, but in the 1990s, experts confirmed that the piece was indeed an imperial egg. The object is designed as an egg-shaped basket filled with flowers. Diamonds, emeralds, and pearls are all used in the piece, which was purchased by Queen Mary from Wartski. The Queen inherited the egg in 1953, and she has loaned it to the V&A for the exhibition.
The final egg shown in the press preview photographs is the Romanov Tercentenary Egg, made in 1913 by Henrik Wigström and given by Nicholas II to Alexandra. As the name suggests, the egg is a celebration of three hundred years of Romanov rule in Russia. Eighteen miniature portraits of Romanov emperors, from Michael to Nicholas II, decorate the egg’s surface. Like the Moscow Kremlin Egg and the Alexander Palace Egg, this egg was never sold and is still part of the Kremlin Museums collection today.
Thrillingly, there’s also another very interesting jewel on display as part of the exhibition. Loaned by the McFerrins, the diamond and aquamarine tiara made by Fabergé for Grand Duchess Alexandra of Mecklenburg-Schwerin is also included in the show. (You can learn more about its history in our previous article on the tiara here!)
The full exhibition, “Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution,” runs from now until May 2022 at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Visitors will be able to see the eggs discussed here, as well as several others (including the Third Imperial Egg and the Peacock Egg) and many other pieces made by the firm’s workshops. For more on the exhibition, head over to the museum website!