Pink guilloché and white enamel gold-mounted desk seal, set with seed pearls and a crown rose diamond, with carnelian sealstone.
By Fabergé, workmaster H. Wigström. St. Petersburg, ca. 1900
Length: 2 1/2 inches
Thus far in our Hidden Histories series, we have examined Jewish subjects by non-Jews in Russian art, and Jewish subjects in Russian art by one of their own Mark Antokolsky. This next installment examines patronage of Fabergé by an internationally prominent Jewish family, the Rothschilds.
Renowned for their wealth and prestige, the Rothschild family had humble beginnings. The dynasty’s founder, Mayer Amshel (1744-1812), reached beyond the confines of the Frankfurt Jewish ghetto by establishing a coin business catering to wealthy collectors from the surrounding principalities. He later opened a money exchange, which became the first Rothschild bank. Mayer Amshel’s five sons would later disperse across Europe, establishing an international banking family.
The family had an extensive interest in the arts, and its members were among the greatest collectors of the nineteenth century, furnishing their homes with a range of historically important art and antiques. These collections encompassed seventeenth and eighteenth century paintings and eighteenth century French decorative art. The homes housing these collections, consisting of large estates in a range of styles throughout Europe, left quite an architectural legacy. One such famous estate is Waddesdon Manor, now owned by The National Trust of the UK, where some of the Rothschild collections remain on view.
The Rothchilds also had an eye for Fabergé and, next to the British Royal family, were among the Fabergé London shop’s most important clients. All members of the famous dynasty patronized the firm, and purchased the majority of their pieces in London. The Rothschild family developed a close relationship with Henry Bainbridge, the manager of the London shop, resulting in custom Fabergé pieces in accordance with their tastes and familial emblems. Bainbridge intended them to be gifts exchanged within the family, but the Rothschilds presented the majority of such items as gifts to others.
One manner of customization was enameling pieces in blue and yellow, the Rothschild racing colors. One such object is a gold and diamond-set match case, illustrated below with its Wigström Workshop drawing, and now on view among the other treasures A La Vieille Russie is exhibiting at London’s prestigious Masterpiece fair.
Not all Rothschild-owned Fabergé pieces bear their iconography. The family’s taste was not limited to customized objects, as evidenced by such works as a gold and enamel rhodonite box (detail pictured below), a Louis XV style sedan chair, a bonbonnière, and a Rothschild portrait brooch.
From seventeenth century art to Fabergé, one can confidently declare, the Rothschilds had excellent taste!
Pair of Rococo bowenite and silver two-light candelabra.
By Fabergé, workmaster J. Rappoport, ca. 1900.
Height: 8 1/2 inches
World War I era copper and brass tea glass holder, feigning austerity.
By Fabergé, 1914-1915
Height: 3 inches
Lapis lazuli desk seal set with diamonds, the translucent enamel featuring musical devices, and with lapis lazuli sealstone.
By Fabergé, St. Petersburg, ca. 1900
Length: 2 3/4 inches
Provenance: Lansdell K. Christie, an American businessman and art collector
Exhibited: The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1961; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1965. A similar seal was acquired by King George V, and now in the Royal Collection.
At the time of the Great War, the sons of Russian nobility wrote to their mothers that they had food at the front, but had nothing to cook it in. In response, their mothers commissioned cookware by FabergÃ©, not knowing of any other sources.
For the centennial of World War I, we present one such object: a copper and brass soup pot lined in pewter, with the imperial warrant and â€œK. FabergÃ©/war/1914â€ stamped in Cyrillic on its underside. Simple and utilitarian, lacking ostentation and splendor, it is an object unexpected from the jewelerâ€™s workshops.
FabergÃ© adapted to the drop in orders and wartime austerity measures by making items out of less expensive metals like copper and gunmetal. However, some of these items merely feigned austerity and there are some silver objects â€˜gildedâ€™ to resemble copper and brass.
Nonetheless, FabergÃ© contributed much to supporting the war effort. Early in the war FabergÃ© offered his workshops for making munitions, but did not begin doing so until a year later when he finally received a response to his offer. His silver factory in Moscow produced hand grenades and casings for artillery shells and his Petrograd workshops made syringes and other smaller items.
FabergÃ© lost much of his workforce to conscription and pleaded with the authorities to allow twenty-three to remain who were particularly vital to the business, including the only master enameler remaining.
FabergÃ© wartime objects like this soup pot represent a turning point in history. The revolution and civil war that followed ensured there would not be a return to the opulence of preceding centuries. And so this soup pot, a FabergÃ© piece stripped of the gilding, enameling, and fine jewels long associated with that name, is made out of practicality rather than ornament, marking the end of an era.
On your expedition to our menagerie, you will find an assortment of FabergÃ© animals. These hardstone carvings do more than mimic nature, but capture the personalities of individual animals.
FabergÃ© applied this attention to detail to a number of hardstone animal portraits, most notably his famous commission from King Edward in 1907 to replicate all of the domestic and farmyard animals of the British royal familyâ€™s Sandringham estate. Wax models were made from life, amounting to more than a hundred different figures. FabergÃ© received many commissions for portraits of adored domestic pets, his clientele appreciating such commitment to accuracy.
FabergÃ©â€™s lapidary studio broke away from the dry realism of traditional hardstone carvings, remaining loyal to detail but imbuing his creatures with whimsical charm. First, a wax model was made. Then, stones were selected based one what best conformed to a particular animalâ€™s characteristics and sculptor-stonecarvers carefully noted poses and often exaggerated certain features. A reputation for this sort of attention to detail significantly distinguished FabergÃ© from his competitors.
FabergÃ©â€™s animal creations were quite representative of the animal kingdom, comprising domestic and farm animals, wild creatures, and insects and reptiles. Youâ€™ll find a selection here, in Animals As Art: Wearable and Collectible.
Silver-mounted holly and amboyna wood frame.
The use of two contrasting color woods set off by a gilded bow and garland creates a dramatic presentation.
By Fabergé, St. Petersburg, ca. 1900
10-1/4 x 8-1/2 inches