Hidden Histories: Fabergé Objects of Rothschild Provenance

… 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 …

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Golden Years of Fabergé:
Drawings and Objects from the Wigström Workshop

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 Golden Years of Fabergé: Drawings and Objects from the Wigström Workshop, by Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm, Peter Schaffer, Alice Ilich, and Mark Schaffer, A La Vieille Russie and Alain de Gourcuff Editeur, Paris, 2000.

Please contact A La Vieille Russie to order a copy.

Collecting Animals – Fabergé

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Faberge Golden Quartz Lion

On your expedition to our menagerie, you will find an assortment of Fabergé animals. These hardstone carvings do more than mimic nature, but capture the personalities of individual animals.

Fabergé 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 family’s Sandringham estate. Wax models were made from life, amounting to more than a hundred different figures. Fabergé received many commissions for portraits of adored domestic pets, his clientele appreciating such commitment to accuracy.

Fabergé’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 animal’s characteristics and sculptor-stonecarvers carefully noted poses and often exaggerated certain features. A reputation for this sort of attention to detail significantly distinguished Fabergé from his competitors.

Fabergé’s animal creations were quite representative of the animal kingdom, comprising domestic and farm animals, wild creatures, and insects and reptiles. You’ll find a selection here, in Animals As Art: Wearable and Collectible.

ALVR Blog: A Toast to Russian Art

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Once simply traditional Russian drinking vessles, the kovsh and charka assumed an increasingly ceremonial status over the centuries, evolving into works of art. Check out our video or continue reading below:

The kovsh form has existed in Russia for centuries, originating as a type of drinking vessel in the shape of a duck. They were made of wood, and some were also made out of tightly woven cloth. In the 16th century, they evolved into presentation objects and began to be fashioned in silver. By the 17th century, kovshi (plural for kovsh) designs became more elaborate, rendered in both gold and silver.

Two examples of kovshi in our collection were made by the Russian Court Jeweler Carl Faberge (1846-1920). While famous for his Imperial Easter Eggs, he designed a wide range of decorative objects, often transforming traditional Slavic forms into his own beautiful precious jeweled vernacular. This yellow kovsh features rich guilloché enamel, a technique typical of Fabergé’s work, and for which he was renowned, and in this special case over 18k gold. The 5-ruble coin of Empress Elizabeth (r. 1741-1762) set in the base is a modification of an old Slavic tradition of insetting metal objects with coins. Traditional in form with a European touch, it’s an exquisite example of Eastern and Western aesthetics converging into a beautiful design. It was made in St. Petersburg, Russia’s window to the West, where art and architecture followed a European model. Moreover, we’re particularly fortunate to have Fabergé’s watercolor sketch. 

Our other Fabergé kovsh, of particularly impressive stature, was by contrast made in Moscow, and its polychrome enameled design reflects those origins, a hallmark of the eastern, Muscovite style. This circa 1910 example is Fabergé’s take on Slavic Revival, a stylistic movement that emerged in the nineteenth century when Russian artists turned to the medieval past for design inspiration. Also referred to as Pan Slavic, this style was a specialty of Fabergé’s Moscow branch.  Featuring contrasting fluid, bold art nouveau forms on the handle and upper portion of the cup, with purely geometric designs in a pastel palette on the base, this kovsh is also distinguished by the inscription on the handle, translating to “To the good memory of Russian friends,” for its 1914 presentation. 

side view, Antique Russian Gold, Red Lacquer, and Emerald CharkaThe charka, or charki (plural), is a small cup used for drinking strong drinks, predominantly vodka. They were traditionally made of silver, and their designs varied widely.  Like kovshi, in time they evolved into decorative objects, some inscribed as presentation gifts, others with drinking maxims. This example is by Alexander Treiden, head workmaster for the Russian court jeweler Carl Hahn (1836–1899), Fabergé’s highly regarded contemporary. Simply designed in red enamel and gold, the handle is set with an emerald.

No longer simply drinking vessels, over time the kovsh and charka became objects as worthy of display as any other work of art. And to that, we raise a toast!

Fabergé Scottish Cumnock Pottery Motto Ware Teapot and Sugar Bowl

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Fabergé silver-mounted Cumnock Pottery Motto Ware teapot and sugar bowl. The teapot features the Scottish motto “Tak a dish o’ Tea it’s unco refreshin,” which means, “Take a dash of tea it’s uncommonly refreshing.”  The sugar bowl features the motto, “Be canny wi’ the sugar,” which means, “Be careful with the sugar.”

This set speaks beautifully to Fabergé’s interest in mounting compelling porcelain and glass objects from other sources. This included decorative objects made locally in Russia, and abroad, such as this Cumnock Pottery, as well as Royal Doulton Burslem, Tiffany, and Gallé.

Established in Ayrshire, Scottland in 1792, Cumnock Pottery is most famous for its Motto Ware, which the company began producing around 1830. These pieces were inscribed with a favorite Scottish quote and usually requested for special occasions like weddings and christenings.

The pottery, Scottish, late 19th century.
The silver mounts, Fabergé, Moscow, ca. 1895.
Teapot height: 5 in.
Sugar bowl height: 5-1/2 in.

teapot only view of set of Fabergé Scottish Cumnock Pottery Motto Ware Teapot and Sugar Bowlview of sugar bowl only of set of Fabergé Scottish Cumnock Pottery Motto Ware Teapot and Sugar Bowl

Fabergé Silver-mounted Kuznetsov Vase

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Kuznetsov pottery vase set in a silver mount by Fabergé, workmaster A. Nevaleinen.
St. Petersburg, Russia, ca. 1900.
Height: 3 ½ in.

This vase speaks beautifully to Fabergé’s interest in mounting compelling porcelain and glass objects from other sources. This included decorative objects made locally in Russia, like Kuznetsov, and abroad, such as Royal Doulton Burslem, Tiffany, and Gallé.

Kuznetsov founded his Moscow ceramics factory in 1810. The firm received the title “Purveyor to the Imperial Court” in 1902 and by the end of the Romanov era, had become the largest of its kind in Russia.

Faberge Egg-form Hanging Bell Push

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Two-color gold and translucent enamel egg-form hanging bell push. In original fitted hollywood box.

By Fabergé, workmaster H. Wigström.
St. Petersburg, Russia, ca. 1915.
Length: 1 7/8 in.

Illustrated in Tillander-Godenhielm, Schaffer, Ilich, and Schaffer, Golden Years of Fabergé: Drawings and Objects from the Wigström Workshop.

view with black background, Faberge Egg-form Hanging Bell PushWigstrom drawing of Faberge Egg-form Hanging Bell Push

ALVR Blog:
Russian Teatime Traditions

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Russian Tea Drinkers from chatterbox magazine
From “Russian Tea-houses and Tea-drinkers” in Chatterbox, 1867

How greatly tea is used in England by every class of society, we all know… But greatly as tea is used in England, it is still in Russia more common. From the palaces of the great and wealthy nobles, down to the wretched hovels of the poor peasants, tea is the universal beverage. – James F. Cobb

James F. Cobb noted the significance of tea in Russian culture in his 1867 article “Russian Tea-houses and Tea-drinkers” for the English publication Chatterbox.  While Mr. Cobb noted that British tea culture has its own interesting history and customs, Russian culture is steeped in its own rich tea traditions.

Pictured right: Gilded silver teapot with the Imperial Eagle. St. Petersburg, ca. 1785Gilded Silver Imperial Teapot with Russian Imperial Eagle

Russian tea’s status as a national beverage was slow to brew. When it was first introduced in the seventeenth century, Russians were skeptical. This early tea was very different from the tea drunk today. The tea was in a brick form, which was smashed and mixed with grain and butter, and then consumed as both a meal and beverage.

In the eighteenth century, during the reign of Catherine the Great (1762-1796), tea consumption increased slightly, but it remained expensive and rare, confining its consumption to the Russian aristocracy who used it primarily for medicinal purposes.

Russian Cloisonné Enamel Teapot and Silver Napkin Ring with Imperial MonogramIt was not until late in the nineteenth century that tea became a national beverage consumed by all classes. By this time, the cost of tea had decreased by half, and thus more widely accessible. Also by this time, Russian tea, and its customs and material culture, became associated with national identity thanks to the work of the country’s most revered writers. Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Checkov wrote about tea as a part of everyday life, celebrating the samovar in particular as a symbol of Russianness.

Pictured left: Gilded silver and cloisonné enamel teapot. Moscow, ca. 1900

Some scholars speculate that the samovar is actually an English invention, as both the English and Dutch made the earliest vessels for brewing tea and coffee in the late seventeenth century. The first samovar likely came to Russia in the early eighteenth century, taken by Peter the Great as one of many aspects of western culture he hoped to emulate to modernize Russia. The technology of the samovar better suited a Russian home, which was heated with a large stove, instead of an open fireplace to easily boil water. It is not the samovar itself that makes Russian tea. Rather, the samovar dispenses boiled water for diluting the concentrated tea, which is brewed in a small teapot, or zavarka, as shown in the introductory illustration.

main view, Antique Russian Lacquer Tray

Pictured above: antique Russian lacquer tray depicting peasants drinking tea. By the Lukutin Factory, Moscow, 1888-1894.

By the turn-of-the-century, the invented tradition of Russian tea was an integral part of Russian identity. For Russians, the day began and ended with tea. In the morning it was enjoyed with sweet buns, plain rolls, or bread with butter and maybe a little cheese. A few hours after dinner was vecherny tchai, or evening tea consumed with various cold cuts, cheeses, small cakes and candied fruits.

Tea was enjoyed inside and out of the home. In the nineteenth century men congregated in teahouses according to their class – ones for wealthy merchants and others for their carriage drivers. The gendering of Russian tea culture was delineated by these establishments and also by objects. Men drank their tea from a glass set in an elaborately ornamented metal holder, like the one picture below, while women drank their tea from a cup.

Antique Russian Enamel Tea Glass Holder

Pictured: Gilded silver and cloisonné enamel tea glass holder. By the 11th Artel, Moscow, ca. 1910.

Regardless of how much Russian tea customs are the product of nineteenth-century nationalism, beautiful works of art, like the tea glass holder and teapots illustrated in this post, attest to the significance of tea in Russian culture, past and present…even if that past is not so long ago.

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References:

Cobb, James F.  “Russian Tea-houses and Tea-drinkers.” Chatterbox. London, 1867.

Hardie, Anne-Marie. “Exploring the Origins of Russian Tea Culture.” The Daily Tea. August 6, 2015. Accessed August 12, 2015.

Jones, Catherine Cheremeteff. A Year of Russian Feasts. Bethesda, Md: Jellyroll Press, 2002.

Papashivily, Helen and George. The Cooking of Russia. New York: Time-Life Books, 1972.

Yoder, Audra Jo. “Myth and Memory in Russian Tea Culture.” Studies in Slavic Cultures. August 8, 2009.

Antiques and the Arts Weekly Speaks with ALVR’s Mark Schaffer

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Laura Beach of Antiques and the Arts Weekly (the “Bee”) learns more about Mark Schaffer and his gallery, A La Vieille Russie.  “Mark Schaffer, PhD, is a principal at A La Vieille Russie (ALVR), leading specialists in fine European and American antique jewelry, Fabergé, gold snuffboxes, objets de vertu and Russian decorative and fine arts. The company recently moved to sleek new quarters at 745 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The sun-splashed gallery is the fifth New York venue for this firm founded in Kiev in 1851. We caught up with the peripatetic dealer…”   Click here for the full article.

Hidden Histories: Fabergé Silversmith Julius Rappoport

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This next installment of “Hidden Histories” examines the celebrated Fabergé silversmith Julius Rappoport (1851-1917).

He was born Born Isaac Ambramovich Rappoport in the Datnovskii Jewish community in Kovno, Lithuania. In 1880 he began apprenticing in Berlin under the silversmith Scheff, and by 1884 he became a master and returned to St. Petersburg where he became Fabergé’s head silversmith. His workshop contributed to a range of objects, from animal sculptures to large dinner services. In the early 1890s he converted to Lutheranism and changed his name to Julius. Following his retirement in the early 1900s he left the workshop and its equipment to his workmen which became the First St. Petersburg Silver Artel.

Beyond these few facts we know little, but Rappoport’s material legacy compensates for his biographical obscurity. In fact, Rappoport’s silver is so revered that connoisseurs of Fabergé’s oeuvre often comment that his silver production was among the finest pieces produced by the Fabergé workshop. Below are just a few examples:

Fabergé Silver Candelabra

Pair of Rococo bowenite and silver two-light candelabra.

Rappoport silver animals

Three silver monkey table lighters: Seated monkey, crouching gorilla, and seated baboon.

Fabergé Silver Elephant Stamp Moistener

Silver stamp moistener in the form of an elephant standing on its head and forelegs, the tail serving as the moistener.

Rappoport elephant

Silver-mounted sandstone elephant-form match holder, with garnet eyes.

Rappoport silver and bowenite lamp

Silver and bowenite table lamp.

World War I Era Fabergé

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Faberge copper pot

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 Fabergé, 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 “K. Fabergé/war/1914” stamped in Cyrillic on its underside. Simple and utilitarian, lacking ostentation and splendor, it is an object unexpected from the jeweler’s workshops.

Fabergé 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 ‘gilded’ to resemble copper and brass.

Nonetheless, Fabergé contributed much to supporting the war effort. Early in the war Fabergé 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.

Fabergé 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.

Fabergé 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 Fabergé 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.

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Trompe l’oeil Silver

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tromp l'oeil

Trompe l’oeil, meaning ‘fool the eye,’ is a term traditionally applied to paintings exhibiting such photographic detail as to make the viewer believe they are actually seeing the object(s) depicted. When used to describe these late nineteenth-century works of Russian silver, the term refers to the way these pieces simulate birch bark wood. Objects decorated to look like wood were quite popular in Russia in the second half of the nineteenth-century, as craftsmen sought to mimic the “bast” shoes made of woven birch bark worn by the peasants.

Romanticizing the peasantry is a frequently occurring theme in the arts, particularly the nineteenth-century. This especially rang true in Russia following Alexander II’s emancipation of the serfs in 1861. Suddenly there was tremendous interest in the music, arts and crafts, and daily life of the serfs.

A yearning for a Russian art unmarred by Western influence contributed to what became the Russian Revival in the 1870s and 1880s. In addition to studies of serf life, there was also an interest in exploring earlier Russian artistic traditions, providing craftsmen a rich body of sources for creating beautiful, distinctly Russian works of art.

Trompe l’oeil  was an international trend, being also in fashion in America during this period and produced by notable firms like Gorham and Tiffany. However, this 1871 birch box and 1882 milk jug, coupled with a number of other exceptional pieces, leave no one fooled as to the mastery of this genre.