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.

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.

Teatime! Traditions Steeped in Nationalism

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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.

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.

For all our ALVR Blog posts, please click here.


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.

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.

For all our ALVR Blog posts, please click here.

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.

On the Hunt for Sporting Jewelry

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Antique Gold and Enamel Double Cufflinks

At the turn of the twentieth century, objects relating to fishing, golfing, riding, and hunting became popular jewelry design motifs. Sporting jewelry appealed to men and women alike. The dapper gentleman had a plethora of tiepins and cufflinks to choose from of this kind, likely admiring the riding and hunting references to English country life. The New Woman, too, adorned herself with sporting jewelry, emblems to the athletic lifestyle among her latest freedoms in breaking from the domestic realm, long thought her rightful place.

Reverse Crystal Fox Head Brooch

Fox-hunting was a particularly popular sport for the fashionable Englishman in this period, as only the fox remained of all the animals that could still be chased on horseback. The ability to hunt on horseback signified high status, as only the wealthy had such leisure time and could afford to care for horses and acquire the proper accoutrements.

Much sporting jewelry featured reverse crystal designs, a jewelry making technique involving long and laborious handiwork. First, the cabochon form is cut and ground by hand. A draft in watercolor is made on the reverse, followed by scratching, and then engraving, the image into the crystal, before painting. The three dimensional effect created by this technique really brings the pieces to life.

These charming pieces equally suit the sportsman of today, or the collector ever in search of history, who will appreciate these miniature pastoral scenes, the end of an era frozen in time.

Christopher Pinchbeck and the People’s ‘Gold’

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main view, Victorian Woven Pinchbeck NecklaceThis Victorian necklace is made of pinchbeck, a brass alloy imitating gold, a material with a curious and ingenious history!

The English clockmaker Christopher Pinchbeck (1670-1732) observed that brass containing between 12 and 15 percent zinc strongly resembles gold and so invented the alloy that bears his name in the 1720s. High gold hallmark standards of 18 and 22 carats at the time confined fine metalwork to the wealthy, but through his genius, Pinchbeck now brought ‘gold’ to the people, catering to those of modest means for whom precious metal objects were inaccessible.

But the alloy also appealed to the wealthy, using it to make copies of their valuables for traveling. Necessary travel accoutrements like buckles, watches, and sword-hilts made of pinchbeck could deter the attention of highway robbers. Pinchbeck also has superior wearing quality and retains its bright color, unlike other imitation gold metals. Also, because pinchbeck is lighter in weight than gold, larger pieces are easier to wear.

Christopher Pinchbeck was very guarded about the true contents of his alloy. The clockmaker had a fondness for spectacle, making musical clocks and automata among other objects. Thus, it is not surprising the true formula of his namesake metal remains a mystery. He passed it on to his son, and so true pinchbeck is said to have died with him, as others struggled to duplicate it accurately. However, as this necklace attests, later concoctions did succeed in replicating the pinchbeck of the previous century.

August 30 – Christopher Pinchbeck and the People’s ‘Gold’

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This snuffbox and necklace are made of pinchbeck, a brass alloy imitating gold. The snuffbox commemorates the 1745 Jacobite Rising, culminating in the victorious Battle of Culloden. The repoussé cover depicts a scene from the battle. The necklace, made circa 1880, features multi-colored hardstone and glass panels in pinchbeck rocaille frames. While a little over a century separates these pieces, they share a curious and ingenious history.

The English clockmaker Christopher Pinchbeck (1670-1732) observed that brass containing between 12 and 15 percent zinc strongly resembles gold and so invented the alloy that bears his name in the 1720s. High gold hallmark standards of 18 and 22 carats at the time confined fine metalwork to the wealthy, but through his genius, Pinchbeck now brought ‘gold’ to the people, catering to those of modest means for whom precious metal objects were inaccessible.

But the alloy also appealed to the wealthy, using it to make copies of their valuables for traveling. Necessary travel accoutrements like buckles, watches, and sword-hilts made of pinchbeck could deter the attention of highway robbers.

These pieces exhibit the many benefits of the material. First to note is their luster despite their age. Pinchbeck has superior wearing quality and retains its bright color, unlike other imitation gold metals. Also, because pinchbeck is lighter in weight than gold, larger pieces, like this necklace, are easier to wear.

Christopher Pinchbeck was very guarded about the true contents of his alloy. The clockmaker had a fondness for spectacle, making musical clocks and automata among other objects. Thus, it is not surprising the true formula of his namesake metal remains a mystery. He passed it on to his son, and so true pinchbeck is said to have died with him, as others struggled to duplicate it accurately. However, as this necklace attests, later concoctions did succeed in replicating the pinchbeck of the previous century.

A La Vieille Russie – in Forbes (advertising)

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A La Vieille Russie
Source: Forbes Magazine (Advertising)

AH LAH VEE-AYE ROOSEE

… an old firm in the modern world.
145 years young!

WE have seen a great deal since our founding as a family business in Kiev in 1851. And, from this vantage point, we have seen the earlier forms of the computer take shape. In the late 18th and early 19th century, small, elaborate, gold, jeweled objects were made in Switzerland which have had a profound influence on the world – of computers.

To become a ‘master’ in the watch-making guilds, you had to make a ‘master-piece’. (The origin of the word: masterpiece.) Some of these pieces include automated animals and figures as well as question-and-answer boxes where a question was inserted in one end and bells and music played, wands waved, cogs turned and another door popped open with the answer – all within a box hardly more than 2 inches wide and 4 inches long. You had jumping animals, singing birds, people doing whatever and sometimes you could even tell the time! These pieces were – and still are – referred to as ‘automata’ – and from automata comes automation and on and on…. Miniaturization was already there – way before the space shuttle brought us so much more in the way of miniaturization.

The quality, craftsmanship and innovation sought in the rapidly advancing world of the computer, the chip, and the I-net were sought as well in the world of art. That is what makes a great piece of art worthy of being collected – and worn – still today. ‘Icon’ and ‘mosaic’ – to name just two are words that come from the world of art.

Quality – authenticity – beauty – variety – value – style – and service are important elements to our business and have helped us form many collections for the seasoned collector as well as the beginner. One is just as important as the other – just as important as expert advice in the growing technology age is.

A great many of our clients use us as a resource for gifts for all occasions: births, graduation, wedding, anniversary, and, of course, birthdays and special holidays. It is not always easy to find pieces in all price ranges – and still maintain our quality level – but we try. We are very pleased that “something from Vieille Russie” is still prized. Prized, not purely for its prestige – but because of the authenticity of the pieces!

Technology has, however, brought the art world one big problem – fakes are much more sophisticated than before. Authenticity, fakes, knock-offs, look-alikes are problems in other areas too, but you can imagine that there are a lot of ‘antiques’ being made today because of the high price of art and because there are a lot of people who ‘want it to be o.k.’. Forgers are trying to ‘stay ahead of the curve’ – even to the point of using lasers to copy marks – but you must look at the whole piece. The quality must be there before the name goes on.

We offer 146 years of expertise!

We invite you to visit our shop – at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street. That is really the best way you can see the wide variety of what we have to offer. Or, you can write us for a new small catalogue we have just completed which will give you an overview.

We look forward to your visit – and the next 146 years.

A LA VIEILLE RUSSIE
(AH LAH VEE-AYE ROO-SEE)
Reprint from Forbes Magazine