Fabergé Large Silver and Blue-Purple Enamel Frame

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Large silver and blue-purple guilloché enamel rectangular frame.

By Fabergé, workmaster H. Armfelt

St. Petersburg, ca. 1900

10 x 8 inches

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Tags: enamel Faberge frame picture frame Russian Antique

Fabergé Silver-mounted Holly and Amboyna Wood Frame

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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

Fabergé Tenth Anniversary Frame

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main view, Fabergé Tenth Anniversary Frame

A gift in 1901 from Grand Duke Michael Michailovitch to his wife Countess Sophie von Merenberg, a granddaughter of Pushkin, on the 10th anniversary of their marriage. Grand Duke Michael was a grandson of Nicholas I and a nephew of Alexander II.

The gilded silver and guilloché enamel frame features a Roman numeral ‘X’ with a wreath at its center, surrounded by four heart-shaped frames enclosing photographs of Grand Duke Michael (1860-1929) at the top, daughters Anastasia (b. 1892) at the left and Nadezhda (b. 1896) on the right, and son Michael (b. 1898) at the base, with their birth dates and framed scenes of their houses.

Provenance: Although the majority of Grand Duke Michael’s collection of Fabergé was at Luton Hoo, this frame descended in his family, as follows: Countess Sophie Nicholaievna von Merenberg, created Countess Torby; her daughter, Nadezhda (Nada), who married George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven; their son, David, 3rd Marques of Milford Haven; and his son, Lord Ivar Mountbatten.

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A Wood Relief of the Moscow Kremlin

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Wood Relief of the Moscow Kremlin

The Moscow Kremlin is a historic, fortified complex at the heart of Moscow and is the best known of the Russian Kremlins or fortresses. The word kremlin comes from the word krepest, meaning fortress. The existing Kremlin walls and towers were built in the late 15th century, and for centuries, the Moscow Kremlin has been a favorite subject of Russian artists because it was the seat of power for the Tsars and the dictators that followed.

This panoramic view, rendered in rust, deep greens, beige, and burnished gold, is glimpsed over the sea-green Moskva River. This folkloric carving features gold, onion-domed churches as well as the Ivan the GreatBellTower. The Tower marks the exact center of Moscow and is said to resemble a burning candle. Completed in 1600, it stands 81 meters high, and until the Russian Revolution, was the tallest structure in the city. Its 21 bells would sound the alarm if an enemy was approaching.

Also of note is the Spasskaya Tower, the main tower with its telltale clock, known as the Kremlin clock, which has been in place since at least the late 16th century.  The Tower’s stylized double-headed eagle finial places this carving in the Tsarist era of the late 19th or early 20th century.

The carving is in its original frame and Cyrillic picture plaque identifying the scene as the Moscow Kremlin. In the nineteenth century, romantic nationalism swept across many European countries. Given this trend, it is only fitting that a work of Russian Folk Art would choose an iconic Russian landmark as its subject.

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Hidden Histories: The Man Behind the Curtain – Theater Designer Léon Bakst

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Curtain design for the ballet Istar Leon Bakst
Design for a theatre curtain for the ballet Istar circa. 1924
Watercolor on paper heightened with gold
13-1/4 x 26-1/4 in.
Signed, lower right: Bakst

It seems fitting to conclude this Hidden Histories series with a curtain call. Pictured above is a curtain design for the Ballets Russes by Léon Bakst (1866-1924).

Leon Bakst self portrait 1893

Self portrait, oil on cardboard 1893, The State Russian Museum, Wikimedia Commons

The world-renowned artist and theater designer was born Lev Samoilovich Rozenberg in Grodno, Russia (now Hrodna, Belarus) into a lower middle-class Jewish family. His talent emerged early and at age twelve he won a prize in an art contest, which alarmed his parents. Not wishing to fan the artistic flame, they contacted the famous Russian sculptor Mark Antokolsky, hoping he would discourage Bakst’s artistic pursuits. He did nothing of the sort. Instead, convinced of Bakst’s potential, he praised the young artist.

Perhaps Antokolsky saw himself in the young boy, for, in many ways, the two artists had parallel lives. As emerging Jewish artists, they faced similar hurdles on their paths to artistic greatness. Both were part of a Jewish Renaissance in Russia, when Jews began increasingly embracing secular culture and assimilating into modern life. It has been said that Jewish artists in Russia had two options – to either hide or embrace their heritage. As discussed in a previous blog post, Antokolsky managed to straddle both worlds. Bakst, however, as some would argue, appears indifferent to his Jewish roots.

Russian art scholar John Milner said of Bakst’s Jewish identity:

“His Jewishness gave him a skepticism. He didn’t use any Byzantium or Christian themes and nor was he interested in icon painting, which had recently been rediscovered in Russia, because it was Christian oriented. He had a sense of separateness as he did not totally identify with Russian culture.”

Bakst 1916

Bakst in 1916, Wikimedia Commons

Christian art and Bakst’s sense of separateness collided during his enrollment at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. In 1886, his third year of study, he submitted a Pieta for a competition and scandalously contemporized the subjects by depicting Mary and the disciples as impoverished Jews. He was consequently dismissed from the Academy.

Later, at the time of his exhibition in 1889, he changed his name to a variation of Baxter, his maternal grandmother’s name. It has been suggested that Bakst changed his name to sound less Jewish, making it easier to assimilate and rise socially.

Bakst clearly had a conflicted Jewish identity. Upon marrying a Lutheran woman in 1903, he converted. After his divorce in 1910 he returned to Judaism. This renewal of faith later prompted the addition of a Star of David into his personal letterhead, a change he made in the 1920s.

Regardless of his feelings towards his heritage, Bakst successfully made a name for himself through his art. Famed and lauded for his designs for the internationally renowned Ballets Russes, Bakst revolutionized theater design, elevating it to its own art form. Traditionally, theater design color palettes consisted of pale, pastel hues, but Bakst was not one for tradition.

Curtain design detail Leon Bakst

Detail of curtain design

Bakst received great praise for his use of color in costume design by selecting dizzying hues matching the movement of the dancers. This sense of movement is clearly prevalent throughout his theatrical portfolio, exemplified in this curtain design for the 1924 ballet Istar. Theatrical curtains are the audience’s first introduction to a production, and this example must have created quite a bit of excitement and anticipation for the performance.

The shades of green, blue, and pink may seem like a strange combination, yet together they form a vibrant backdrop. The curtain design captures the vibrancy and movement of the stage, with swirls of color and folds of fabric ready to billow and sway out of the frame. The design is imbued with an Orientalist flavor. European artists took inspiration from the East for centuries, a trend that reached a new height in the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. For a Russian artist like Bakst, native to a country which was long conflicted regarding its identity placed between the East and West, Orientalism must have been particularly appealing. Bakst described Orientalism as “the Persian and Russian manner mingled.” The delicate, naturalistic drawings of pomegranates, flowers and white peacocks heightened with gold are drawn in a simplified manner commonly associated with woodblock printing. These motifs are contrasted against a rich cobalt blue ground. The artist’s signature device of rhythmic movement is evidenced in the parting of the curtains on either side to reveal two different exotic patterns at the base, and in the veils, also heightened with gold, billowing from behind the curtain. The majestic birds may have been inspired by the white peacocks which roamed the garden of the Marchesa Casati, known for favoring a parasol of peacock feathers, whom Bakst met on an early visit to Venice with Diaghilev and Nijinsky.

Bakst treated his set and costume drawings like works of art to be placed on a wall. Here at A La Vieille Russie we present such an artwork housed in the plain, wooden frame original to the workshop.  The backing board is stamped with C. [?]asamatt/Depositeur Excluse des oeuvres de Leon BAKST/112 Bd Malesherbes, which may have been stamped when the contents of the artist’s studio were sold. The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has a black and white preparatory drawing for the Istar theater curtain in their permanent collection.

Bakst collaborated with the famous Russian ballerina and patron, Ida Rubinstein, to bring Istar to the Paris Opera, where it had its premier on July 10, 1924. It was among his greatest works and his last to reach the stage. By the time that final curtain fell, Bakst accomplished international renown as an innovative theater designer and artist of great talent.

References:

Abrams, Melanie. “The Designer of a Century.” The Jewish Chronicle Online. September 21, 2010.

Bowlt, John E. “Leon Bakst.” The YIVO Encyclopedia for Jews in Eastern Europe.  (accessed April 11, 2016).

Goodman, Susan Tumarkin, ed. Russian Jewish Artists in a Century of Change 1890-1990. Prestel-Verlag/Jewish Museum, 1995.

Kuiper, Kathleen. “Leon Bakst.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. (accessed April 11, 2016)

Wecker, Menachem. “The Jewish Designer Who Taught Marc Chagall.” The Jewish Daily Forward. June 18, 2013.

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.

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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.

A Ruby Is To A Sapphire as an Emerald is to an Aquamarine

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 Gemstones come in traditional colors. However, these “traditional” colors are usually not the only colors that exist for these gems. Often some of the most interesting colors are used in antique jewelry.

A corundum by any other name is still a corundum when red, it is called RUBY. When it is blue, it is called SAPPHIRE. Sapphires need not, however, be blue – any color of the rainbow will do except red. Corundum also can have a natural ‘star’ in it depending on the angles of the silk-like inclusions. Shown here are many of the varieties of corundum. The ruby contains chromium and aluminum while blue sapphires contain titanium and iron. Iron and aluminum will give the sapphire yellow, and purple sapphires have chromium, titanium and aluminum

A garnet – in any other color – is still a garnet – when it is red, it is understood. However, in the nineteenth century (during the reign of Alexander III of Russia 1881-1894) the green variety was discovered and was called ‘demantoid’ (demon-like) because they thought that the devil had changed the color. (The most popular myth for the origin of the name is ‘diamond like’, something quite far from actuality.) This green is due to calcium and iron. Today there are other green varieties as well as other reddish varieties such as the ‘hessonite’ shown here (upper left). The hessonite garnet contains calcium, the pyrope contains manganese and the almandite contains iron.Gems 2

A diamond is a diamond is a diamond – and is probably one of the most commonly used gems in jewelry manufacturing through the ages. However, as can be seen from the pieces shown here, the color can be dramatically different. You can have bright yellows to black to green, blue and even pink and red. The colors of diamonds are seemingly endless. When nitrogen is present, you get a yellow diamond; and when you have boron, you get a blue diamond.

Pearls – coral – turquoise – topoz – spinel – shown in the picture. There are numerous other materials which man has used throughout time; these include turquoise used in both the snake necklace (English circa 1845) and the diamond cluster ring (English 1880). Turquoise was popular not only in Europe (usually Persian in origin) but also in the United States with the ever increasing interest in Native American and Hispanic cultures – especially in the Southwest.

Gem 3The seas have also provided us with materials which have been widely used, and still are to this day. These include, among others, coral, which is the skeletal remains of a sea animal colony built up from calcite with a color that can vary from light to dark orange to red. The example shown here is a coral and diamond brooch carved as a rose (English circa 1885). Another example is the scarab brooch, which comes from Russia at the end of the 19th century. The pearl also comes in a variety of colors and shapes. This is shown by the two necklaces of golden pearls pictured bottom right. The different colors of pearls are caused by impurities that can exist in the water. The shape of the pearl itself is also not always uniform, and sometimes a piece of jewelry is created around this baroque shape. An example of this is the snail brooch (English circa 1950). The other type of pearl shown in this picture is the ‘pink pearl’ or ‘conch pearl’. These pearls come from the conch shell mollusk around the Florida Keys, producing pearls like the ones used in the marquise shaped diamond cluster ring (English circa 1890).

Gem 4The spinel was for many years confused with the ruby and known as ‘spinel rubies’. The reason is that they are found with the corundum gems in the gravel beds of Burma and Ceylon. Spinel also comes in a variety of colors including orange, yellow and blue, however, the most prized color being a transparent red. (Square-cut spinel and diamond ring)

Topaz, or precious topaz as it is sometimes known, is the color of sherry wine and was widely used during the Victorian period and earlier. It also comes, rarely, in a rich red color (diamond cluster ring).

Beryl: aquamarine and emerald are two varieties of this stone. Both are beryl, as is a wonderful pink variety called ‘Morganite’.

Therefore, a ruby is to a sapphire as an emerald is to an aquamarine!