Faberge Eggs – Imperial Eggs Collection
Faberge’s fame rests on his achievement in creating the series of Faberge eggs collection – the result of an act of patronage on the grand scale by the Imperial family of Russia. The commission of Faberge as imperial warrant, supplier to the imperial court gave him the freedom to ignore questions of cost and time and to concentrate on the challenge of creating something new and spectacular each year, a challenge he met with outstanding success.
The origin of Faberge’s greatest success and fame can be traced to the Easter eggs he supplied to the Tsar each Easter as gifts for the Empress. This custom ביצת יוני originated in 1885 when the first egg was commissioned from Faberge by Tsar Alexander III for Empress Marie Feodorovna. He was so pleased by the result that henceforth Faberge was given orders for a similar egg each Easter. After the death of Alexander III in 1894, his son Nicholas II continued the custom. He now ordered two eggs each Easter, one for his mother the Empress and the other for the new Tsarina, his wife Alexandra Feodorovna. As symbols of creation and of new life, eggs have been exchanged at Easter, the central feast of both the Eastern and Western Christian churches, for hundreds of years. Throughout Europe natural eggs were colored and given as gifts. During the eighteenth century, the practice of creating eggs out of glass, porcelain, wood, papier-mache, and precious metals and jewels was begun.
Faberge Imperial Eggs
Faberge would naturally have been acquainted with such eggs. According to tradition, the first Faberge Imperial egg, the Hen Egg, was ordered to remind the Empress Marie of home. She was born a Danish princess, daughter of Christian IX, and a very similar eighteenth-century hen egg was in the collection of the Danish royal family. Over the years Faberge eggs became more elaborate as Faberge’s imagination (and resources) soared. Each egg contained a surprise. Between 1900 and 1911, six automaton eggs were produced (though not all were imperial commissions), the first being the imperial egg of the year 1900, the so-called Cuckoo Egg. In this egg the surprise is a singing bird which rises at the press of a button from the top of an egg-shaped gold, enameled, and jeweled table clock. Other surprises contained within these eggs ranged from miniatures of the imperial family (the Red Cross Egg with Portraits) to a model train in precious metals (the Trans-Siberian Railway Egg).
It would seem that a total of fifty-four such Faberge imperial eggs were produced by Faberge of the king of Sweden and Norway. At the Paris Exposition International Universally of 1900, Faberge exhibited his concourse (outside the competition) since he was a member of the jury. All the imperial eggs which Faberge had hitherto made, as well as many other objects d’art, were shown in Paris at this time. As a result he was elected into the Legion d’honneur and was made a master of the Paris Goldsmith’s Guild. In 1903, Faberge opened a shop in London. This was done in the interest of better serving his English clientele, mainly the royal family and Edwardian high society. At first, an office was opened by Arthur Bowe from Moscow in Berners Hotel, then in 1906 a shop was opened which was managed by Nicholas Faberge , Faberge’s son, and Henry C. Bainbridge. In 1911, after some intermediate moves, premises were established at 173 New Bond Street, where business was apparently continued right up until the Revolution of 1917.
Leopold de Rothschild was a major customer of Faberge’s in London. As a coronation gift to George V and Queen Mary, he ordered from Faberge a gold-mounted rock crystal vase engraved with the royal coat of arms. Henry Bainbridge has recounted how the gardener from the Rothschild house arrived on the morning of the coronation to collect the vase and fill it with flowers for delivery to Buckingham Palace. Leopold de Rothschild also bought quantities of objects from Faberge to give as gifts, including various pieces enameled in his racing colors of deep blue and yellow. Bainbridge reports that “except in rare cases I never remember the Edwardian ladies buying anything for themselves: they received their Faberge objects as gifts from men, and these gifts were purely for the psychological moment. When that had passed, i.e., the actual moment of the giving, they completed the mission for which they had been made.”
In creating beautiful objects, Faberge did not rely on large jewels and lavish settings, but emphasized design. He regarded himself as an artist whose media were jewels, precious metals, and enamels. When queried on this subject, he distinguished his work from that of other firms such as Tiffany, Boucheron, and Cartier, whom he characterized as “mere merchants.”