Newsletter 2010 Summer

Summer 2010
Feature Story: Fabergé Elephant Bell Pushes with Russian Imperial Provenance

Informal Survey

Several Fabergé Research Newsletter readers worldwide are interested in gathering in the summer of 2011 for the opening of the Fabergé exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. Fabergé Revealed is scheduled to open July 9, 2011. At this time there are no official plans. If you are interested in such an event, please send an email mentioning any Fabergé topics you would like to discuss.

Christel McCanless and Annemiek Wintraecken

In this same spirit of sharing information and research, it is our pleasure to present a variety of contributions from our readers in this issue:

Fabergé Elephant Bell Pushes with Russian Imperial Provenance
by James Hurtt
The recent auction of a bell push decorated with three elephants and of probable imperial provenance inspires consideration of the pachyderm’s significance to the Russian Imperial family. Their interest was, at least in part, a result of Princess Dagmar of Denmark’s marriage to the future Tsar Alexander III of Russian in 1866. The highest and most important order of knighthood in the Danish kingdom was the Order of the Elephant, established in 1693.
Sotheby's New York, Russian Art, April 21, 2010, lot 180
Sotheby’s New York, Russian Art,
April 21, 2010, lot 180
Karl Fabergé incorporated the elephant motif into several important commissions from the Russian Imperial family, notable among them is the now missing 1903 Danish Jubilee Egg, an Easter gift from Nicholas II to his mother, by then the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna (1847-1928), née Dagmar of Denmark. Well aware of Maria Feodorovna’s fondness for objects incorporating these exotic animals, Fabergé used the elephant motif repeatedly in designs for bell pushes. The Dowager Empress is known to have purchased eight bell pushes decorated with one or two elephants, and they were probably purchased as gifts for her Danish and Russian relatives. The Royal Collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II contains a bell push by Fabergé workmaster, Hjalmar Armfelt, with a silver elephant push-piece mounted on an enameled pedestal. It is believed to have been part of the British Queen Alexandra’s collection before World War I and quite likely was a gift from her sister, the Russian Tsarina Maria Feodorovna.

There is no evidence to date that Maria Feodorovna ever purchased a bell push with three elephants. However, Valentin Skurlov, a St. Petersburg archivist of documents pertaining to Fabergé’s business operations, in his list of bell pushes purchased by the Russian Imperial family cites only one decorated with three elephants (likely the same one illustrated above $266,500). An invoice dated December 24, 1898, indicates Tsar Nicholas II purchased an electric bell push with three elephants.

If this is the same item mentioned by the Tiffany Studios artist, Amalia Kϋssner Coudert, in an article (“The Human Side of the Tsar.” The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, vol. 72, no. 6, October 1906: 845-5), it is easy to assume Nicholas purchased the bell push as a Christmas gift for his wife.

Coudert, a society miniaturist in New York, painted portraits of the English Royal family in 1896. Three years later she was commissioned to paint the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna followed by a second commission, this one of the Empress Alexandra at the Winter Palace. In her reminiscences of the sittings with the Tsarina, Coudert mentions,

… a triple elephant bell push … this little bell was a curiously beautiful bit of ivory (chalcedony) carving, representing elephants in trappings of gold and jewels standing on a piece of jade (bowenite) … the Empress sometimes asked me to touch the bell which summoned a lady-in-waiting.
From the Skurlov list, it appears Nicholas did not share the cost of this bell push with Alexandra, as was often the practice when the Tsar and Tsarina presented a gift from the Imperial couple. He paid 385 rubles on this occasion, one of the highest prices paid for a Fabergé bell push by a member of the Imperial family, at least until Nicholas’ mother, Maria Feodorovna, paid 425 rubles for one similar in design to the 1901 Kelch Apple Blossom Egg. Of the eight bell pushes with elephant motives Maria Feodorovna appears to have purchased from Fabergé, two can be directly traced to their present locations.
Collection of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark (Courtesy Wartski)
Collection of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark (Courtesy Wartski)

Collection of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark
(Courtesy Wartski)

The one on the left was originally purchased by Maria Feodorovna for 125 rubles on March 8, 1909, as a gift to her father, King Christian IX; the other, on August 18, 1904, for 150 rubles. In 1997, it was part of an exhibition in honor of Maria Feodorovna at the Christianborg Palace in Copenhagen, Denmark.

In addition to the triple bell push sold this spring, the Emperor himself purchased two more bell pushes with elephants on January 23, 1898, for 120 rubles, and another in 1909. Alexandra appears to have purchased only one such piece, on December 24, 1902. The total comes to twelve elephant-motif bell pushes sold by Fabergé to Tsar Nicholas, his wife and his mother between 1898 and 1909. There could be more, but the invoices’ descriptions of the items purchased are often abbreviated to the extreme. Aside from a reference to the purchaser, the inventory number and the price, there is little said about the merchandise itself, except for “electric bell push”. This author is only aware of one sale of an elephant bell push outside of the Imperial family – Edward Tuck, an American bought it in Monte Carlo in 1914 from agents of the Fabergé London shop. Given that the three august imperial personages purchased at least 270 bell pushes from the Fabergé workshop in St. Petersburg between 1891 and 1914, twelve is a very small number with elephant motives, an indication that such pieces were quite rare in Fabergé’s overall production.

Bulldog Missing from the Hermitage Museum Collection

Another in a series of similar Fabergé bulldogs, this one known from pictorial records, was allegedly stolen in 2006 from a Russian museum collection. Please report any whereabouts to Christel McCanless.

State Hermitage Museum (Courtesy Géza von Habsburg)
State Hermitage Museum
(Courtesy Géza von Habsburg)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Virginia Museum of
Fine Arts
Cufflinks Identified

Geoffrey Munn of Wartski responded quickly to the challenge of identifying extant Fabergé cufflinks given in 1914 as gifts to her teachers by Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna (1895-1918), eldest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra Feodorovna. Archival records were recently found in the St. Petersburg Archives for these commissioned pieces.

One set of cufflinks was given to Charles Sydney Gibbes (1876-1963), teacher of English to the Imperial children from October 1908 on. Sold by Gibbes’ grandson to Kenneth Snowman, proprietor of the family business of Wartski in London, they are illustrated in Snowman, Fabergé: Lost and Found (1993), 168. Gibbes adopted a son (George Gibbes), converted to the Russian Orthodox Church, and was eventually ordained as a priest assuming the name of Father Nicholas. He died in Oxford, England.

Also illustrated in Jonas, Susan, and Marilyn Nissenson, Cufflinks (1991), 45. (Courtesy of Jim Hurtt)

Fabergé Cufflinks (Courtesy Wartski)
Fabergé Cufflinks
(Courtesy Wartski)

A Fabergé goat carved out of striated agate, sold at Sotheby’s New York (April 23, 2010) from the Frances H. Jones Collection for $182,500 including the premium (estimate $15-25,000). Russian Bidders See Bargains as Volcano Damps Auction. Only 45 bidders were present in the salesroom.
(Courtesy Sotheby's)
(Courtesy Sotheby’s)
Russian Art Week in London:

June 7, 2010  Bonhams London
Russian Sale
Silver-mounted seed pearl and enamel clock (below) from the collection of Prince Mikhail Cantacuzène and Julia Grant Cantacuzène.

June 8, 2010  Christie’s London
Russian Art
Sixty Fabergé objects highlighted by 45 objects new to the market from the collection of a European Royal Family. Turkey (below) is from a private collection with an extensive exhibition history from 1980-2000.

June 9, 2010  Sotheby’s London
Russian Works of Art, Fabergé and Icons  
Pansy in its original Fabergé case with a note inscribed in ink – Present from Queen Alexandra to 1st Lady Iveagh – is one of 32 objects exhibited ahead of the auction at the Moscow State Historical Museum in May 2010.

(Courtesy Bonhams)
(Courtesy Bonhams)
(Courtesy Christie's)
(Courtesy Christie’s)
(Courtesy Sotheby's)
(Courtesy Sotheby’s)
June 8-9, 2010  Sotheby’s Albermarle House, Charlottesville, Virginia
The Collection of Patricia Kluge
Includes a silver centerpiece in the rococo revival style.

June 10, 2010  Uppsala Auktionskammare, Uppsala, Sweden
Russian Sale
Tatiana Muntian, curator of the Moscow Kremlin Museums, led a seminar in April for antique lovers at the auction house during which she illustrated characteristics of Russian jewelers (Fabergé, Tillander, Khlebnikov, etc.) using the objects to be auctioned. (Contributed by Lars Ohlander)


Dorothy and Artie McFerrin whose Fabergé collection is on view in Houston, Texas, have generously allowed a fake to be shown with their collection. Rich Hutting, a docent at the museum, shared this happening:

Recently a nine-year-old girl approached the McFerrin Fauxbergé object at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
“Mister, why is that egg so drab?” she asked. After complimenting her use of vocabulary, I replied, “because it’s not Fabergé.”
At Houston Museum of Natural Science I usually spend about ten minutes with visitors examining real Fabergé pieces with a magnifying glass. We focus on detail, color, and guilloché. Patrons are always mesmerized. Then we scrutinize the Fauxbergé. I ask our visitors, “what’s wrong with this object? Why ISN’T it Fabergé?” Almost immediately, someone mentions dull color, overwrought metalwork, or awkward design. The magnifying glass reveals inferior guilloché technique. Visitors are fascinated. As interpreters we appreciate Fauxbergé. It’s a great teaching tool!

Frog Prototypes

A reader, who enjoys studying auction catalogs, has suggested a bronze statue by the French animal sculptor, Emmanuel Frémiet (1824-1910), is a prototype for two Fabergé objects shown below.

Cacget Grenouille (Courtesy Eugène Rothschild Sale, Sotheby's Paris 11/6/03)
Cacget Grenouille
(Courtesy Eugène Rothschild
Sale, Sotheby’s Paris 11/6/03)
Frog on Stand (Courtesy The Christian de Guigné Collection)
Frog on Stand
(Courtesy The Christian
de Guigné Collection)
Frog Seal (Courtesy The Royal Collection Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II)
Frog Seal
(Courtesy The Royal
Collection Her Majesty
Queen Elizabeth II)

General News
April 2010  Christie’s has opened a permanent location in Moscow after having operated in Russia for 17 years. Clients can look at catalogues, inquire about auction participation, and the storage of works of art. The Moscow office will complement Christie’s 54 offices in 31 countries and 10 trade floors around the world, including London, New York, Paris, Geneva, Amsterdam, Dubai and Hong Kong.

Opened May 15, 2010  San Diego Natural History Museum, California  All That Glitters: The Splendor & Science of Gems and Minerals.
The educational venue includes ten Fabergé hardstone animals on loan from the American Museum of Natural History, New York City. (Courtesy of Tim Adams)

The Alexander Palace is to become a multi-museum and exhibition complex. The Hermitage Pavilion at Tsarskoe Selo restoration is now complete for the 300th anniversary celebration in June 2010. (Courtesy Paul Gilbert, editor of Royal Russia News)

July 18, 2010  Toby Faber Lecture: The Imperial Easter Eggs of Carl Fabergé. Crown Hotel Harrogate, North Yorkshire, UK.

Photograph Identification
(We need your help in completing these photo galleries!)

A photograph of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna in a wooden frame featured in a previous newsletter initiated a spirited email exchange with some preliminary conclusions between Fabergé enthusiasts in Russia, Finland, the Netherlands, and the United States. Once a year during the Tsar’s reign, the Emporer and his wife posed for official photographs, and later there was a second series which included the children. It was customary to present these official thank-you gifts with inexpensive frames made by a court supplier. For more august events or persons, the photograph was placed in a costly frame made by a jeweler, including Fabergé. As an added token of appreciation, the photographs were autographed by the Imperial pair, sometimes with a date and/or an inscription.

The consensus of the email quartet is that the first official photograph of the married pair was taken early in 1895 not 1894, since there was not much time to travel to St. Petersburg for an official photograph session after Alexandra’s arrival in Livadia (October 10/22, 1894), the death of Tsar Alexander III (October 20, November 1) followed by a period of mourning, and the marriage of the Imperial pair (November 14/26). A framed photograph (now perhaps in the McFerrin Collection) was in 1987 identified as Tsar Nicholas II and Marie Feodorovna (Editor’s note: it is Alexandra Feodorovna) by A. Pasetti, dated 1897 by Fabergé, apparently unmarked. As yet no historical connection of the inscription with the 1897 date has been discovered, however, the date of the photograph is more correctly 1895. Nicholas II wrote in his diary on Friday, May 26, 1895:

The day is warm. I had a walk alone. After the reports received there were only 4 people. At 3 o’clock we went to a photographic booth and filmed long and hard at Pasetti.
Engagement 1894
Engagement 1894
(Courtesy Christie's)
(Courtesy Christie’s)
1898 The Erkki J. Jokinen Collection
1898 The Erkki J.
Jokinen Collection
In 1897, a second series begins with the inclusion of the first daughter, and in 1898, the photograph includes two little girls, namely the Grand Duchesses Olga (b. November 1895) and Tatiana (b. June 1897). The arrival of a child, and especially an heir, for the Imperial couple had important implications for the Imperial family and Russia as a nation, since only a male heir could ascend to the throne.
Pendant Eggs and Marks

A reader intrigued by the inconsistencies of marks stamped on miniature Fabergé pendant eggs asked for a clarification. Peter Schaffer of A La Vieille Russie shared these general guidelines based on years of experience as a Fabergé dealer in New York City:

Marks cannot be added or changed on the main ring, the one actually attached to the egg. The jump ring may not be original to the piece, and a trained eye can tell if the jump ring has been added, altered, or both. Loose rings are not always correct – just because there is plenty of room and they move easily. That is NOT to say that a mark on a loose ring is wrong – but the probability for problems IS greater.
Steve Kirsch maintains a website for Fabergé collectors which includes illustrations of Fabergé fakes to help educate potential buyers. In his essay he discusses suggestions for judging real Fabergé objects vs. fakes.

The photographs below show an authentic Fabergé miniature egg with marks for Eduard Schramm on the loose jump ring. Kirsch recalls that when he was originally offered the egg, it came with an unusual provenance: The seller told him it had been purchased by a relative at a yard sale in the 1970’s for a mere $5 or so along with another non-Fabergé egg. This egg was later authenticated and mentioned in a lecture by Dr. Géza von Habsburg as an “example of a very unlikely bargain”.

(Courtesy Steve Kirsch)
(Courtesy Steve Kirsch)
(Courtesy Steve Kirsch)
(Courtesy Steve Kirsch)

(Courtesy Steve Kirsch)

Additional images of Fabergé pendant eggs and their marks can be seen on John Atzbach’s website by clicking the thumbnails. Most of the eggs are marked on the loose ring, but one of them is marked on the fixed ring.

Dean, George, with an introduction by Garry Kasparov. Chess Masterpieces: One Thousand Years of Extraordinary Chess Sets (2010, Abrams). Available in September.
The author’s chess set collection contains many famous Russian chess sets including two Fabergé chess sets, an amber set created in the workshop of Catherine the Great, etc. The collection was recently exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Art.
Kuropatkin Chess Set (Courtesy of Dr. Dean and Art & Antiques, March 2005)
Kuropatkin Chess Set (Courtesy of Dr. Dean and Art & Antiques, March 2005)

Kuropatkin Chess Set
(Courtesy of Dr. Dean and Art & Antiques, March 2005)

Kulikovsky, Paul, Karen Roth-Nicholls and Sue Woolmans.  25 Chapters of My Life: The Memoirs of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, 2010.
The memoirs of the youngest sister of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, expanded from a series of interviews she gave at the time of her silver wedding anniversary in 1941. Paul Kulikovsky, editor of Romanov News, and great grandson of the Grand Duchess, fills in the facts behind the reminiscences. (Courtesy Arthur Collingsworth)
25 Chapters of My Life
25 Chapters of My Life
Russia and Europe
Russia and Europe
Empress Maria Feodorovna's Favorite Residences in Russia and in Denmark
Empress Maria Feodorovna’s
Favorite Residences in Russia
and in Denmark
Korneva, Galina and Tatiana Cheboksarova.  Empress Maria Feodorovna’s Favorite Residences in Russia and in Denmark, 2010.
A second edition of this book depicting the palaces known from the 1890 Danish Palaces egg has been published in English with new materials on the reburial of Maria Feodorovna. The remains of the Empress were moved in 2006 from the Royal Vault of the Cathedral in Roskilde, Denmark, to the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

Korneva, Galina and Tatiana Cheboksarova.  Россия и Европа (Russia and Europe – Dynastic Relationships in the Second Half of 19th – Beginning of 20th Century) (2010, St. Petersburg, Liki Rossii). In Russian.
The era of Fabergé after the 1900 Paris World Exhibition, designated by the author’s as Faberge’s époque, is illustrated with 500 photographs from leading European and Russian archives. Main events in the life of the Romanovs and their wide circle of relations from European royal houses are depicted with photos of their residences, group photos with full identification, and archival photos of Fabergé customers.

Searching for Fabergé
Queen Victoria of Great Britain and Ireland (1819-1901) celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of her reign in 1897. Spectacular celebrations took place in her country. The Illustrated London News printed a special beautifully decorated issue devoted to the event. Among many other presents the Queen received a brooch commissioned from Karl Fabergé by Victoria’s grandchildren from Hesse-Darmstadt.

Galina Korneva and Tatiana Cheboksarova have found this note written in English by the Empress in the Russian State Historical Archives (Fund of Chancellery of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna) in St. Petersburg:

List 5

“This is a mistake, they must only give 100 Rubles, which makes 200 Marks. Please, keep the 100 Rubles (the other kindly return) and when I get the rest, Fabergé must have it

100  Rubles Pr And Pr-ss Battenberg
200  Rubles Gr D and Gr Duchess of Hesse
300  Rubles Gr D and Gr Duchess Serge
400  Rubles The Emperor and I
1000 Rubles

You must take the 200 rub from my sums and 200 rub from the Emperor’s. We gave Fabergé the 3 sapphires (sic) from the Cabinet for the brooch.”

Alexandra Feodorovna (top row, second from left) with her sisters and brother, 1894 in Darmstadt (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)
Alexandra Feodorovna (top row, second from left) with her sisters and brother,
1894 in Darmstadt (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)
Reading this document it becomes clear that the children of Alice (1843-1878) and Ludwig IV (1837-1892) of Hesse-Darmstadt – the sisters Victoria (1863-1950) and her husband Ludwig (1854-1921) of Battenberg, Ella (1864-1918) and her husband Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich (1857-1905), Alix (1872-1918) and her husband Emperor Nicholas II (1868-1918), and their brother Ernst Ludwig (1868-1937) with his wife Victoria Melita (1876-1936) – decided to give to their grandmother a brooch with sapphires that was commissioned from Carl Fabergé. It is interesting to note that the couples gave different sums. The file in the Archives includes letters confirming the money was sent and received in time.

If you can identify this brooch, please respond to the Editors.

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