Opening this November, the Victoria and Albert Museum announces Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution, the first major exhibition devoted to the international prominence of the legendary Russian goldsmith and the importance of his little-known London branch. With a focus on Fabergé’s Edwardian high society clientele, the exhibition will shine a light on his triumphs in Britain as well as a global fascination with the joyful opulence of his creations. Three of his legendary Imperial Easter Eggs will go on display for the first time in the UK as part of the exhibition’s dramatic finalé.

Showcasing over 200 objects across three main sections, the exhibition will tell the story of Peter Carl Fabergé (1846-1920), the man, and his internationally recognised firm that symbolised Russian craftsmanship and elegance – an association further strengthened by its connection to the romance, glamour and tragedy of the Russian Imperial family.

Aquamarine and diamond tiara by Fabergé, aquamarine, diamond, silver, gold. Workmaster Albert Holmstrom, St. Peterburg, circa 1904. Photography courtesy of HMNS. Photographer Mike Rathke.

Unknown to many, the exhibition will explore the Anglo-Russian nature of Fabergé’s enterprise with his only branch outside of Russia opening in London in 1903. Royalty, aristocrats, American heiresses, exiled Russian Grand Dukes, Maharajas, financiers with newly-made fortunes, and socialites flocked there to buy gifts of unparalleled luxury for each other. Fabergé works were as popular in Britain as they were in Russia.

The dazzling beauty of Fabergé’s work will be shown by a sparkling aquamarine and diamond tiara (see above), a token of love from Frederick Francis IV, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin to his bride Princess Alexandra of Hanover and Cumberland on their wedding day. The only known example of solid gold plate service crafted by Fabergé will also go on display, one of the most magnificent items to emerge from the firm’s Moscow branch.

Cigarette case, Fabergé, two colour gold, guilloché enamel, diamonds, 1908. Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021.

Fabergé became the most exclusive and fashionable place to buy gifts. The King’s mistress, Mrs George Keppel, gifted The King an elegant art-nouveau cigarette case with a snake laid in diamonds biting its tail (see above) – a symbol of unbroken and everlasting love.

OFFICIAL GOLDSMITH OF THE IMPERIAL RUSSIAN FAMILY

The first main section highlights the important patronage of the Romanov family. A miniature of the Imperial Regalia, lent by the Hermitage Museum, made for the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle will capture Carl Fabergé’s role as official goldsmith to the Imperial family. Its members often gave each other intimate Fabergé gifts, and this will be explored through bespoke, ornate objects including flowers made from rock crystal, gold and rose-cut diamonds and exquisite family portrait miniatures. This section will also touch upon Carl Fabergé’s youth, his travels throughout Europe, and entry into the family firm.

The second section of the exhibition will tell the story of Fabergé’s time in London, including how the firm flourished under royal patronage, and how its creations became a social currency for gift giving and ostentatious displays of wealth, amongst the cosmopolitan elite who gathered in the city.

The Alexander Palace Egg, Fabergé. Chief Workmaster Henrik Wigstrom, 1908 © The Moscow Kremlin Museums.

The final section of the exhibition will celebrate the legacy of Fabergé through the iconic Imperial Easter Eggs with a kaleidoscopic display of these famous treasures. The Alexander Palace Egg, featuring watercolour portraits of the children of Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra – and containing a surprise model of the palace inside – will also take centre stage alongside the Tercentenary Egg, created to celebrate 300 years of the Romanov dynasty, only a few years before the dynasty crumbled.

Imperial presentation box by Fabergé, nephrite, coloured gold, diamonds, ivory. Chief Workmaster Henrik Wigstrom, St. Petersburg, 1904. Private collection, images courtesy of Wartski, London.

Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution runs from 20 November 2021 to 8 May 2022.

Cover photo: Courtesy of Olga Shirnina

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