25 March 2014

A lost Faberge treasure, now found

It will come as a surprise to no-one who reads this blog that I love Faberge art objects. Now we hear an amazing story. A London antique dealer says a gold ornament bought by an American scrap-metal dealer has turned out to be a rare Faberge egg!! The clock egg had been purchased at an ordinary antique fair for about $14,000. This seems a lot for a small clock, yet the buyer SAID he only began to suspect its true value after seeing an article about the 50 imperial Faberge Easter eggs made for Russian royalty. He contacted the Faberge expert who verif­ied it. The true value could be anything - in the last decade, Faberge eggs have sold for USA $15-20 million each.

The newly identified clock egg, 1887
Closed (above) and opened (below)

Clearly the gold marks on the object suggest it was an 1887 Easter gift from Czar Alexander III to his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna. And in addition to the gold marks, the experts located written records in the Russian State Historical Archives. Described in the 1917 inventory of confiscated imperial treasure, the egg had to be moved from the imperial palace in Saint Petersburg (in 1922) to the Council of People's Commissars for safe keeping.

But here is the kicker. The egg, which contained a Vacheron Constant­in watch, seems to be the very first of the Tsar Imperial Fabergé eggs to feature a working clock; in fact it is one of the very few clock eggs that have been located at all. You can examine those that have been identified at Mieks Faberge Eggs.

Let's examine the imperial Blue Serpent Clock Egg 1887 made by Mikhail Perkhin, one of the most important Fabergé workmasters ever. This egg stood on a base of gold that was painted in opalescent white enamel. The panels of the base featured motifs of raised gold in four colours, representing the arts and sciences. A serpent, set with diamonds, coiled around the stand connecting the base to the egg and up toward the centre of the egg. The serpent's head and tongue pointed to the hour which was indic­at­ed in roman num­er­als on a white band. This band rotated within the egg to indicate the time, rather than the serpent rotating around the egg. The egg was enamelled in trans­lucent blue and had diamond-studded gold bands ringing the egg. On each side of the egg a sculpted gold handle was attached.

Blue Serpent Clock Egg 1887

The best coverage of this topic is The History Blog. That blog notes that  has been some confusion in the scholarly community over the missing eggs, particularly when they were made and what they looked like. "For many years experts thought the Blue Serpent Clock Egg, currently owned by Prince Albert II of Monaco, filled the 1887 spot on the timeline, but in fact it was made in 1885 and it’s one of those picture-less eggs, the Third Egg, that was gifted to Maria Feodorovna in 1887".


 Duchess of Marlborough’s Pink Serpent Egg, 1902

The Duchess of Marlborough’s Pink Serpent Egg 1902 was similar. Once again made by Mikhail Perkhin, this clock egg was made in enamelled translucent rose pink over a guilloche ground, the white enamel chapter ring with diamond-set Roman numerals between borders of seed pearls. The top of the Egg was applied with varicoloured gold floral swags and diamond-set ribbon bows.

The newly discovered clock egg will be on display at Wartski’s London showroom in the middle of April 2014, the first time it will have been seen in public for 110 years.





13 comments:

Merisi said...

What glorious find, indeed! :-)

Demel has a giant Fabergé egg, made of sugar paste, in its Easter shop window. I hope to publish a blog post about it, soon.

Cheers,
Merisi

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, While leading us through the complex history of this egg, you never gave us your informed opinion of it as an art object, which I would like to know. Perhaps it is just in the photos, but it seems to me that while the workmanship is fine, the proportions are a little heavy-handed.

By the way, I agree with you in being suspicious of this "miraculous discovery" story. Anyone who buys or sells gold eggs for even $14,000 knows about Faberge, or at least that such objects should be investigated before basing a sale on the scrap value of the gold.

columnist said...

I saw the story in the newspaper, and it is staggering. As Parnassus and you have suggested, it seems almost inconceivable that the owner did not "clock" that this was Faberge.

Student of History said...

Where did the Council of Peoples Commissars keep the imperial treasures and how did those treasures get out from a safe place into private hands? If there was one Faberge piece taken, there could have been more.

Hels said...

ohhh Merisi

Demel has to be just about the most famous pastry and chocolate shop in Vienna... in the world! I will enjoy seeing your post about the Demel Faberge egg!

Hels said...

Parnassus

bearing in mind that we cannot tell from the photos how tall the object is, the newly identified clock egg looks bulkier and less glamorous than the Blue Serpent Clock Egg. Even though the two eggs were made in the same year and by the same designer. Perhaps they were also intended for the same recipients, Czar Alexander III and his wife.

Hels said...

columnist

I think there is more to be told about the story yet. My favourite blog on questionable art deals across the world is 'Chasing Aphrodite'

Hels said...

Student

Empress Maria Feodorovna had the third imperial egg in her collection at her Anichkov Palace. During the Revolution, her treasures (including the egg) were taken to the Moscow Kremlin Armoury. This was to safeguard the wealth of royalty and the nobility, on behalf of the people.

Then in 1922, the egg suddenly disappeared from the Armoury archives. Was it sold? stolen? lost?

I am certain other great objects were sold as well :(

Hels said...

Parnassus

The first egg appeared in 1885. I am assuming it is true that from as early as 1887, Carl Fabergé could design anything he liked, as long as the Czar found the egg elaborate AND containing a surprise.

So there are two design questions. Were Faberge's workmasters given the same freedom as Faberge himself? And what happened if the Czar was slightly less impressed with one egg, as compared to the others he loved? Fascinating stuff!

Hels said...

In an email, a student asked how does anyone know what eggs were made, how many can still be accounted for and which ones have been lost to history?

A tentative list of eggs, with details of their current location or status, is on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faberg%C3%A9_egg

Richard Cottrell said...

This story is a little off the wall.First off a scrap dealer would only pay $14,000.00 for something that he weighed and it had about, or at least, $20,000.00 worth of gold in it. Second if it was marked why didn't the owner who sold it to the scarp dealer have it checked out? maybe if it was stolen he wouldn't have? The scrap dealer had to see the mark, so it was no off the cuff find. Why do they need to make up such a story. I guess it has been looked over and found to be real, but to me, it looks odd shaped and short and rather plain. I wish stories like this do not have to be embellished, made up or just false. I hope who ever sold it and who ever bought it are checked out as there might be a rat in the cheese box.

Hels said...

Richard

The main problem for me was that the list of missing Faberge eggs was long known by anybody with even the vaguest interest in gold and bejewelled eggs. I don't believe for a moment that the owner and the scrap dealer didn't look at the marks and then check the list for 1885-1890. And I don't believe that anyone in their right mind would buy an art object of this quality/history to melt down for its gold value.

A bit dumpy and plain, yes. But whoever flogged it out of the Moscow Armoury (when?) knew what he was doing. He was the original criminal.

lee woo said...

What goes around comes around. See the link below for more info.

#goes
www.mocsbar.com