Antique Collecting articles Unscrambling Fabergé Eggs - Page 3

Fig 8 The Apple Blossom Egg made by Fabergé for Alexander Kelch in 1901. Siberian jade, coloured gold, enamel and foiled rose-cut diamonds, © Liechtenstein National Museum, photo Sven Beham Fig 9 An Easter card in the form of a putto carrying an egg away from a spray of apple blossom. Printed in Germany, c.1900. Private collection performed on December 22, 1905 and that giver’ and, flowering throughout the winter, it was just too late to have inspired Fabergé’s too is a favourite emblem for Easter Swan Egg, which was delivered only months greetings cards (fig 13). In jewellery design it later at Easter 1906; nonetheless it usually appears with diamonds, for constancy, demonstrates a significant confluence of and then the message is extended to ‘always ideas that may well derive from the think of the giver’. This is the unequivocal popularity Tennyson’s poem of 1893. message of the Pansy Egg of 1899; a message endorsed by the heart-shaped frame housed within which is decorated with the lamps of love and garlands of roses for Venus (fig 12). Another common device on Easter cards across Europe in the 19th century is the farmyard cart brimful of seasonal references. One in particular, loaded with a garlanded egg and drawn by angels, (fig 10) evokes what little we know of the missing Cherub Egg of 1888 (fig 11) Like so much of Fabergé’s work the full significance of the Swan Egg has yet to be realised. The romantic concept of the swan song heralding the death of the beautiful white bird originated in the 3rd century BC and has been continually reinterpreted. References appear in the writings of Euripides, Virgil, Ovid, Chaucer, Shakespeare and notably Tennyson in his poem of 1893: The Dying Swan. Seven years earlier (Note 2) in 1886, the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns published Le Carnival des Animaux in which the dying swan is an important part of the sequence. Deriving from it was a short ballet of the same title, choreographed in 1905 by Mikhail Fokine Fig 10 An Easter card in the form of a garlanded Easter egg in and performed by Anna Pavlova. a chariot pulled by amorini. A bouquet of lilies of the valley is Fokine’s The Dyi ng Swan was first seen to the left. Made in Germany, c.1885. Author’s collection 44 It seems we must search elsewhere for aesthetic ancestry of this remarkable object. In Christian lore the swan, singing its dying breath, denotes Jesus’s last cries to God from the cross and by extension the crucifixion, all martyrs and Christian resignation. These attributes perfectly suited to any Easter egg, even the most extravagant of those made by Fabergé (note 3). Although the mechanical concept of the Swan Egg has been given to the automaton by James Cox (c. 1723-1800) its aesthetic ancestry is likely to be composite. Enameled pale purple, the colour of religious devotion and set Fig 11 A drawing by Anna Palmade of the missing Imperial Easter Egg of 1888 called the Chariot Egg. This is based on the only evidence of its appearance; an indistinct photograph taken in March 1902 © Anna Palmade Fig 12 The Imperial Easter Egg of 1899. Nephrite, silver gilt, diamonds, and enamel. Private collection, USA with diamonds, emblems of constancy, the Swan Egg may, in fact, have been partially inspired by a favourite form of Easter card such as the one illustrated here (fig 6). Even the richly decorated Basket of Flowers Egg of 1901 and the Kelch Apple Blossom Egg (fig 8) of the same year seem to owe a good deal to a type humble Easter cards (figs 9 and 13). Until now we have associated the majority of the Imperial Easter Eggs with the revived decorative schemes that characterise a good proportion of Fabergé’s work. However some were clearly hatched from a more egalitarian tradition, now all but forgotten. It is an equally fascinating and contradictory concept that the humble Easter cards sent by emperor and commoner alike Fig 13 An Easter card in the form of pansy flowers hatched from a green egg. It reads Loving Easter Greetings. Made by Tuck & Sons. English, c. 1900. Author’s collection have been transmuted, through Fabergé’s alchemy, into some of the most opulent and improbable objects ever made by man. Note 1: The Folklore of Plants Margaret Baker. 2005 Note 2 Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1959. Note 3 An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, J.C.Cooper 1978 For more information on Fabergé’s Imperial Easter Eggs see Anne Miek’s website, www.mieks.com. Geoffrey Munn is one of the experts of the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow and the managing director of the London jewellers Wartski; his specialisation is 19th-century precious metalwork and Fabergé. He is the author of several books including Tiaras a History of Splendour and Wartski the First One Hundred and Fifty Years both available at www.antiquecollectorsclub.com. 45