A Fabergé bell push, in exhibit at the Yale Center for British Art. Photo Credit: The Royal Collection/Queen Elizabeth II
The three sumptuous objects, studded with gemstones and embellished with gold, are too large to be worn as jewelry; they’re too small to serve as display pieces. If they were boxes, they might hold stamps or face powder; but they don’t open. Their exquisite workmanship implies instead that they exist only to be beautiful.
But the labels at the Yale Center for British Art reveal them to be bell pushes, fashioned by Carl Fabergé at the turn of the 20th century for the newly electrified system for summoning servants at Buckingham Palace. That an item so utterly utilitarian, and so emblematic of modernity, would also represent the height of handmade luxury is one of the many contradictions that ripple through the center’s splendid new show, “Edwardian Opulence: British Art at the Dawn of the 20th Century.”
“Edwardian Opulence: British Art at the Dawn of the 20th Century” consists of 170 items arrayed on two floors at the Yale Center for British Art, 1080 Chapel Street, New Haven, through June 2. Information: britishart.yale.edu or (203) 432-2800.
© Yale Center for British Art. 16 March, 2013