The Carl Fabergé Memorial Rooms located in the General Staff Building offer visitors a permanent exhibit of 110 items
displayed in two halls, and an additional hall for temporary Fabergé exhibitions. Photo © State Hermitage Museum
On 29 December 2015 the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg opened the Carl Fabergé Memorial Rooms – a new permanent display in the General Staff Building.
The rooms present the legacy of one of Russia’s foremost jewellery firms, founded by the famous Carl Fabergé, and show the subsequent development of the art of jewellers and stone-cutters, the achievements of contemporary specialists. The two halls allotted to the permanent display contain 110 items, while in the third room, for temporary exhibitions, the exhibition “Fabergé and the Great War” opened (running until 26 June 2016).
Carl Fabergé’s firm is one of the most famous in the history of jewellery-making and silversmithing in this country. Its craftsmen produced outstanding pieces of decorative and applied art, working to commissions from the Russian imperial house and European monarchs, as well as the most prominent members of aristocratic families and the grande bourgeoisie. The Fabergé name became synonymous with fine taste and the highest craftsmanship.
The Hermitage possesses several emblematic works by the firm: a copy of the Russian imperial crown jewels, a monumental silver clock (a silver anniversary gift to Alexander III and Maria Feodorovna), the Rothschild clock egg – a gift from President Vladimir Putin for the Hermitage’s 250th anniversary, a rock crystal presentation dish and decorative bouquets of flowers. Among them are items from the Winter, Anichkov and Alexander Palaces: presentation dishes, parts of dining services, vases and cigarette cases created by the firm’s leading jewellers: Mikhail Perkhin, Feodor Afanasyev, Henrik Wigström, Johan Victor Aarne, Anders Nevalainen and Julius Rappoport.
In the period when industry was developing apace and a large stratum of customers was appearing, the number of workshops, firms and factories producing objects for the mass market grew steadily. Artistic trends were, however, dictated by major craftsmen and artist-designers. This is illustrated by the activities of Ignaty Sazikov and his sons, whose family firm had branches in St Petersburg and Moscow. By winning a gold medal at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, followed by commissions from abroad, they introduced Russian jewellers into European society.
It is indicative that at the factory of which he was the owner from 1830 Ignaty Sazikov organized as early as 1845 one of the first schools in Russia to train specialists in the different crafts involved in jewellery-making. In addition to this, he invited prominent artists to produce designs and models. Among them were the sculptor Ivan Vitali and the architect and draughtsman Mikhail Bykovsky. The Sazikovs made active use of new Western techniques and purchased modern equipment. Much of what would develop so successfully in Russia’s greatest firm, the House of Fabergé, had its origins at the Sazikovs’ factory in the middle of the century.
The silversmiths produced pieces stylized in imitation of the works of 17th-century Russian craftsmen. That is how the Neo-Byzantine and Neo-Russian styles emerged. His Imperial Majesty’s Cabinet commissioned such items, mainly bratiny (loving cups) and kovshy (drinking scoops) as diplomatic gifts. The chief supplier of such items was the Moscow manufacturer Pavel Ovchinnikov, who in 1873 opened a branch in St Petersburg. He was a major businessman with at times up to 400 people working at his factory, which also had a special school to train up craftsmen. Designing and making models for him he had such eminent artists as Yevgeny Lanceray, Ippolito Monighetti, Feodor Solntsev and A. Zhukovsky. Apart from old shapes and types of ornamentation that they carefully studied from original works of Early Russian art, the craftsmen revived the making and use of coloured enamel on filigree and on a carved ground, painted and cloisonné enamels.
The finest articles created in the Neo-Russian style at Ovchinnikov’s factory and also those of Ivan Khlebnikov, Orest Kurliukov and Feodor Rückert are attractive for the high quality of the execution of the enamels, the rich palette, the bold combination of contrasting colours and the originality of the pattern decorating the body of the piece – especially those in the style of the Abramtsevo and Talashkino artists.
Russian jewellers also had a good command of the so-called classic styles. The display includes items in Neo-Baroque, Neo-Classical and Neo-Grecian styles that supplement the Hermitage’s collection of Fabergé creations. They fit into the general picture of the development of Russian jewellery-making and silversmithing, allowing visitors to trace the characteristics of styles, technical and artistic innovations.
The display has been prepared by the State Hermitage’s Department of Western European Applied Art. Its curator is Marina Nikolayevna Lopato, Doctor of Art Studies, head of the Sector of Artistic Metal and Stone.
© State Hermitage Museum. 09 January, 2015