Important Russian Enamels and Fabergé from
a Private New York Collection at Sotheby's

A Fine and Massive Russian Gilded Silver and Shaded Enamel Large Wedding Kovsh,
Feodor Rückert, retailed by Ovchinnikov, Moscow , circa 1900. Estimate $200/300,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

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Sotheby’s New York auction of Important Russian Enamels and Fabergé from a Private New York Collection on 4 November comprises a group of over 80 items painstakingly assembled over decades of collecting. The sale offers several works with noble provenance, including a wedding kovsh that was by tradition presented by Emperor Nicholas II and a bread and salt dish given to Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna for her wedding, and also features a unique group of parasol and cane handles. The items will be on exhibition beginning 28 October, and together are estimated at $1.7/2.5 million.

Important works by Feodor Rückert are led by A Fine and Massive Russian Gilded Silver and Shaded Enamel Large Wedding Kovsh, retailed by Ovchinnikov, Moscow, circa 1900 (est. $200/300,000). In this magnificent and rare kovsh, Rückert sums up the key elements of both traditional and contemporary Russian art that were most sought after at the turn of the 20th century. Large panels on either side of the kovsh depict the selection of a bride in an old boyar household, and the subsequent wedding feast of the young couple. The two images are clearly references to a series of popular paintings by Konstantin Makovsky completed in the 1880s.

During a period of history which saw the traditional structure of Russian society change dramatically, Makovsky’s works evoked the romance, color, and extravagance of a lost and untouchable age. The remainder of the body is decorated with ornament inspired by 17th-century enamels, such as the stylized tulips and scrolling foliage familiar from Usolsk enamels, as well as a double-headed eagle. According to family tradition of the owner who sold the kovsh in 1981, Emperor Nicholas II presented it to a family member who was a high-ranking French cavalry officer during the Imperial couple's 1896 visit celebrating the Franco-Russian alliance and the laying of the cornerstone of the Pont Alexandre III.

In A Russian Gilded Silver and Shaded Enamel Pictorial Kovsh, Moscow, circa 1900, Rückert has removed the figure of the svakha (matchmaker) shown at the bride's right in the original composition and focused entirely on the touching and romantic scene of the newly-married young couple (est. $70/90,000). That Rückert chose to re-use the same vignette several times suggests that the pieces were purchased and treasured as wedding or anniversary gifts. A similar kovsh by Rückert is in the collection of Hillwood Museum & Gardens in Washington, DC.

Another highlight of the November sale is A Presentation Gilded Silver and Enamel Bread and Salt Dish, Lyubavin, St. Petersburg, circa 1902, which was presented to Nicholas II’s cousin Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna on the occasion of her marriage to Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark in 1902 (est. $80/120,000). The only daughter of a very wealthy couple, Elena was initially engaged to Prince Maximilian of Baden, who later backed out of the engagement. When she met the dashing Prince Nicholas in 1900, her parents initially opposed the match, but the couple was finally permitted to marry in a grand ceremony at Tsarskoe Selo.

A Rare Fabergé Gilded Silver and Matt Enamel Bird-Shaped Kovsh, Moscow, circa 1900 is a rare and unusual kovsh, one of few Fabergé pieces finished entirely with matt enamels (est. $60/80,000). As Tatiana Fabergé has noted, matt enamel was employed only in objects made in Moscow, and then only as border or background. This bird-form kovsh is one of very few examples of a piece rendered in a rich range of colors and with areas of shading that, instead of being polished to a high gloss, were rendered matt. The resulting surface resembles an unglazed ceramic body, as well as some of the ceramic and wood pieces in the modern style mounted in gold and silver at the Moscow workshops.

A unique feature of this extraordinary collection is a large and varied group of parasol and cane handles. Fabergé and other jewelers combined their entire repertoire of skills–casting and chasing gold and silver, hardstone carving, enameling, and gem setting–in producing a range of handles to suit every occasion and please every taste. Among the highlights long-hidden in this group is A Rare Fabergé Diamond-Set Carved Rhodonite, Vari-Color Gold, and Enamel Parasol Handle, Workmaster Henrik Wigström, St. Petersburg, circa 1904- 1908 (est. $60/90,000). The handle is formed as a carved rhodonite horse head, resembling the knight in a game of chess. The piece belonged to Princess Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood.

A Fabergé Imperial Purpurine, Gold and Enamel Parasol Handle, Workmaster Michael Perchin, St. Petersburg, circa 1895 was purchased by Empress Alexandra Fedorovna in 1896 (est. $18/22,000). The finial is made of purpurine, a vivid opaque matt red glass whose intense color appears to be a hardstone rather than glass, and which is extremely difficult to produce. The charming Rare Fabergé Carved Smoky Quartz, Gold and Enamel Figural Parasol Handle, Workmaster Henrik Wigström, St. Petersburg, circa 1910 depicts a naked cherub clinging to the top of a balustershaped handle, with a pattern of trailing vines (est. $40/60,000).

Source: The Art Daily
23 October, 2010