Q&A With Fabergé Revealed Curator
Géza von Habsburg

Geza von Habsburg, with his dog Maggie, is a descendant of Marie Antoinette’s mother and lives in Westchester County.
Photo: Julie Glassberg for The New York Times

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The 1912 "Napoleonic Egg," from the Matilda Geddings Gray Foundation Collection, is among the works going on display at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Géza von Habsburg, an internationally known author and authority on Fabergé, is the guest curator for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts "Fabergé Revealed" exhibition. He is the curatorial director of the London-based Fabergé Co. and has published more than a dozen books and numerous articles on Fabergé. Von Habsburg has organized exhibitions around the world that have attracted more than 2 million visitors to museums in Russia, Germany, France, England, Italy and the United States.

Von Habsburg is the grandson of King Frederick Augustus III of Saxony and the great-great-grandson of Emperor Franz-Joseph of Austria.

Here are excerpts of an extended discussion with the VMFA on the jeweler and the museum's collection. Q: How did Fabergé achieve this success?

A: The extraordinary attraction of Fabergé's objects of art lies in their incomparable charm, their immediately recognizable designs, their novelty and their consummate craftsmanship.

It is hard to believe that this firm of 500 craftsmen was able to produce over 150,000 articles of jewelry, silver and objects of art, virtually each piece one of a kind (sadly, most of them were destroyed during the 1917 Russian Revolution).

Price was also an important factor in Fabergé's popularity. Due to the many thousands of objects presented by the Russian imperial family to their relatives in England, Denmark and in the German kingdoms each year, their relative low cost (due to Fabergé's avoidance of expensive stones — Fabergé preferred rose-cut diamonds, small colored cabochons and semi-precious stones from Siberia) made them very attractive gifts.

Q: The exhibition will feature loans from private collections. How did you select these?

A: The other loans to the exhibition include one more of Fabergé's splendid Imperial Easter eggs — the 1912 "Napoleonic Egg," from the Matilda Geddings Gray Foundation Collection — and arguably Fabergé's finest work of art in existence: the famous "Lilies of the Valley Basket," the empress' favorite piece, which stood on her desk until the 1917 Russian Revolution, also lent by the same foundation.

More recent Fabergé collectors are also highlighted: Over 20 treasures, … have been lent by the Artie and Dorothy Foundation Collection, including a glorious Fabergé tiara from the dukes of Leuchtenberg set with diamonds, which once belonged to Empress Josephine, the wife of Emperor Napoleon.

The Hodges family have loaned their entire collection of over 100 pieces, all recently acquired, and which include such historic rarities as a lavish large snuff box presented by Czar Alexander III to the German Chancellor Bismarck.

Mitchell Merling, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Paul Mellon curator and head of the department of European Art, who is the organizer of the "Fabergé Revealed" exhibition, and I chose each loan very carefully with a view of filling some of the gaps in the VMFA's collection.

Q: What makes Fabergé Easter eggs so special?

A: The words "Imperial Easter Egg" have become virtually synonymous with Fabergé. He created only 50 eggs as Easter presents to be presented by the czar of Russia to his wife and/or mother. The series was begun in 1885. Between 1885 and 1894 (the year of his death), Czar Alexander III presented 10 eggs to his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna.

Between 1895 and 1916, Czar Nicholas II presented Fabergé eggs every year both to his mother and to his wife, Czarina Alexandra Feodorovna (with the exception of 1904/05, the years of the Russo-Japanese War).

Of the 50 eggs, 42 have miraculously survived. Eight were stolen during the revolution. … Each egg is a brilliant invention of Fabergé, a result of the incredible genius of this man. Each one represents, or contains a surprise connected with, an event in the imperial family's history.

The most expensive Imperial Egg was sold at auction in 2002 for $ 9.5 million. In 2007 an egg made by Fabergé for a member of the Rothschild family fetched $19.5 million.

Today, one of Fabergé finest Imperial eggs might conceivably achieve $25 to $30 million at auction.

Q: The Russian jeweler Karl Fabergé, arguably the most famous jeweler of all time, crafted objects for the families of the last two czars of Russia and for most of Europe's nobility. Could you tell us about famous Fabergé collections in the world?

A: All the Fabergé pieces owned by the imperial family, by the nobility and the rich families of Russia were confiscated by the Bolsheviks in 1917/1918. Almost all of the jewelry was broken up, most of the silver melted down and only a few thousand objects by Fabergé survived. Almost all of these were sold by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s and 1930s. Only a few hundred pieces remain in Russia today. Most of them are either in the Kremlin Armory Museum or in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

Q: There is another Fabergé exhibition called "Royal Fabergé" to be held at Buckingham Palace, July 23 to Oct. 3 this year. Do you know about this collection?

A: Naturally!! This is the largest and most important private collection in the world today, comprising probably over 500 pieces, and is owned by Queen Elizabeth II. Many of them will be shown at the Queen's Gallery in London this year. This historic collection was begun by Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII, who was a sister of the Russian Empress; and continued by her daughter-in-law, Queen Mary, wife of King George V. It is the greatest collection in existence today, since most the pieces were royal or imperial presents or acquisitions. However, Her Majesty has only three Imperial Easter eggs compared to the VMFA's five!

Source and Copyright: Richmond Times-Dispatch
8 July, 2011