‘Faberge: Jeweler to the Tsars’ continues through Sunday at OKCMOA

Russian Art Specialist defines History of Romanov Family Era
By Glenda Rice Collins, Published September 25, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla., USA–Four dazzling Imperial Easter eggs, jewel encrusted icons fit for royalty, are featured among some 230 rare and elaborate treasures created by the House of Faberge, now on display at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art through Sunday.  

The Chickasaw Nation presents Faberge: Jeweler to the Tsars, drawn from the collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.

During a Sotheby’s free public lecture last week, vice president and senior specialist for Russian works of art, Dr. Karen Kettering presented “Our happiest and serenest days are now over: Faberge, the Romanovs, and the end of an Empire.”

On this theme,  Kettering noted that the first elaborate Faberge egg was designed for Dagmar of Denmark, when she became empress of Russia.  “This was a complex time for the family, (but) Dagmar could smile through anything…like a good politician’s wife.”

Romanov Family Drama

According to Dr. Kettering, after the 1866 marriage of  Dagmar to Alexander III, “she returned to Russia and an enormous family drama.” During the 1800’s Russia evolved from a most powerful force into “a crisis of tremendous proportions.”  Following the Crimean War and the death of Nicholas I, “Britain was way ahead…95% of Russians were in serfdom, illiterate and underfed.”

“Around 1855, Alexander II had enjoyed the great reforms, modernized education and  the emancipation of serfs.” The “no-win” problem became the trend of small, powerful and wealthy growth, causing serfs to be valued like land. “Dostoevsky was writing novels about a rotten Russia…Dagmar came into a family of dysfunction.”

“Alexander II brought his mistress princess to the palace (who then had three children). She was the same age as the empress, Maria.”  Critical realism became reflected in such paintings as Ilya Repin’s Barge  Haulers on the Volga (1870-1873) “…Labor was so cheap that people were used to haul loads, instead of donkeys.”

The rise of terrorism and the death of Alexander II evolved.  “There had been at least six attempts on his  life…They were at ‘Code Orange’ all the time.” When mortally wounded, Kettering said, “Alexander II wanted to die at home.  Dagmar, as Russian empress had to cope with all this.”

Changing Times

By 1884, Alexander III and Dagmar were wholly empowered as emperor and empress., says Dr. Kettering.  “All of our good times are over,” said Dagmar. “All I will do is worry about my children.”

From this threatening environment came the production of the first Faberge Imperial Easter egg “– a chicken and egg creation on fake grass of real gold.”  Each such gift egg was to contain a surprise within, such as a sapphire pendant, miniature portraits, a superbly hand-crafted coach or train — small things that move or ‘sing’, to distract the empress from her worries.

“Easter in Russia is like Christmas for us…fancy Easter eggs were given as gifts…some enameled, — a most unforgiving art form,” according to Kettering.

The Danish Palaces Egg “at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the moment” was produced in 1890.  It contains ten miniature paintings of Danish palace scenes, framed in gold, and connected  as fold-out screen panels.

Two such exquisite gift eggs were painstakingly produced by Faberge each year, for the empress and for the mother-in-law.  New techniques and innovation evolved, such as distinctive color choices for guilloche enamel, varicolor gold for intricate details, and moire effects, for  the significant enhancement of valuable gemstones accents.

Significant to the OKCMOA exhibition are the 1903 Peter the Great Easter Egg, containing an elaborate miniature monument tribute within; and the 1912 Tsarevich Egg. hand-crafted in luxurious lapis lazuli and gold cagework in the regal rococo style — a tribute to the survival of the heir-Tsarevich, Alexei, following his severe bout with hemophelia complications as a child.

Still Time to View and Design Eggs

Some 29,000 visitors have experienced the largest Faberge collection outside of Russia, since the exhibition opened at OKCMOA June 20. The storied treasures include diverse and extravagant  items, ranging from delicate flower ornaments to cigarette cases, jewelry, silver service pieces,   and small animal sculptures once belonging to the Russian Imperial family.

The unique OKCMOA Faberge design studio complement allows for visitors of all ages to design their own meaningful eggs on paper, possibly accented with a ‘jewel,’ to be posted on the studio wall which showcases an impressive collection of original designs, ongoing.

For additional details, please visit okcmoa.com .

Photo credit: Pavel Ovchinnikov, The Holy Virgin of Kazan, Saint Prince Aleksandr Nevskii, Saint Mary Magdalene, 1891. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Bequest of Lillian Thomas Pratt. Photo: Katherine Wetzel. (c) Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

# # #Glenda Rice Collins 9-25-15

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