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Have two new Imperial Fabergé eggs surfaced in Russia?
Leading jewellery experts are not so convinced, but refuse to say so publicly

By John Varoli

MOSCOW. A group of Russian collectors thought to include some of Russia’s richest oil barons is claiming to own two Fabergé Easter eggs made for the Tsar. The eggs in question are currently on display in Moscow at the Museum of the History and Reconstruction of Moscow near Red Square. Fabergé experts are not convinced by the objects’ supposed imperial provenance.

The exhibition, held under the patronage of President Putin, includes works from Gokhran, the State depository of precious metals and gemstones, the Russian State Archives, and the Russian State Historical Museum. The eggs, however, are on loan from a Moscow association of private art and antique collectors calling themselves the Russian National Museum (RNM).

Scholars currently recognise 50 imperial Fabergé eggs. The two eggs belonging to the RNM are a Wooden Egg and a Constellation Egg. If authentic, they would be numbers 51 and 52. Both are said to date to 1917 which would make them the last two eggs created for the Imperial family. The Wooden Egg is made of Karelian birch, a material much prized by Maria Fedorovna, mother of Nicholas II, for whom the RNM says the egg was intended.

It is not known exactly who owns the two eggs because the identity of the RNM’s members and even their precise numbers are closely guarded secrets. RNM director, Alexander Ivanov, will only say that the group is motivated by “patriotism”, and seeks to repatriate Russian works of art to Russia.

Mr Ivanov says the eggs were acquired in 2003 and 2004 from a European owner for “a lot of money”. The Wooden Egg opens up, but the surprise inside that consisted of an elephant figure studded with over 600 rose-cut diamonds has been lost. Mr Ivanov said work on both eggs was never fully completed since the Tsar abdicated on 2 March 1917, a few weeks before the eggs were to be delivered in time for Easter.

“Many people think an imperial egg must have lots of gold and diamonds”, says Mr Ivanov. “But this egg was made of Karelian birch during a time of war.”

In 1919, Fabergé’s chief designer, Franz Birbaum, wrote: “The eggs made for Easter 1917 were not finished, and some people whom I didn’t know proposed completing them and [finding] a buyer. The company [Fabergé] did not accept this proposition”. The text is quoted in an article published by the RNM and signed by Mr Ivanov, Tatiana Fabergé, the granddaughter of Karl Fabergé, and Valentin Skurlov.

Mr Skurlov, a leading Fabergé archival researcher, says that a full evaluation of the Wooden Egg has been carried out. The object’s metal has been analysed and the archival evidence has been closely examined. The results indicate that the egg is authentic, he says.

Peter Schaffer, one of the owner’s of A La Vieille Russie, a leading Russian objets d’art gallery in New York, says there is “a lot of controversy” surrounding the Wooden Egg.

The Constellation Egg has divided scholars even more. Mr Skurlov says he has not analysed this object and is not prepared to comment on it. The Art Newspaper approached many Fabergé scholars to ask about the two eggs. Many were unwilling to comment. With Fabergé pieces fetching record prices, such reticence might be a prudent business strategy, since all freely admit that the RNM has been an important customer.

“We only know of one Constellation Egg‚ and it’s at the Fersman Museum [in Moscow]”, says Tatyana Muntyan, the chief Fabergé specialist at the State Kremlin Museum. “I don’t know which Constellation Egg Mr Ivanov is supposed to have because he has never showed me anything”. Mr Schaffer is equally mystified by the RNM’s claims to own a Constellation Egg.

Mr Ivanov says his Constellation Egg is authentic and that the one in the Fersman Museum was originally created by Fabergé to become a lighting fixture.


Thursday, 30 June 2005

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