It is the Russia Season at the Sainsbury Centre. REBECCA MACNAUGHTON looks at what will be on show
The hottest exhibition ticket of the year at the Sainsbury Centre
WHEN HEARING the name ‘Fabergé’ you could be forgiven for wondering what it has to do with Norfolk; but a new exhibition opening at the Sainsbury Centre later this month will explain all. The Russia Season: Royal Fabergé and Radical
Russia, opening on October 14, will reveal the exquisite beauty of the work of celebrated jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé with a showcase of over 60 objects linked to the Sandringham Estate. Fabergé began creating his treasures in a simple basement workshop, but between 1884 and 1917 produced an estimated 200,000 pieces of jewellery, silverware and miniatures.
Perhaps the most famous of the objects on show will be the Basket of Flowers Imperial Easter Egg, an objet d’art which features a delicate basket, blossoming bouquet and intricate arching handle.
One of only 50 eggs ever made, it was gifted to Alexandra Feodorovna in 1901 just as her aunt and uncle, Edward and Alexandra, took the throne in Britain. Such royal ties saw Fabergé become an international name, and in 1903, he opened a shop in London – the only one of its kind outside the Russian Empire.
In a celebration of Edwardian aesthetic, the fascination with Fabergé continued to grow in the Royal family and, in 1907, the esteemed workshop crossed continents to arrive in Norfolk for a very special commission. Edward VII had requested portrait sculptures to be made of Sandringham’s resident dogs and horses as a gift to his wife, Queen Alexandra.
The project was extended to include other animals on the royal estate, and sculptors from St. Petersburg arrived to make life-like casts. Farm breeds indigenous to Norfolk, such as turkey, sheep and pigeon, were included, as well as the more exotic brown bear, believed to have been resident on the estate until the late 1800s. Such a detailed, conscientious practise produced naturalistic sculptures that are even recogniseable by name, and included Persimmon, Queen Alexandra’s champion racehorse and Caesar, Edward’s favourite Norfolk terrier.
The exhibition will include several of the pieces from the Sandringham commission, as well as a record number of loans from private and public collections in Britain and America. Vintage films and photographs will further explore the processes used by the extraordinary craftsmen, and showcase skills no longer used today.
Yet the exhibition itself covers more than just Fabergé’s visionary talent: “This is a story about the huge significance of small things,” explains Ian Collins, the exhibition’s curator. “Royal Fabergé will also tell the saga of Sandringham – the newly-bought royal retreat where Alexandra went after her honeymoon in 1863 and where she died in 1925.”
It will also tell the story of the people who helped make the place, including land agent Frank Beck. He had overseen the Fabergé project but vanished with 16 estate staff one afternoon, in August 1915, at Gallipoli. His gold watch, a gift from Alexandra, was retrieved after the war and returned to Sandringham for Frank’s daughter on her wedding day. The watch will now be exhibited for the first time.
Pieces relating to the Sandringham commission remained in Norfolk until Queen Alexandra’s death in 1925, before being moved to Buckingham Palace. Yet a late addition to the collection – the Crow – remained in Norfolk, says Ian Collins, and was purchased at a pivotal time: “A spectacular and sinister crow was added in November 1914, when the First World War was already in a bloody stalemate and these birds were scavenging the battlefields. By then the Fabergé workshops were producing millions of bullets and hand grenades.”
From a basement jewellery shop to a place in international conflict, it is fitting that so many of Fabergé’s commissions will be returned to Norfolk, the county whose very Royal patronage contributed to the jewellery-maker’s international success. The Russia Season: Royal Faberge and Radical Russia, opens at the Sainsbury Centre on October 14, and will run until February 11, 2018. Tickets are £12/£10.50 for concessions, and can be bought online at www.scva.ac.uk.
Left: The Basket of Flowers Egg, 1901 Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 Right: Violet © A La Vieille Russie, New York
Far left: Caesar, c.1908 Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Right: Five-colour gold double marriage cup, pre 1896 © A La Vieille Russie, New York Left: Cigarette case, c. 1910 © A La Vieille Russie, New York
Left: Queen Alexandra’s Dormouse, c. 1910 Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Below: Framed photograph of Queen Alexandra. c. 1907-1908 Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017