Full of glitter and excess, Fabergé in London at the V&A is the perfect Christmas exhibition.
From a jewelry business founded by his father in St. Petersburg in 1842, Fabergé built an empire of workshops and master craftsmen. In 1885 he became purveyor to the court and completed the first of the decorative objects that shaped his career: an Easter egg that Emperor Alexander III. had commissioned for his wife Maria Feodorovna.
Carl Fabergé satisfied the opulent tastes of the Russian royal family – and the European nobility – in the decades before the World War and the bloody revolution. His complicated and inventive confections have become the epitome of the glittering excesses of the last tsars and their families.
How they gasped with delight at Fabergé’s bizarre peasant figures in semi-precious stones and the perfect pansies that sprang up to reveal portraits of the royal brood.
This first white enamel egg opened to reveal a golden yolk that contained a chicken that contained a replica of the imperial crown with a ruby pendant egg.
They became a family tradition – 50 commissioned eggs over 30 years, their designs became more and more elaborate and inventive up to the cautious final war egg.
Not all survived and many that were sold were separated from their treasures: in 2015, an elephant vending machine was discovered in the British Royal Collection that was missing in an egg from 1892. Salesroom in 1903. Here, Edwardian bankers and aristocrats gave fortunes for crazy frills made of: jeweled thermometer holder and enamelled button hook.
Meeting British tastes did not inspire the most refined work of the Russian jeweler. The British aristocracy has always been more inclined to express their love for animals than human companions, and Fabergé gratified them with carved stone figures of beloved pets – including an older, overweight spaniel from Sandringham who is so sugar-sweet it will make your molar teeth howl.
The First World War ended this decadence. For a while the Russian workshop made finely machined grenade parts, but the party was over and Fabergé died in mourning in Switzerland in 1920. Its rare confections have become coveted status symbols for new global elites.
The Easter eggs may be the stars of this show, but Faberge in London is the perfect Christmas display. Alma Pihl’s exquisite winter jewels include an enchanting rock crystal and diamond chain that is reminiscent of melting ice.
This is also a show about exchanging gifts, with all the politics, hierarchy, irritability, and high-handedness that can come with it. One section shows wonders made for London’s social elite. Fabergé became so de rigeur that the hostess Lady Alington stated that the guests of their Christmas party only gave each other pieces from the workshop.
Too expensive? Her only option was to give away again or stay away. This is certainly a way to increase the stakes on this year’s Secret Santa.
Until May 8, 2022; (020 7942 2000)