Montréal: "Fabuleux Fabergé" opens at the Musée des Beaux-Arts.


The banner on the Safdie-designed Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal.

The banner on the Safdie-designed Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal.

On the evening of June 11, despite a steady light rain, hundreds of invited guests lined around the block in front of Montréal’s Musée des Beaux-Arts in order to attend the gala opening of the new exhibition: “Fabuleux Fabergé: Joaillier au Tsars.” The exhibition, which is the only Canadian venue for the exhibition “Fabergé Revealed” which opened at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts last year, is a reevaluation of the magnificent collection assembled by Lillian Thomas Pratt during the 1940s-1950s, and which the museum continues to expand.  The collection has been touring, as a new multi-million dollar expansion takes place at the VMFA; the reinstallation of the Pratt collection is planned for 2016.

The crowd at the opening reception.

The crowd at the opening reception.

Museum officials noted that the crowd for the opening was the largest that they remembered, and the crush of people were clearly interested in the exhibition.  The event attracted many local Québecois personalities, as well the new Russian Consul in Montréal, the Hon. Yury Vartanovich Bedzhanian, and a score of Russian Imperial historians and Fabergé specialists.


(R-L) Geza von Habsburg, Robin Nicholson, Nathalie Blondil on the stairs of the museum.

(R-L) Geza von Habsburg, Robin Nicholson, Nathalie Blondil on the stairs of the museum.

Opening announcements were made by the exhibition’s charismatic Director, Nathalie Blondil, who explained that the exhibition was a major departure for both the museum and for Fabergé exhibitions in general in the selection of exhibition designer, M. Hubert le Gall, a French artist and sculptor known internationally for his unconventional designs.  Blondil also noted that this was the first major exhibition of the works of Karl Fabergé ever to be seen in Canada.  Ms. Blondil was then followed by exhibition’s curator, Dr. Géza von Habsburg, who noted that the exhibition was a chance for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to reassess, reinterpret, and reevaluate their important collection.  With a new catalogue that reflects more recent scholarship, this exhibition is very important. Finally, Robin Nicholson of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts praised the exhibition and its organizers, and announced that after this international exhibition, the Pratt collection would probably never travel again after its reinstallation in 2016.


The display of miniature eggs by Fabergé

The display of miniature eggs by Fabergé

The exhibition begins with a dark and intimate room that is dedicated to the Russian tradition of giving easter eggs, and objects created by Fabergé and other jewelers for the devotions of their Russian Orthodox clients.  This room features dozens of miniature easter eggs, mounted on stemlike gold wands which rise from a central table like sprays of lily of the valley.  It is an interesting effect, as it allows the viewers to admire the eggs completely in the round.  The jeweled icons by Faberge, Ovchinnikov, and other makers line the far wall, in very shallow cases, allowing visitors to see these works up close.

A icon of the Iveron Mother of God with an elaborate "Oklad," or icon covering, by Fabergé.

A icon of the Iveron Mother of God with an elaborate "Oklad," or icon covering, by Fabergé.


The following rooms are divided into sections that are centered around one of the four Imperial Easter Eggs in the Pratt Collection.  The Peter the Great Egg, the Red Cross Egg, the Pelican Egg, and the spectacular Tsarevich Egg are each the center of attention in their rooms, each sealed in a transparent column on a high base, allowing full view in the round.


Frames, cane and parasol handles, and other objects of virtue cover the unusual cases.

Frames, cane and parasol handles, and other objects of virtue cover the unusual cases.

Along the walls, unusual custom-built cases in amorphous shapes hold the many pieces that make up the collection.  Several people around me mentioned they thought that the cases were “weird” but I was very impressed for several reasons.  Fabergé pieces are generally exhibited as if they were works of art.  They are elevated to eyelevel or in cases mounted on walls, to provide maximum security and visibility.  In this show, Le Gall has placed the pieces unusually low, at table height, with low hanging lamps over the pieces.  The undulating cases allow the viewers to walk behind each piece. 


The rarely-seen reverse of the 1914 Imperial Red Cross Egg with portraits, showing the hinge and the gold cyphers of the Grand Duchesses and the Empress, whose portraits are on the front.

The rarely-seen reverse of the 1914 Imperial Red Cross Egg with portraits, showing the hinge and the gold cyphers of the Grand Duchesses and the Empress, whose portraits are on the front.

This is exactly the way the pieces were intended to be seen, on tabletops with artificial light.  It was, for the first time in my memory, easy to appreciate that the rose-cut diamonds were specifically set to catch the light from that vantage, and that the angle of the enamel frames was specifically chosen for optimum effect of color and reflection.  Objects in Oyster grey and Salmon pink are particularly beautiful in this setting, and it is easy to differentiate the many layers of color required to execute these rare colors.

 

While the catalog does not mention it, the cases also recall the workbenches of the Fabergé masters; large tables with indented cutouts for the jewelers, allowing them maximum table space, and the ability for a number of workmasters to work on a piece at the same time.

 

Uplighted Plique-à-jour enamel and Slavic Revival silver against one of the silhouettes that punctuated the exhibition.

Uplighted Plique-à-jour enamel and Slavic Revival silver against one of the silhouettes that punctuated the exhibition.

The exhibition includes video installations, complicated effects using fractured glass panels on which photographs of objects and the Imperial Family are projected, and hidden uplighting which allow the pieces to rest in a uniform glow which makes every detail clear.


The objects in this exhibition are simply to numerous to list, and the scholarly work is better examined in the VMFA’s exceptional catalogue, “Fabergé Revealed” available here.


If you are in Montreal this summer, I highly recommend this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these familiar works in a challenging and unusual setting that enhances, rather than detracts from their beauty.



Christie's Russian Sale: Grand Duchess Xenia and Obolensky Collections Fare Well

There were several charming surprises in the April 9th Christie's Sale of Russian Works of Art in New York.  A Fabergé icon of Saint Ksenia from the Collection of HIH Grand Duchess Ksenia Alexandrovna of Russia was estimated at 8,000-12,000 but the final price was almost four times the high estimate, finally selling for 47,500.  An unusual and interesting mixed-metal dessert service by Fabergé in the "Japonaisme" style was estimated at the very low 4,000-6,000 and sold closer to its actual value at 35,000.  Imperial objects, shaded and cloisonné enamels all sold well, but the real record was set with the important works of sculpture in the sale.

An icon of St. Ksenia by Fabergé, from the collection of Grand Duchess Ksenia Alexandrovna and sold by her descendants for $47,500 at Christie's

An icon of St. Ksenia by Fabergé, from the collection of Grand Duchess Ksenia Alexandrovna and sold by her descendants for $47,500 at Christie's

Mark Mohrke, New York Department head noted: “The market responded enthusiastically to rare and fresh works from private collections, including A Marble Bust of Ivan the Terrible by Mark Antokol'skii from the Collection of Prince Ivan Obolensky, which realized $269,000 a world auction record for the artist against an estimate of $100,000-150,000, and Viktor Vasnetsov’s Portrait of I.E. Repin from the Descendants of Alexander Siloti, which realized $112,500.  Works by Fabergé continued to perform well, with a Silver-Mounted And Sandstone Match Holder realizing $161,000 (estimate: $25,000-35,000) and A Silver-Gilt Cloisonné And En Plein Enamel Kovsh realizing $143,000 (estimate: $20,000-30,000), both over four times their high estimates. Christie’s continues as the auction market leader for Russian Works of Art obtaining the top lot of the week, The Bust of Ivan the Terrible by Antokol’skii. We look forward to our next sale of Russian Art taking place on June 2nd in London, which will feature two works by Russian Master Vasily Vereshchagin from The Collection Of The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College to be sold to benefit the acquisitions fund as well as exceptional paintings by Vladimir Borovikovsky (1757-1825) from the Collection of Prince Ivan Obolensky.”

The marble bust of Ivan the Terrible by Mark Antokol'skii on display at Christie's Sale of April 9th.  Bought by Prince Serge Obolensky and his wife, Alice Astor in the 1920's, the piece was sold from the collection of his son, Prince Ivan Obolensky. The bust set a record for the artist, and sold for $269,000.

The marble bust of Ivan the Terrible by Mark Antokol'skii on display at Christie's Sale of April 9th.  Bought by Prince Serge Obolensky and his wife, Alice Astor in the 1920's, the piece was sold from the collection of his son, Prince Ivan Obolensky. The bust set a record for the artist, and sold for $269,000.

"Jewels of the Romanovs" A Lecture for The Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Mass.

As part of the opening event of the new exhibition "The Tsar's Cabinet" at the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts.  Nicholson presented the history of the Russian Imperial Crown jewels, from the foundation of the "Diamond Chamber" by Peter the Great to the dispersal of the collection after the Russian Revolution.  Nicholson focused on pieces of the 18th and the early 19th century "The Diamond Age" to offset the collection of Russian porcelain on display in the museum.

Porcelain, glass, enamel, silver gilt and other alluring materials make this extensive exhibition dazzle. The items demonstrate the evolution of style from the European Classicism of the court of Catherine the Great, to the rich oriental motifs of mid-nineteenth century Russian Historicism of the Kremlin and Grand Duke Constantine Nicholaevich services and the enamel work of Fedor Ruckert and the firm of Ovchinnikov.

The exhibition includes many pieces from significant porcelain services made by the Imperial Porcelain Factory, from the reign of Empress Elizabeth and Catherine the Great to Nicholas and Alexandra.  Visitors will see items featured at state banquets at the Kremlin and other Imperial Palaces, as well as items designed for the tsars’ private use aboard the Imperial yachts.  Among the rare items are two pieces from a service Catherine the Great ordered for her grandson, Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich, as well as pieces from services presented by Augustus III of Saxony and Frederick the Great to the eighteenth century Russian tsarinas.

The exhibition also features two hundred years of glassware, from a beaker from the time of Peter the Great to a vase made by the Imperial Glass Factory that the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna kept on her desk in Denmark after the Russian Revolution. Russian enamels from the late nineteenth century include a major jewel casket made by the Ovchinnikov firm and presented to Tsar Alexander III’s Minister of the Interior, as well as the work of Fedor Ruckert and the work masters of the Faberge firm.

The objects exhibited provide a rare, intimate glimpse into the everyday lives of the tsars. The collection brings together a political and social timeline tied to an understanding of Russian culture. In viewing The Tsars’ Cabinet, one is transported to a majestic era of progressive politics and dynamic social change.

The Tsars’ Cabinet is developed from the Kathleen Durdin Collection and is organized by the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, in collaboration with International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC.  The exhibition runs through the end of May, 2014.  

Nicholson Lectures on the Alexander Palace for the Russian Nobility Association in New York

New York -- On the evening of February 25, Nicholas Nicholson, Museum Liaison for Friends of the Alexander Palace, delivered a lecture for the Russian Nobility Association in America entitled “The Alexander Palace: Last Home of the Imperial Family.”  Nicholson was asked to present as a "Prince Alexis Scherbatow Lecturer" in the most recent of the Nobility Association's series of lectures in support of the Prince Alexis P. Scherbatow Scholarship Fund.  

Presenting recent scholarly information made available to him by the curatorial staff of the Alexander Palace, Nicholson gave an informative survey of the history of the palace, from its creation in the reign of Catherine II “The Great,” to its subsequent decoration and modernizations during the reigns of later emperors.  Particular emphasis was given to the creation of the suite of private rooms of the last Emperor Nicholas II and his wife the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.  Nicholson also recounted the losses to the palace’s collection under communism, and the devastating damage to the palace during the Second World War. 

The Alexander Palace gave Nicholson special permission to illustrate the rooms of the palace in as they existed in 1918 by showing the valuable color autochromes only recently discovered abroad and returned to the palace by the Friends.  This was the first time these images had been seen publically in the US.  The lecture ended with images of the beautifully restored Parade Rooms of the palace, and updates on the many projects currently underway at the Alexander Palace. 

Attended by a crowd of well over one hundred that filled the Great Hall of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, the lecture was hailed a success by members of the Nobility Association and their guests alike.

 

Russian Orthodox Church Proposed for Paris by Moscow Patriarchate.

The new Russian Orthodox Church on the Seine proposed by the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church is modern and a far better building than the one proposed last year, which offered an ersatz historical structure, and a hideous glass roof that made the cathedral appear to be trapped inside the astrodome.  The new structure takes and old Novgorod shape and the model expresses only a limited idea of what the limestone and glass building will bring.  

Source: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/01/17/u...

Lecture February 25 for the Russian Nobility Association in New York

"THE ALEXANDER PALACE: LAST HOME OF THE RUSSIAN IMPERIAL FAMILY"

Russian art and Imperial culture expert Nicholas Nicholson tells the fascinating story of the creation, development, destruction and restoration of one of the most exceptional palaces in the Tsarskoye Selo architectural complex.

Ordered by Catherine the Great as a gift for her grandson Alexander the First, the Palace immediately became a favorite place of rest and refuge for the Romanov family. Far from the public rooms of the nearby Catherine Palace and St. Petersburg’s famed Winter Palace, it was a secluded place for happy family time. Beloved by every generation of Romanovs since—the Alexander Palace is now perhaps best known as the last home of Tsar Nicholas II and his family—who left from the palace for Tobolsk in 1917.

But the palace’s story does not end with the Revolution—the story of its use as a propaganda museum, its violent desecration during the war, and the slow destruction of its precious legacy during years of Soviet occupation end with the triumphal story of its return to the Russian people in 1996, and its ultimate goal of a complete restoration to its exact state in 1918.

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