When you think of Fabergé eggs, you probably think of the collection of shiny tchotchkes that sits behind glass in your grandma’s living room. But the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is working hard to shift our perspectives: it turns out Fabergé is much more than collectible kitsch…
The House of Fabergé is a jewellery empire that ruled the lands of luxury in 19th century Russia. It was founded by Carl Fabergé, who throughout a skyrocketing career became the purveyor of intricately crafted objects of beauty first to people like the Czars Alexander III and Nicholas II, and then, to royal families and the most élite strata of society around the world.
Among the 240 objects exhibited in this first-ever Fabergé exhibition, Fabulous Fabergé: Jeweller to the Czars, organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and hosted by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts exclusively in Canada, there are four of the 43 remaining Fabergé eggs commissioned by the Romanovs. And to those of you who always wondered “why eggs?”, your curiosity will be quelled: these creations are inscribed in the Slavic tradition of the Easter egg where miniature eggs are given at Easter in the form of pendants. Fabergé put his mark on the tradition by making gifts of larger-sized jewel-encrusted egg-shaped art objects to the imperial family.
In the exhibition, it’s fascinating to see how complex Fabergé’s designs became, including miniature portraits, sculptural elements and increasingly ambitious techniques. Apart from the eggs, there are broaches, paperweights in the shape of animals, impossibly delicate crystal flowers and a wide variety of ornamental creations that exhibit the opulent tastes that reigned at the time.
One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition is how it paints a picture of the whole time and place – 19th century Russia, a meeting point of Slavic and Christian traditions, a period of contrasting extreme wealth and poverty, and the end of the Imperial age. The House of Fabergé closed in 1917, when the First World War and the Russian Revolution and put an abrupt end to the reign of the Romanovs. Luckily, this sprawling exhibition pays this unique artisan and entrepreneur the tribute he is due.
Fabulous Fabergé: Jeweller to the Czars, until October 5, 2014
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