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The Fans of Fabergé

Grand Duchess ConstantineIn the 19th century the house of Fabergé was the premiere jewellery house in Russia. Formed in 1842 by Gustav Fabergé, it is best known today for the Imperial Easter Eggs it produced for the Royal Family of Russia each year. In 1872 the firm was taken over by Gustav’s son, Carl Fabergé (1846-1920) and under his guidance it became the largest jewellery making establishment in Russia.

Employing up to 500 master craftsmen and designers with modern technical equipment, the main jewellery making workshop , shop and office were located in Carl Fabergé’s own house in the aristocratic quarters of St Petersburg, in the Bolshaya Morskaya Street.

The firm was known throughout the world for its jewellery, silverware and other articles of metal and stone. It had branches in Moscow (from 1887), Odessa (from 1900), Kiev (1905-1910) and London (from 1903). In 1885 Carl Fabergé received permission to call himself “Supplier to the Imperial Household”, and in 1880 he was made an hereditary honorary citizen and received the title “Valuer to the Office of His Imperial Majesty”.

fbvertThe output of the Fabergé firm was large, extremely well made and expensive. A large percentage of this output was in objects known as bijouterie (small jewellery pieces) and accessories. These have also been the items least likely to survive, so despite their large numbers it is always hard to get a large amount of them together. During the Russian Revolution and civil war it was mainly bijouterie that disappeared because of its value, precious stones and small size. For the most part these items were melted down after the stones, particularly, if they were rare ones, had been removed. Fans, with jewelled guard sticks, could easily fall into either category.

Nor was it only the revolutionary age that was ruthless towards bijouterie. By the end of the 19th century in St Petersburg and Moscow as well it was hard to impress people with diamonds, which had become accessible even for those of moderate means. Bijouterie was by then an accepted part of people’s lives and often the object of trading. It was rarely regarded as something worth collecting.

Fans, as accessories, were an item manufactured on a regular basis by Fabergé. In photos of the firm’s display room taken in 1902 fans are included on the top shelves of almost all the display cases. Being an indispensable part of fashion for the period, jewelled fans were an essential part of court costume (see above). The one being held in the hand of Grand Duchess Constantine in the photo above is clearly a jewelled fan, as the pearls lining the edges of it guards can easily be seen. These types of jewelled fans were made by Fabergé as a regular commercial item. They were also made for the Imperial family for weddings (a bridal gift) and as gifts to fellow female royal relations. Nicholas II is known to have presented one to Princess Victoria, one of Queen Alexandra’s daughters during a cruise on the Mediterranean in 1905, on the imperial yacht “Standart”. This fan is currently in the collection of the Earl and Countess of Harewood.

What makes Fabergé’s fans distinctive is their use of enamel and jewels on the guard sticks. Fabergé was renowned for his expert use of enamel and it is a constant feature on his famous Easter eggs. Indeed, many of the rare surviving fans have been made by Henrik Wigstrom (1886-1908). Born in Finland, Wigstrom became an apprentice in 1884 and subsequently the closest assistant of Mikhail Perkhin, the Fabergé workmaster. After his death in 1903 he became head of the workshop.

The leaves of Fabergé ‘s fans are typical of the high quality fans produced during the Victorian and Edwardian ages. However, the leaves themselves are often not outstanding, it is the guard sticks which are the distinguishing feature. One fan, c1900, which has survived as part of the Kremlin collection has a gold guard stick (23cm long) decorated with rocaille scrolls, chrysolites and brilliant diamonds. The fan sticks are Mother of Pearl, inlaid with gold. The paper section of the fan has painted scenes of 18th century gallantry, with several groups of cavaliers and ladies strolling in a park, signed by the artist Van Garden, who worked at the famous French fan factory Duvelleroy. This scene has also been embellished with the use of sequins sewn into the leaf, a common fashionable practice for fans of this date. This testifies to the House of Fabergé ‘s links with European artistic centres in the manufacture of complex articles.

Two Fabergé fans have also survived in the Forbes Magazine Collection. One is a ostrich feather fan. Once again it has been made by Henrik Wigstrom. It has a rock crystal handle, surmounted and capped by a salmon pink enamel circle embellished with diamonds, out of this sprouts a number of white ostrich feathers. The handle terminates with a salmon pink enamel cap. Attached to this are two long silk tassels. Grand Duchess Xena, the sister of Nicholas II is known to have owned a fan very similar to this and carried it at the 17th century costume ball held in the Winter Palace in St Petersburg in 1903. This particular fan was purchased at Fabergé in London in 1908 for 90 pounds.

The other fan in the Forbes collection is a folding fan. Made by Henrik Wigstrom, once again it has a salmon pink enamel guard stick, embellished with diamonds. The leaf is made of gold gauze, inserted with paintings of gallant scenes in 18th century style, once again embellished with sequins. This leaf was painted by A E Begnee.

One Imperial wedding fan has also been preserved in the New Orleans Museum of Art. Presented to Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, on July 27th 1901, by Tsar Nicholas II on the occasion of her marriage to Prince Peter of Oldenburg, this fan was made by Mikhail Perkhin, a self taught craftsmen. He was from 1884 Fabergé workmaster in charge of turning out some of the firm’s best pieces. He is also known to have worked on at least half of the Imperial Easter eggs. This indicates somewhat the importance this fan had to Fabergé, that he would entrust it to his best artist. It has guard sticks of gold overlaid with yellow enamel embellished with diamonds with the monogram of the Grand Duchess, heart shaped diamonds and the year 1901worked in diamonds with double headed eagles worked into the design. There is a close up of the guard stick, illustrating Fabergé’s enamel and Jewel work at the top of this page. The fan leaf is painted by Solomko and shows an Imperial couple receiving gifts of bread and salt after ancient custom. Below this there is a view of the Oldenburg palace in St Petersburg.

Not all of Fabergé ‘s fans have enamel guards. There are some preserved designs for fans with tortoiseshell sticks, with inlay designs of diamonds. One example to have survived in a private collection has a fine Brussels lace leaf, with a design showing the coat of arms of the Princess Schahowskoya. The tortoiseshell sticks are plain. The Guards are also of tortoiseshell, inlaid with diamonds set in platinum. On the whole this is an elegant fan, nicely balanced, and superior in many respects to the fans with painted leaves.

In May 1995 Christies sold a Fabergé fan dated c1885. It had a leaf painted with Diana and the Gods, with a temple and Greek shipping in a harbour beyond, signed in Cyrillic, Lipgat (Liphard) for Baron Ernst Von Liphard. The verso had rococo decoration, also signed Lipgart and monogram A.N. The mother of pearl sticks are carved and gilt with putti, the gold guard sticks chased with putti, the upper guardstick also chased with the monogram A.N and enamelled in blue over guilloch moiré ground. Both sticks are marked with the Fabergé maker’s mark and Fabergé workmaster’s mark for Michael Evamplevithc Perchin. The handle is set with old brilliant cut diamonds, collet set. The length of the fan is 14in (35cm). This fan is an unusual early survival of Fabergé ‘s work. Most of the surviving Fabergé fans are classical in style and date from the early 20th century. This one has a distinctly neo-rococo style.

The artist, Baron Ernst Friedrich von Liphart was born in Ratshof in 1847 and died in 1932. He worked in Spain, Paris and Florence. A painter of Royal and society portraits, he was from 1905 conservator at the Hermitage in St Petersburg. From the initials on the guards this appears to have been a private commission.

Sources:

  • ‘The World of Fabergé’ by I.A Rodimtseva, published by Red Square Publishers, Moscow, 1996
  • ‘Fabergé – Goldsmith and Jeweller’, by Henry Charles Bainbridge, 1949
  • ‘Imperial Fans from the Hermitage’, by Hélène Alexander and Larisa Yakovleva, the Fan Museum, 1997
  • ‘Fabergé – Fantasies and Treasures’, by Geza Von Hapsburg, Arum Press, 1995
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