Works by Carl Fabergé at Sotheby's
Carl Fabergé Biography
One of the greatest craftsmen of his time, Peter Carl Fabergé was the creator of marvellous works epitomising creative genius and impeccable craftsmanship. The son of jeweller Gustav Fabergé, founder of the eponymous firm, Carl studied jewellery under his father’s guidance and subsequently furthered his studies in Frankfurt, Dresden and Florence. At his return in St. Petersburg he began working for the Fabergé firm under the supervision of Hiskias Pendin, taking complete management of the firm at age 24, after Pendin’s death.
The pivotal point in Fabergé’s career came in the early 1880s when his work was noticed by Tsar Alexander III, who was stunned by Fabergé’s ability to replicate the Kertch (or Shintyan) jewels in the Hermitage Museum. This was the start of Fabergé’s long-lasting relationship with the Russian Imperial Family, which would continue with Alexander III’s son Nicholas II. It was also a decisive moment for the firm, as it shifted its focus from the jewels that had brought it to the spotlight, to the objets de fantasie for which it is now famous for.
The most celebrated objets de fantasie are the Imperial presentation eggs, which were initially commissioned by Alexander III on an annual basis, as a gift to his wife Tsarina Maria. At Alexander III’s death, Nicholas II continued this tradition, but increased the number of eggs so that one would be gifted to his mother Maria and one to his wife Tsarina Alexandra. Designed to arouse a sense of wonder in the receiver, each egg would have its own unique theme and conceal a surprise.
During his lifetime, Fabergé was showered with honours, both in Russia and abroad, and his clientele included the Danish, British and Thai monarchies. The growing number of commissions required an enlargement of the St Petersburg premises and an expansion which included branches in Moscow, Odessa and London. His business saw a decline in the 1910s following the growing unpopularity of Tsar Nicholas II and the outbreak of the First world war in 1914. Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, Fabergé’s business was nationalised, and the master decided to flee the country. He managed to reunite with part of his family before dying at age 74 in 1920.
Fabergé’s success lied in his ability to transform his clients’ fantasies into reality, starting with an initial idea and understanding what material had the best potential to transform the object into reality. What sets Fabergé apart from his contemporaries such as Cartier or Tiffany, is the unrivalled technical mastery and craftsmanship in each object. Fabergé had many highly specialised craftsmen working for him, with each craftsman specialising in a particular material. Despite the large number of workmasters working for him, Fabergé had full control and supervision of the design and the production process, ensuring the highest quality standards and a consistency throughout the firm’s output.
Sotheby’s has sold Works of Art by Fabergé with exceptional provenance in dedicated auctions such as Imperial and Royal Presents and Romanov Heirlooms: the lost inheritance of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna. Additionally, Sotheby's privately sold the celebrated Forbes Magazine collection, now housed in the Fabergé Museum in St Petersburg.