of rectangular shape, the carved bowenite base of stepped form, surmounted by three carved hardstone elephants standing on "carpets" enameled translucent gold and red and with gold tassels and fringe, each of the three elephants with gold howdahs enameled translucent green and each with a different cabochon pushpiece: sapphire on the left, moonstone in the center, and ruby on the right
A la Vieille Russie, NY
Mrs. John (Betsy) Hay Whitney
Sotheby's, New York, April 22, 1999, lot 3
A la Vieille Russie, New York
Amalia Küssner Coudert, "The Human Side of the Tsar," The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, vol. 72, no. 6 (October 1906): pp. 845-855.
A. Kenneth Snowman, The Art of Carl Fabergé, London, 1953, no. 160
The elephant, as a symbol for the Danish Royal House and the ancient Order of the Elephant, Denmark's highest chivalric order, was also an important symbol for the Russian Imperial family. The imagery had become particularly important after Emperor Alexander III married Princess Dagmar of Denmark, later Empress Maria Feodorovna. The Danish order's distinctive elephant and castle informed the ornament of several important Imperial commissions to Fabergé including a monumental kovsh celebrating the golden wedding anniversary of King Christian IX and Queen Louise of Denmark as well as the 1903 Danish Jubilee Egg, an Easter gift from Nicholas II to his mother. These commissions also included orders for smaller objects for the imperial households such as single and double elephant bell pushes. (For examples of these sorts of bell pushes, see The Fabergé Menagerie, Baltimore, 2003, pp. 162-164 and Caroline de Guitaut, Fabergé in the Royal Collection, London, 2003, p. 208, no. 275, RCIN 40124). Archival records indicate only one triple elephant bell push was purchased by a member of the Imperial family. An invoice dated December 24, 1898 shows that Emperor Nicholas II purchased an "electric, jadeite with three elephants" bell push for 385 rubles. The rarity of a triple elephant bell push suggests that the offered lot, if not actually the bell push purchased in 1898, was certainly an Imperial commission. It was rare enough for a household to have so many servants as to require a double bell push; a triple bell push could only have been used for the wealthiest of homes. It is no surprise, of course, that this bell push was once owned and actively used by Betsy Cushing Whitney.
A 1906 article by Amalia Küssner Coudert (1863-1932), a Tiffany Studios artist who had achieved great prestige as a society miniaturist in New York, indicated that a triple elephant bell push very similar to the offered lot was in use in Alexandra Feodorovna's rooms in the Winter Palace. Küssner Coudert was summoned to London in 1896 to paint portraits of the Royal Family and this undoubtedly laid the path for her Russian adventure in 1899. That year, Küssner Coudert was invited to St. Petersburg to paint the portrait of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna. While there, she received a second commission to paint a portrait of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. The sittings for the portrait led to numerous meetings with both the Empress and Emperor and Küssner Coudert recorded her memories of these meetings for an article in the American popular illustrated journal The Century. Among her many interesting observations is a mention of a triple elephant bell push: "...the Empress sometimes asked me to touch the bell which summoned a lady-in-waiting. This little bell was a curiously beautiful bit of ivory carving, representing elephants in trappings of gold and jewels standing on a piece of jade. One - bore a huge diamond on his back, another a great sapphire, and the other a huge star ruby, which I touched when the Empress was ready for the lady-in-waiting." (The Century, October 1906, p. 853) While Küssner Coudert might have incorrectly identified the stones, it seems very probable that the offered bell push is the one she saw in 1906.
We are grateful to James Hurtt and Svetlana Chestnykh for their assistance in cataloging this lot.
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