Property from a Private American Collection of Historic Jewels
While mourning the loss of her mother, Grand Duchess Maria maintained a frosty relationship with her mother-in-law Queen Victoria, ‘a silly obstinate old fool’, in her view. There were frequent arguments over rank and titles. The Grand Duchess, as the only daughter of the Emperor, had precedence over all the grand duchesses of Russia and resented ranking lower than the Princess of Wales in England. As an Imperial Highness by birth and a Royal Highness by marriage, she protested the Queen’s edict that ‘Royal’ come first by flaunting her magnificent jewels before the Queen and her daughters, whose collections were less impressive. She also defied convention by smoking in public.
The celebrated Phillips Brothers firm of retail jewellers was established before 1839 by the brothers Magnus Albert and Robert Abraham Phillips at 31 Cockspur Street, Charing Cross, London. By 1851, when the firm exhibited a gold and silver figure of a British Life-Guard at the Great Exhibition, R.A. Phillips was solely in charge of the firm. In 1867, he became the only English jeweller to win a Gold Medal at the Paris Universal Exposition. Reflecting the eclecticism of late 19th century taste, the firm advertised in 1870 as ‘Classic goldsmiths, jewellers and coral merchants, Art Reproductions in the Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, Roman, Runic, Byzantine, Mediaeval, and Oriental styles.’ Phillips Brothers supplied medals and decorations to Queen Victoria and counted other members of the British Royal Family as clients (J. Culme, The Directory of Gold and Silversmiths, Jewellers and Allied Traders, 1838-1914, Woodbridge, 1987, pp. 364-365, and S. Bury, Jewellery, 1789-1910, vol. 2, London, 1991, p. 465).
Alexander Matveevich Wegner (1824-1894) was a portrait miniaturist who was promoted to Academician of the St Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts in 1858 having completed his studies there. He served as Court miniaturist from the 1870s, producing portraits of the Imperial Family, including one of the Empress set in a bracelet which sold, Sotheby's London, 26 November 2013, lot 637.
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