View full screen - View 1 of Lot 8. A FABERGÉ JEWELLED OBSIDIAN MODEL OF A BEAR CUB, ST PETERSBURG, CIRCA 1900.
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A FABERGÉ JEWELLED OBSIDIAN MODEL OF A BEAR CUB, ST PETERSBURG, CIRCA 1900

Property from the Brooklyn Museum, sold to Support Museum Collections

A FABERGÉ JEWELLED OBSIDIAN MODEL OF A BEAR CUB, ST PETERSBURG, CIRCA 1900

A FABERGÉ JEWELLED OBSIDIAN MODEL OF A BEAR CUB, ST PETERSBURG, CIRCA 1900

Property from the Brooklyn Museum, sold to Support Museum Collections

A FABERGÉ JEWELLED OBSIDIAN MODEL OF A BEAR CUB, ST PETERSBURG, CIRCA 1900


Realistically carved in obsidian, seated on hind quarters, faceted ruby-set eyes, apparently unmarked

length 3cm, 1 1/4in.

To request a condition report for this lot, please contact helen.culversmith@sothebys.com

A La Vieille Russie, New York
Helen Babbott Sanders, acquired from the above
The Brooklyn Museum, New York, bequest from the above in 1983
Exhibition catalogue, Fabergé: Exhibition for the Benefit of the Scholarship Fund of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Design, New York, A La Vieille Russie, Inc., 1983, n. 390, p. 110 listed, p. 112 illustrated
G. von Habsburg, Fabergé - Hofjuwelier der Zaren, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Munich, 1986, n. 356, p. 203 illustrated
G. von Habsburg and D. Park Curry, Fabergé in America, San Francisco, 1996, n. 179 p. 198 illustrated
Exhibition catalogue The Fabergé Menagerie, Walters Art MuseumBaltimore, 2003, n. 111, p. 177 illustrated
New York, A La Vieille Russie, Inc., Fabergé: Exhibition for the Benefit of the Scholarship Fund of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Design, April 22 - May 21, 1983
New York, A La Vieille Russie, Inc., Fabergé, April 20 - June 4, 1983
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Fabergé: Hofjuwelier der Zaren, December 5, 1986 - February 22, 1987
Houston, Museum of Natural Science, The World of Fabergé: Russian Gems and Jewels, February 11, 1994 - July 10, 1994
San Francisco, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, Fabergé in America: the Legacy of the Tsars, May 25 - July 28, 1996; also travelled to New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, February 12 - April 30, 1996; Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, August 24 - November 9, 1996; New Orleans, Fine Arts Museum, December 7, 1996 - February 8, 1997; and Cleveland Museum of Art, March 12 - May 11, 1997
New York, Brooklyn Museum of Art, BMA Fabergé Installation, supplementary to Jewels of the Romanovs: Treasures of the Russian Imperial Court, March 20 - July 12, 1998
Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, The Fabergé Menagerie, February 13 - July 27, 2003; also travelled to Columbus, Columbus Museum of Art, October 12, 2003 - January 4, 2004; Portland, Portland Art Museum, February 8 - May 2, 2004
New York, Brooklyn Museum, Key to the City, June 2 - September 6, 2010

Intrinsically charming and representative of the highest level of craftsmanship, the animals in the present collection epitomise Fabergé’s ability to transform mineral specimens into lifelike works of art. The carving of the present model of a seated bear cub utilises the full potential of obsidian, simulating the sheen of bear fur and capturing the sinews of its haunch. The vertical polish of the carving and its undulating form work with the natural qualities of the stone to introduce movement and verisimilitude in this Fabergé study. 


Fabergé animals are among the most whimsical and imaginative objects of vertu made by the famous firm, whose Royal and Imperial clients often favoured animal and flower studies (see lots 9 and 10) to elaborate jewels. These works, employing a range of natural materials, creatively and expertly transformed into realistic life studies were so popular amongst Faberge’s elite clientele that Queen Alexandra’s birthday table was described by Viscount Knutsford as containing numerous animals, which were augmented by further examples as she received her birthday gifts in 1909. These animals formed part of the Sandringham commission that is now part of the Royal Collection and represents the largest collection of hardstone animal models (C. de Guitaut, Fabergé’s Animals, A Royal Farm in Miniature, p. 9).


The Sandringham commission tells us much about the intricate process involved in creating each, individual Fabergé hardstone animal. The commission was born out of the Royal Family’s constant demand for new and interesting animal figures paired with the appetite of Fabergé’s other clients for these playful objects. In the case of the Sandringham commission, each animal was observed first-hand to create a wax model that was then executed in Russia by Fabergé’s ‘sculptor-stonecarvers’, famed for their ability to source the appropriate hardstone to capture the natural aspects of the animal. The careful choice of stone is described in the memoirs of one of the firm's head workmasters Franz Birbaum, written in 1919:


‘It is impossible to list all the animals that were used as themes for these figures, but it should be said that the pose was always as compact as possible, as dictated by the technique of the material.’ 

('Birbaum Memoirs' in G. von Habsburg, M. Lopato, Fabergé: Imperial Jeweller, Milan, 1993, p. 459)


The workshops in which these animals were sculpted were most likely those of Kremlev and Derbyshev, who both carved studies themselves and oversaw the complete production process of each work. Thoughtful sculptures employing the vast range of naturally occurring Russian minerals came increasingly to the fore of Fabergé’s production, causing it to increasingly focus on hardstone animals, flowers and figures (C. de Guitaut, op. cit., p. 23).


It was of the greatest concern to Fabergé’s craftsmen that the perfect mineral specimens, of the right colour and markings were sourced for each individual study. In the present study of a seated bear cub, the polished obsidian, which captures the light differently at all angles, perfectly emulates the sheen of wet bear fur.


Obsidian is a naturally occurring volcanic glass, created by the rapid cooling of lava. It comes in several forms, the most desirable being specimens like that used in the present bear, which have an iridescent or metallic ‘sheen’ caused by light reflecting from minute inclusions of mineral crystals, rock particles, or gas. The colour of the iridescence in this Fabergé bear study is created using rarer ‘silver obsidian’. Due to the range in its sheen, obsidian was often employed in Fabergé’s hardstone studies, Birbaum mentions it in his memoirs:


‘Of the animal figures the caricature elephants were particularly successful. They are of various stones in the form of bibelots, obsidian seals and walruses. The effect of wet fur is achieved by the play of colours.’ 

('Birbaum Memoirs' in G. von Habsburg, M. Lopato, Fabergé: Imperial Jeweller, Milan, 1993, p. 459)


Once the carving of each animal was completed, it was returned to the workshop of Fabergé’s head workmaster. In the case of the present studies, most likely that of Michael Perchin or Henrik Wigström. In the workshops the animals were then polished and mounted with their finishing touches, such as their gem-set eyes. These works were then retailed though Fabergé’s shops in St Petersburg and London, where they were broadly collected. Notably, an inventory of the possessions of Empress Maria Feodorovna and Emperor Alexander III compiled by the director of the Anichkov Palace after 1917 lists more than one hundred Fabergé stone animal studies (C. de Guitaut, op. cit., p. 34).