Fabergé & Vertu: Property from the Brooklyn Museum, Sold to Support Museum Collections

Fabergé & Vertu: Property from the Brooklyn Museum, Sold to Support Museum Collections


Property from the Brooklyn Museum, sold to Support Museum Collections


Auction Closed

December 2, 11:54 AM GMT


45,000 - 65,000 GBP

Lot Details


Property from the Brooklyn Museum, sold to Support Museum Collections


carved in obsidian to emulate Japanese netsuke, seated on its hind quarters, rose-cut diamond-set eyes, apparently unmarked; in its original silk and velvet lined fitted Fabergé hollywood case stamped with the Imperial warrant St Petersburg, Moscow

length 4.4cm, 1 3/4in.

A La Vieille Russie, New York
Helen Babbott Sanders
The Brooklyn Museum, New York, bequest from the above in 1983
G. von Habsburg, Fabergé - Hofjuwelier der Zaren, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Munich, 1986, n. 357, p. 203 illustrated
G. von Habsburg and D. Park Curry, Fabergé in America, San Francisco, 1996, n. 180, p. 198 illustrated
Exhibition catalogue The Fabergé Menagerie, Walters Art MuseumBaltimore, 2003, n. 73, p. 139 illustrated

This lustrous obsidian model of a rabbit is carved in the style of a Japanese netsuke. Carl Fabergé was a passionate collector of netsuke, keeping over 500 animal models in his apartment on Bol’shaya Morskaya. It has been suggested that Fabergé’s love of netsuke may have been the origin for all the firm’s animal studies.

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 rabbit, the obsidian has been chosen for its range of silky opalescence beneath the surface of its polish, the effect is extremely lifelike and evocative a rabbit’s softly shining fur.

Obsidian is a naturally occurring volcanic glass, created by the rapid cooling of lava. It comes in a number of forms, the most desirable being specimens like that use in the present rabbit, 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 rabbit study is created by the use of 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).

Fabergé’s animals sculpted after netsuke lie at the very heart of the firm’s popular animal designs and their stylised carving allowed even greater creativity with natural materials. A nearly identical model of a rabbit in lapis lazuli from the de Guigné collection is included in G. von Habsburg, Fabergé in America, New York, 1996, no. 32, p. 51 and a further related model carved in purpurine was included in the Exhibition catalogue, Fabergé -Cartier, Rivalen am Zarenhof, Munich, 28 November 2003 – 12 April 2004, no. 345, p. 250.