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Fabergé: The Lillian Thomas Pratt Bequest

Fabergé: The Lillian Thomas Pratt Bequest

Peter Karl Fabergé (1846-1920) turned the moderately successful jewellery business set up by his father into an internationally acclaimed firm. Between the early 1880s and 1917, the House of Fabergé would produce over 150,000 luxury and novelty items. The designs by Karl and his brother Agathon were executed by highly skilled artisans, resulting in intricate, well-made objects de luxe that proved to be popular with their wealthy international clientele.

Although trained as a jewellery maker, Karl Fabergé’s greatest talent was his business acumen. Recognising that he could not manage the firm’s rapidly growing production by himself, he employed expert workmasters to run independent workshops in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Star Frame Gold, enamel, pearls, glass, ivory (7.6 x 6.7 cm)
Imperial Column Portrait Frame Gold, diamonds, ivory (15.2 cm)

In 1885, Tsar Alexander III commissioned a present for his wife, the Empress Maria. The Jewelled Hen Egg turned out to be the first in a series of circa 50 Easter Eggs produced for two generations of the then ruling Romanov family, cementing Fabergé’s already stellar reputation in Russia and abroad. Five of the eggs are in the collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Unfortunately, at the time of my visit, two eggs were not in their display cases because they were undergoing conservation treatments. The Imperial Easter Eggs are true masterpieces that display the striking design and superb craftsmanship that came out of the Fabergé workshops. Lillian Thomas Pratt, whose collection was bequeathed to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 1947, started buying Fabergé as early as the 1930s. The beauty of the pieces and the strong association with Russia’s last tzars, who commissioned many objects from the firm, ensure that Fabergé will continue to be in demand for a long time.

Imperial Rock-Crystal Easter Egg with Revolving Miniatures, 1896. Egg: rock crystal, diamonds, gold, enamel, cabochon emerald; Miniatures: watercolor, ivory (24.8 cm x 9.8 cm)
Imperial Red Cross Easter Egg, 1915 Egg: enamel, silver, gold; screen: enamel, gold, mother-of-pearl, watercolor, ivory (7.7 cm x 6 cm)

All objects in the above images are produced by the House of Fabergé. All images by Katherine Wetzel © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

The Lillian Thomas Pratt Collection of Russian Imperial Jewels can be seen until 1 August 2012 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 200 N. Boulevard, Richmond, VA.