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House of Fabergé holds court at MMFA

Montreal Gazette     25°C   Overcast Montréal Detailed Forecast   Quick Links: Shopping , Obituaries , Horoscopes       Home News Montreal West Island Off-Island National World Weather Daily Commuter Saturday Extra Today's Paper Opinion Aislin Blogs Editorials Columnists Op-Ed Letters Business Money Markets on FP Your Business Open House Technocite Aerospace Green Tech Mortgages Watchlist Energy Top Employers Sports Canadiens/Hockey NHL Video Highlights Alouettes/Football NFL Football Impact/Soccer Baseball Basketball Golf Auto Racing Tennis Hockey Inside/Out MMA Arts #mtlfest Movie Guide Television TV Listings Music Books Celebrity Theatre Events Calendar Life Fashion & Beauty Food & Wine Parenting Relationships Diversions - Comics & Games The Royals Health Women Men Family & Child Sexual Health Diet   Fitness Technology Personal Tech Gaming Tech-Biz Internet Space Travel Travel News Destinations Activities Top 5 Travel Shots Advisories Careers Driving Home News Reviews Kijiji Autos Classifieds Homes Homefront For Sale/Rent Real Estate Renovating Decorating Gardening Vacation Homes Mike Holmes Classifieds Obituaries Announcements Vehicles Real Estate Rentals Jobs Pets For Sale Shopping Place an Ad FlyerCity   Don't miss: Lac-Mégantic Montreal A-Z #MTLfest FIFA World Cup MUHC Podcasts Interactives The Great War   »           House of Fabergé holds court at MMFA   Imperial Easter eggs are central to displays that include more than 200 objets d’art crafted during Czar Nicholas II’s reign   By John Pohl, Special to the Gazette June 13, 2014   Tweet Comment 0   Story Photos ( 5 )     The Imperial Peter the Great Easter Egg was made in 1903 for the 200th anniversary of St. Petersburg’s founding. (Photo: Katherine Wetzel/Virginia Museum of Fine Arts) Photograph by: VMFA

watches Two hundred and forty of the objets d’art that the House of Fabergé designed and crafted for members of the imperial court of Czar Nicholas II — even during the revolution and war that ended their reign — are on display in a new exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

omega watches Fabulous Fabergé: Jeweller to the Czars includes personal items like snuff boxes and parasol handles, all encrusted with precious metals and jewels. There are jewelry boxes and bowls made with antique enamelling techniques that created glowing, translucent surfaces with layers of powdered glass.

replica watches But imperial Easter eggs are the stuff of the Fabergé legend, and the exhibition includes four of them. Each of the eggs — 12 by nine centimetres is a typical size — is the centrepiece of its gallery. The egg-shaped containers sit in tall glass boxes with their “surprises” removed and placed beside them.

watches sale Carl Fabergé’s studio in St. Petersburg made just 50 imperial eggs — all for the czar’s gift list — between 1885 and 1917, and only seven have been lost. One was discovered this year by a Texas second-hand dealer who was about to sell it for scrap: a collector bought it for an estimated $30 million.

replica watch The exhibition is a collaboration with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which was given the core of its Fabergé collection by a woman who acquired the pieces during the 1930s and ’40s without the knowledge of her auto executive husband.

rolex watches Lillian Pratt paid for one of the eggs — the Peter the Great — in 33 instalments totalling $16,500, at a time when a new car from her husband’s GM plant cost $1,100, writes Géza von Habsburg in the exhibition catalogue.

Carl Fabergé (1846-1920), the son of a goldsmith descended from French Huguenots, was a style chameleon. He designed pieces in practically every known style, from neo-classical to art deco, said Diane Charbonneau, curator of modern and contemporary decorative arts at the MMFA.

None of Fabergé’s personal creations have survived, but he supervised the design and creation of everything made by his craftspeople. He employed 500 in a business empire that sold its wares as far afield as London and India.

With most of what Fabergé made being small — some items just 2.5 centimetres long — the museum “needed a daring designer,” said Sylvain Cordier, curator of early decorative art.

The job went to Hubert Le Gall, who designed the museum’s Tiffany show in 2010. Le Gall wanted to examine the sources of Fabergé’s designs and “to recall an aristocracy enamoured of refinement, but that was unaware that its world was vanishing,” he writes in the catalogue.

The technical brilliance of the pieces is the root of their success, Le Gall writes. “We wanted to find ways to let these objects speak for themselves.”

In the four themed galleries, lights isolate and seem to enlarge the items behind their protective glass.

“People will pay attention to every detail,” Charbonneau said.

The first gallery evokes both the Orthodox tradition the czars cultivated as a unifying force centred on their imperial Romanov family and the Easter egg tradition in Slavic culture.

There is a wall of religious icons, ranging from austere wood-framed images to jewel-encrusted gold frames by Fabergé, which continue into the halos over the heads of the painted saints.

A bit too much, but this is an exhibition about the opulence of an imperial family ruling over a politically repressed nation in extreme poverty. The highlight of this first gallery is the Imperial Pelican Easter Egg of 1897, which opens to reveal eight pearl-bordered oval frames with miniature portraits painted on ivory.

The second gallery situates Fabergé’s production in context with Czar Alexander III’s “Old Russia,” a mixture of history, propaganda and fantasy. Alexander commissioned the first Fabergé egg in 1885.

But the egg in the spotlight is the Imperial Peter the Great Easter Egg, commissioned by Nicholas in 1903 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the founding of St. Petersburg. The gold egg opens to reveal a miniature replica of a statue of Peter, depicted as a Roman hero on horseback.

The third gallery focuses on the objets d’art made in Fabergé’s workshops and their presentation in shops. Fabergé didn’t like catering to the imperials, whom he thought lacked taste. According to von Habsburg, he preferred Moscow’s emerging class of financiers and merchants, who eagerly bought his designs.

The gallery also shows fakes — what von Habsburg calls “fauxbergés” — along with the work of rivals, including Cartier.

The gallery’s centrepiece is the Imperial Cesarevich Easter Egg of 1912, which features gold eagles set on a deep blue shell of lapis lazuli. Inside is a double-sided portrait of Alexei, the 7-year-old heir to the throne, painted on ivory at the centre of a diamond-set eagle.

The final gallery juxtaposes a wall of Romanov portraits in gilded frames with films and photos of the Russian front, the peasantry and the revolution.

As Empress Alexandra mismanaged domestic affairs, Nicholas, who had no military training, was leading the army into one disaster after another.

In 1917, Nicholas abdicated — but didn’t miss ordering the Imperial Red Cross Easter Egg before doing so. The egg has an angular, starkly modern design — a red cross on a white egg that evokes constructivism, Russia’s great contribution to 20th-century art.

One portrait is of Nicholas in a frame in the shape of a column. Another is of Grand Duchess Tatiana, his second daughter, in a star-shaped frame.

Tatiana’s portrait is the only possession the family took with them into exile that survived, according to von Habsburg. It was found in the house where Nicholas, Alexandra and their five children were shot and stabbed to death in 1918.

Fabulous Fabergé: Jeweller to the Czars continues until Oct. 5 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1380 Sherbrooke St. W. For more information, visit

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