|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
Miniature Animal Sculptures By Faberge
The general public knew very little about the Russian court jeweler, Peter Carl Faberge, until 1934 when some of the jeweled Easter eggs which he made for the Imperial family came on the market in London. It is remarkable that a whim of chance brought this particular phase of the great jeweler's work first before the public, for although the art of Faberge had long been known to the nobility all over Europe, few people any where knew of the fabulous Easter eggs, which were made so secretly that they were never even mentioned by the designer or his workmen. On the other hand, Faberge's other creations, such as. the jeweled cigarette boxes, bonbonnieres, goblets, trophies, etc. were famous, having been exhibited not only in St. Petersburg, Odessa and Moscow but in Paris, London and Berlin. Faberge was a many-sided artist and his work falls into so many classifications that if all phases were brought together at one time it would look like a museum of the decorative arts. Some of the clock cases which he designed were illustrated in The Compleat Collector for May, 1945. He also made figurines showing Russian types, these not being widely known until recently.
Some of Faberge's designs for jewelry are highly French in feeling, for he was trained in France. Other designs are distinctly Russian, for his family, of Huguenot decent, had been established in Russia for several generations and he felt thoroughly at home with the motifs of Russian art. Carl Faberge was the son of Gustav Faberge and his wife Charlotte Jungatedt. He was born May 30, 1846, in St. Petersburg where his father had had a goldsmith's and jeweler's shop in Great Morskaiya Street since 1842. The Faberge family was originally French. They were Huguenot refugees who left France after the Revolution of the Edict of Nantes in the late seventeenth century. The ancestors of the jeweler settled first in Northern Germany and then in Livonia on the Gulf of Riga before going into Russia. Gustav Faberge prospered as a jeweler and when his son, Card showed an inclination to follow in his footsteps, he sent the young artist to Paris. When Gustav was ready to retire, Carl took over the business and by 1890 had doubled the quarters he took over from his father. His commissions from the Tsar's family alone was sufficient to occupy his full attention. He gathered around him a corps of specialists, artists who were masters in their respective fields- whose initials as work masters are found on the pieces they executed under the direction of Faberge.
One of the most interesting phases of Faberge's art is seen in his small sculptures of animals in semi-precious and hardstones, the execution of which was carried out by one of these workmasters, the sculptor Kremlov the Younger. Some of these are now in the collection of the Hammer Galleries, while the rest illustrated formerly belonged to the Galleries but are now in the possessions of private owners. Some of Faberge's animal subjects are actual portraits of pets which belonged to the Imperial family, and others are of wild animals and birds executed in colorful stones with a fine feeling for the different forms. Animal figures by Faberge are today in many important collections including that of King George VI of England.
As one reads through the list of materials which Faberge used for his animal carvings, it seems his agents must have ranged the world over to bring him the most rare and beautiful substances for these little sculptures. Rock crystal, smoky topaz, nefrite, lapus lazuli, bloodstone, agate, jadeite and Siberian jade made these little figures remarkably colorful. The eyes are of diamonds, sapphires or other precious stones. One of Faberge's most enthusiastic patrons was the late King Edward VII of England. For him Faberge carved in semi-precious stones all of the King's favorite animals at Sandringham. Other animal figures were commissioned by the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna and by Tsar Nicholas II.
Faberges bull-dog, in brown agate with sapphire eyes is an example of one of his most life-like portraits and the same quality of portraiture exists in the reclining figure of a Great Dane also carved in purpurine. Purpurine was a vitreous substance invented by a worker in the Imperial Glass Factory in St. Peterburg. It is of a deep red color and as it has gold in its composition, it is very heavy. When the inventor, Petouchov, died the secret of its fabrication was lost.
In this the artist has made the most of the natural markings of the stone, which is striated brown agate. The flamingo, lioness, wild boar, anteater and flying fish of are further additions to the extraordinary menagerie of Faberge. It would seem that no form of animal life failed to interest him. The substances used for many pieces were a variety of agates of different colors, and tiger eye, white jade rubies, and more...
A few other well known pieces, a deer was carved in rock crystal, the snail in white jade and the African elephant in light green jade. Although the subject is not one of the hardstone carvings, there is included here a silver figure of a greyhound by Faberge. This is a portrait of Lisette, a favorite dog of Catherine the Great, whose initial E (Ekaterina is the Russian form of her name) is shown on the blanket of the piece. It would be difficult to find a more perfect representation of the taut muscles, the slender legs, the powerful neck, and the spirited bearing of the greyhound than is seen in this miniature sculpture.