This dazzlingly exquisite exhibition is the perfect showcase for the work of Peter Carl Fabergé and those who worked alongside him in creating so many beautiful objects.
While many of us who hear the name Fabergé automatically think of those gloriously fascinating and elaborate bejewelled stone eggs that were created for the Russian royal family, this exhibition shows that there is certainly more to his work than meets the eye.
Filled with extraordinary detail (so much information to read it can be somewhat overwhelming as it is fascinating), this is a display which delves deep into many of his creations, the craft that went into making them and of course those who purchased them. But what also Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution does is highlight effectively the history of his work and what was happening in society at the time – leading up to World War One and of course the Russian Revolution.
As much as the fascination behind this exhibition lies in being dazzled by a variety of objects – whether it is Empress Alexandra’s gorgeous prayer book or the variety of animals carved out of stone, it is also the many stories of why many of these objects were of great importance to their owners. In particular, one of the main highlights of this exhibition for me was seeing how the Romanov’s used these beautifully designed creations to express their love and joy – with Fabergé paying particular attention to every detail that you find yourself leaning in close to absorb each element of the design closely. This can be seen throughout the the exhibition – but in particular the little figurine of King Edward VII’s dog Caesar – with its tiny inscribed collar certainly impresses.
As ever, the V&A has designed the exhibition to ensure that the objects can be admired impressively, allowing those to really see and understand the craftsmanship behind each piece, while the enlarged photographs dotted around add extra depth, context and history that keep visitors thoroughly engaged from start to finish. It is all beautifully spaced out in a way that ensures that gives both the objects and the history plenty of room to breathe. One of the most fascinating aspects of the exhibition is finding out more about the process and care that went into the creation of each piece – featuring diagrams of the the layout of the workshops that Fabergé and his collaborators would work in, while a video showing the process of enamelling is fascinating to watch.
But of course, while Fabergé’s work never went out of fashion in general, the outbreak of World War I and the Russian Revolution meant that people could no longer justify or need such beautiful (and expensive) objects. This section adds a sombre feel to proceedings – but it was interesting to discover how Fabergé’s workshops were then used to create munitions (with two examples of hand granades on display) during the way. It would have been fascinating to have a little more attention drawn to the Russian Revolution and the way in which the Bolsheviks eliminated the entire business in 1918, selling much of what was left behind to finance the revolution – but given that this is a show that is mainly focused on the way in which Fabergé brought his work to London this is perhaps not too surprising.
Of course the exhibition finishes on a high, with a beautiful selection of eggs that range from being inspired by the Russian winters to celebrating the long reign of the Romanov family in Russia. It is a real wonder to see these pieces up close – and feels like a real way to celebrate the Fabergé creations.
Filled with beauty and tragedy in many ways, this is a display that beautifully interlinks the work and life of Fabergé with that of so many of his famous patrons to great effect – making for a enriching experience.
By Emma Clarendon
Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution is on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum until the 8th May.