This Fabergé carved hardstone figure of an Imperial bodyguard, recently rediscovered in the attic of an estate in upstate New York, has sold for $5.2m (£3.38m) at Stair Galleries in Hudson, New York. It has an extraordinary history.
The total number of Fabergé hardstone
figure carvings produced by Fabergé is probably no more than 50,
placing them on a level of rarity with the Imperial Easter eggs.
Figures that depict actual historical persons rather than simply
'types' are deemed rarer still.
This 7in (18cm) figure depicts Nikolai
Nikolaievich Pustynnikov, the personal Cossack bodyguard or
Kamer-Kazak to the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. He wears a long
nephrite and jasper coat affixed with gold and enamelled orders and
medals. The heels and soles of the boots are inscribed in Cyrillic
capitals Fabergé 1912 and N.N.Pustynnikov,
Kamer-Kazak since 1894.
It was one of two commissioned by
Nicholas II himself - a companion figure of the Kamer-Kazak to the
Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna is in the collections of the State
Pavlovsk Museum, near St Petersburg.
The personal bodyguards to the Empress
and Dowager Empress accompanied them whenever they left their
residences and were held in high esteem by the Imperial family,
which explains Nicholas's desire to commemorate them in this
Based on wax models taken from life
(surviving photographs suggest they were a good likeness), their
mammoth cost of 2300 rubles each was more than twice the price of
any other Fabergé hardstone figure purchased by Nicholas II during
the period 1908 to 1912. By way of comparison, a figure of a boyar
(sold by Sotheby's New York in April 2005 at $1.8m - the previous
record for a Fabergé figure) had cost the Tsar 950
This figure of Pustynnikov was also
kept at Pavlovsk until the 1920s when it left Russia with the
American entrepreneur and art dealer Armand Hammer, who
subsequently sold it to George H. Davis, a descendant of the
present consignor, on December 11, 1934.
It was well known to collectors (both
the original drawings and the invoice from the Fabergé workshops
have been published), but its whereabouts was unknown until three
months ago when it was found, contained in its original holly case,
in an attic by the executor of a Rhinebeck, New York,
Stair Galleries sought help from
Fabergé author Gerard Hill in cataloguing the lot and gave it an
estimate of $500,000-800,000. In fact, after a full 15 minutes of
bidding on October 26 it sold at $5.2m (£3.38m) to the London
jewellers Wartski who were bidding on the phone. It is not clear if
they were purchasing it for stock or a private client.
They said: "Wartski were Armand
Hammer's prime rivals in the 1920s and 1930s when buying the
confiscated Imperial treasures from the Soviet government. We have,
over the years, owned 20 of these rare hardstone figures, as well
as a dozen of the legendary Imperial Easter eggs."
The buyer's premium was