The book forms the basis for a major new exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution, running until May 8, 2022, chronicles the important but little-known period from 1903-17 when the Russian goldsmith and jeweller Carl Fabergé ran a branch in London – its only location outside Russia. Fabergé enjoyed immense popularity in Edwardian Britain with a wealth of royal and aristocratic patrons.
Though jewellery dealership Wartski (which opened its London branch in 1911) and Fabergé were both on New Bond Street at the same time, the paths of the businesses never crossed. In 1927, however, Wartski started selling old Fabergé pieces and has since become a leading specialist in the field.
McCarthy was approached by the V&A’s senior curator Richard Edgcumbe shortly after the publication of his book and pitched the exhibition in 2018.
Since then, he tells ATG, it has been a whirlwind of activity as he and the gallery prepared for the show. With tickets selling quickly, he is tired but pleased and has “a new-found respect for curators”.
Sales are at the heart of businesses like Wartski, but McCarthy is frank about the fact that the V&A show probably will not bring in new clients. If anything, he adds, the effort that went in to staging the exhibition may have distracted attention from the bottom line.
“That was never the ambition,” he says. “The thing I think is fascinating is where expertise lies. It’s in museums but it’s also with dealers. They devour the details of their worlds and as a by-product become experts in their fields.”
He hopes that the show will subtly promote dealers’ specialist knowledge as well as enhancing the gallery’s long-cultivated scholarly profile.
Beyond the collection of 15 Imperial Easter Eggs, which will doubtless be the starring attraction of the show, several of the highlights at the V&A are on loan from Wartski. However, McCarthy is reluctant to pick a favourite – “They are all lines in a play contributing to a larger story.”
A La Vielle Russie
Carl Fabergé himself was once a client of the New York City family-run gallery A La Vielle Russie, which has also loaned several works to the V&A’s show.
Among them are this c.1908 miniature sedan chair by Fabergé workmaster Henrik Wigström made for British banker Baron Leopold de Rothschild as a birthday gift for his brother Alfred.
The piece is enamelled translucent pink and mounted with elaborate trails of laurel leaves. Its rock crystal windows are delicately carved with parted drapes and the interior is lined with engraved mother-of-pearl.
Alfred received the gift in 1910 and kept it in a vitrine next to the fireplace of his private sitting room.