THE KELCH HEN EGG: A FABERGÉ GOLD, ENAMEL AND JEWELED
EASTER EGG,WORKMASTER MICHAEL PERCHIN, ST. PETERSBURG, 1898
translucent strawberry red over a guilloché ground,
opening horizontally, the hinged cover with a diamond-set
border, the thumb piece mounted with a table diamond over
the date 1898, one end mounted with a later miniature of Tsar
Nicholas II under a diamond encircled by smaller diamonds,
the egg opening to reveal a white enameled interior and a
hinged matted enamel yellow “yolk” with fitted suede-lined
interior containing a gold hen enameled in translucent shades
of orange, yellow, red and brown, the feathers with white
highlights, the feet naturalistically chased, the eyes set
with diamonds, the hen hinged at the tail and enclosing a
gold miniature easel and frame, the easel with folding legs
and a finial mounted with a heart-shaped diamond and a flame
carved ruby, the beveled rock-crystal frame with diamond-set
border beneath a diamond-set ribbon bow containing a later
portrait miniature of the Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaievich, marked
with Cyrillic initials of workmaster, Fabergé in Cyrillic
and assay mark of 56 standard for 14 karat gold, also with
French import mark. With original fitted holly wood box,
the lining gilt-stamped in Cyrillic below the Imperial
eagle, Fabergé/St. Petersburg/Moscow.
The Kelch family history has been well researched. 1
Varvara (Barbara) Petrovna Bazanova came from a very affluent
family of Muscovite merchants. Her grandfather, Ivan Bazanov,
founded a number of major businesses in Siberia, including
a gold mine, a railway and a shipping company, of which he
was majority shareholder together with two partners, Yakov
Nemchinov and Mikhail Sibiriakov. At her father's death, Varvara
and her mother, Julia, inherited the family fortune and founded
a new company together with Konstantin Sibiriakov. Varvara
married Nikolai Ferdinandovich Kelch, son of a St. Petersburg
hereditary nobleman, in 1892; he died two years later, but
not before contributing 250,000 rubles of his wife's money
to a hospital in Irkutsk. As was often the case in Russia,
Nikolai's brother, Alexander,married the rich young widow
that same year, in what was probably a marriage of convenience,
as the prenuptial agreement apparently left everything in
her own name. They had two daughters: one died aged 16, the
other married a diplomat and was posted to Japan.While Alexander
followed a military career in St. Petersburg, living at 53
Bolshaya Morskaya, Varvara resided at 60 Mokhovaia in Moscow.
In 1896 the Kelchs acquired a mansion in St. Petersburg at
28 Sergeievskaia for 300,000 rubles and redecorated the dining
room with dark oak paneling in the Neo-Gothic style (p. 294).
The architect Carl Schmid, a cousin of Fabergé, assisted
the Kelchs with the remodeling. In 1898, when the refurbishment
was complete, Varvara moved into their St. Petersburg home.
Around 1900 the couple ordered for their mansion a massive
surtout de table in the Neo-Gothic style from Fabergé
for the astronomic sum of 125,000 rubles. 2
In 1900 Varvara and Alexander both finally lived under the
same roof. In 1901 Alexander Kelch retired from the army and
was named President of the various Bazanov businesses. Varvara
was involved with social activities and charities such as
the All Russia Red Cross Ladies Committee and the Imperial
Musical Society, of which the two Empresses were patrons.
It was probably as benefactress of the Imperial Women's Patriotic
Society Schools, the beneficiaries of the Fabergé Exhibition
held in 1902 at the von Dervis Mansion on the English Embankment,
that Vavara lent her Fabergé silver surtout .
The exhibition, the first and only one dedicated to Fabergé
in Russia, was held under the patronage of Empress Alexandra
Feodorovna and a bevy of Grand Dukes and Duchesses and realized
a profit of 3,000 rubles for the schools. Albeit not mentioned
in the list of loans published in the newspapers at the time
(all other lenders belonged to the St. Petersburg haute
societé ), the Kelch centerpiece is clearly shown
prominently displayed on a table (see ill. p. 319) in the
commemorative photographs, and under magnification the initial
“K” engraved on the tableware is also apparent. The same service
was displayed in their oak-panelled dining room (see ill.
Every year from 1898 until 1904 Alexander Kelch ordered an
Easter egg from Fabergé, modeled on the Imperial series,
as a present for his wife, who no doubt also paid for them.
No doubt, too, that the Kelch eggs cost them considerably
more than those made for the Imperial family, given the parsimony
of the Romanovs and the generosity of the nouveaux riches.
The seven Kelch eggs are as fine, if not even more sumptuous,
than those in the Imperial series.
The first egg to have been commissioned in 1898 by Alexander
Ferdinandovich Kelch for his wife Varvara (or Barbara) appears
to have been a Hen Egg. Its donor and recipient are certain,
but its date may be questionable, as it bears the hallmark
introduced in St. Petersburg in 1899. With its diamond-set
rim and frame, its two table-cut diamonds and its larger size
(3 12 inches compared to 2 12 inches), the Kelch Hen Egg is
an enhanced version of the Imperial Hen Egg of 1885. Indeed,
all Kelch eggs are on a larger scale than the Imperial eggs.
When sold to Malcolm Forbes, the egg was believed to have
belonged to the Imperial series due both to the portrait of
Tsar Nicholas II shown under one of the portrait diamonds
and to the framed portrait of the Tsarevich on an easel, which
was the surprise within the hen. Research revealed, however,
that the portrait of Nicholas II had replaced the original
recipient's monogram (BK) and that his son's portrait had
replaced that of Barbara Kelch. 3
This Hen Egg was first identified as a Kelch egg soon after
1920, when it was acquired by Léon Grinberg of A La
Vieille Russie from the jeweler Morgan of rue de la Paix,
together with five other eggs with the same provenance. This
information, together with a documentary photograph, was published
in 1979. 4 The photograph shows
two views of the present egg. Originally Grinberg thought
it to be part of a group of Imperial eggs. “Morgan himself,”
Grinberg attested, “did not know to whom these eggs originally
belonged. Judging from the exceptional richness, they must
be imperial Easter presents. We think they were presented
by the Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich to the ballet dancer
Mrs. Balletta”; however, Grinberg later added in a pencil
note: “Alexander Fabergé [Carl's third son] told us
that these eggs were made for a very rich industrialist as
presents for his wife Barbara. Eggs of such richness were
only made for K[elch] or the Court.”
As of 1904, the Bazanov businesses continued to prosper, and in that year the family formed the Promyshlennosty Company with Alexander, of course, as its President. The Kelchs also purchased a second home in 1904 at 13 Glinka Street in St. Petersburg. However, the disastrous Russo-Japanese War brought about the demise of the Bazanov business empire. One after the other the businesses and the mansions were sold off.
The Kelchs were legally separated in 1905, but as the Boucheron
photographic archives show, Barbara continued to make major
acquisitions of jewelry, totaling 70,000 rubles in 1906-07
alone, including an elegant emerald and diamond demi-parure
and a diamond fringe necklace in 1906, a ruby and diamond
lavallière in 1907 and three brooches and a fine diamond
tiara in 1912. 6 Barbara moved
to Paris with all her belongings, and the couple divorced
in 1915. Alexander remained in Russia and remarried, but he
did not fare well, eventually becoming a pauper and working
as a street vendor after the Revolution, although Barbara
had invited him to move to Paris. In 1930 Alexander was arrested
and disappeared in Siberia along with millions of Russians
during the Stalinist purges.
The Bazanovs' main claim to fame remains their seven glorious Easter eggs, all created by Michael Perchin, Fabergé's second head workmaster. All seven are today in prestigious collections:
1) 1898 The First Egg, was sold by Sotheby's in Cairo (King Farouk Sale) 10 March 1954, to Alexander Schaffer of A La Vieille Russie for $15,225, who sold it to Lansdell Christie in 1961, and, after his death in 1965, to Malcolm Forbes. ( The Link of Times Foundation ).
2) 1899 The Twelve Panel Egg was acquired by Emanuel Snowman,
3) 1900 The Pine Cone Egg, Private Collection USA, was sold at Christie's Geneva, 10 May 1989, to the late Joan Kroc for $3,140,000.
4) 1901 The Apple Blossom Egg (Collection Adulf P. Goop, Liechtenstein) was twice auctioned at Christie's Geneva, May 17, 1994, for $861,585 and November 19, 1996, for $1,128,740.
5) 1902 The Rocaille Egg is privately owned in the United States.
6) 1903 The Bonbonnière Egg is privately owned.
7) 1904 The Chanticleer Egg ( The Link of Times Foundation )
1997, pp. 70-77.
2. The three Louis XVI surtouts commissioned by the Imperial Cabinet from Fabergé for the weddings of Nicholas II and his two sisters, Xenia and Olga, each cost 50,000 rubles.
3. A 1939 Hammer Galleries catalogue shows the easel without a portrait. According to its description in the March 10, 1954 catalogue of Sotheby's King Farouk sale in Cairo (lot 165), “the top of the egg with a bust portrait of the donor Alexander Ferdinandovitch Kelch below a large brilliant-cut diamond.” Here, too, the easel has no portrait. Snowman (1962, 1964, 1972, pp. 55, 111, pl. 82) recalled the original initials BK, from his examination of the egg in 1961. By 1962, when the egg was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the portrait of Nicholas II (and presumably the miniature of the Tsarevich in the easel) had been substituted.
4. Habsburg/Solodkoff 1979, p. 120f.
5. Solodkoff 1984, p. 42f.
6. Munich 2003, pp. 229-30, figs. 10-16.