THE DUCHESS OF MARLBOROUGH EGG: A FABERGÉ VARICOLOR GOLD, ENAMEL AND JEWELED EASTER EGG,WORKMASTER MICHAEL PERCHIN, ST. PETERSBURG, 1902
annular clock in the form of an Easter egg enameled translucent
rose pink over a guilloché ground, the white
enamel chapter ring with diamond-set Roman numerals between
borders of seed pearls, the top of the egg applied with varicolor
gold floral swags pendent from diamond-set ribbon bows, the
finial in the form of a diamond-encrusted acorn, the C-scroll
handles rising from rams' head masks and topped with acanthus
leaves, a diamond-encrusted serpent encircles the egg, its arrow-form
tongue indicating the hour, each side of the trilateral pedestal
enameled translucent oyster over a guilloché ground,
one side applied with the diamond-set monogram of Consuelo,
Duchess of Marlborough, below a diamond-set ducal coronet, the
second side applied with a varicolor gold cornucopia and the
third side with a varicolor gold love trophy, the top of the
pedestal enameled translucent oyster with rose pink reserves
at the corners, the pilaster corners and the top border of the
pedestal enameled translucent rose pink and applied with gold
bellflowers, the lower gold border chased with acanthus leaves,
each foot enameled translucent rose pink and applied with a
chased gold pattera, marked with Cyrillic initials of workmaster,
Fabergé in Cyrillic and assay mark of Yakov Lyapunov
(1899-1904), 56 standard for 14 karat gold, also with engraved
signature under one foot in script Roman letters, K. Fabergé,
and date 1902. With original fitted holly wood case, the
interior silk lining black-stamped in Cyrillic below the Imperial
eagle, Fabergé/St. Petersburg/Moscow/Odessa.
This egg, the only large Easter egg to have been commissioned
from Fabergé by an American, is inspired by a Louis
XVI clock with revolving dial. The workshop of Michael Perchin
created several versions of this model, of which the best
known is the blue enamel Serpent Clock egg traditionally dated
1887 and thought to have been presented by Tsar Alexander
III to his wife Tsarina Maria Feodorovna (now in the Collection
of H.S.H. Prince Rainier III of Monaco) (p. 330). 1
As attested by the diamond-set initials CM under a ducal crown, the present egg was made for Consuelo Marlborough, granddaughter of the American railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was married off against her will to Richard John Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough, in 1894.
In 1902, prior to the coronation of Edward VII at which she had been asked by Queen Alexandra to be a canopy bearer, the Duchess traveled to Russia with her husband, where they attended the Bal des Palmiers, where the Duchess was the dinner companion of Tsar Nicholas. Consuelo, who was later happily married to a Monsieur Jacques Balsan, recalled the occasion: “ With the entrance of the Imperial family to the inspiring air of the Russian anthem – the procession of grand dukes in splendid uniforms, the grand duchesses, lovely and bejeweled, the beautiful remote Tsarina and the Tsar – the ball took on the aspect of a fairy tale. ” 2 She remembered to have dined on “ gold and silver plate fashioned by Germain, chased and beautiful in shape and color. ”After a dinner with Grand Duke and Grand Duchess Vladimir, she was shown the celebrated jewels of the Grand Duchess “ set out in glass cases in her dressing room. ” She also visited the Dowager Empress at Anichkov Palace and must have seen her Fabergé collection, including the Blue Serpent Clock Egg, which probably served as model for the egg which she ordered from Fabergé.
After her divorce from Marlborough, Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan donated the egg to a charity auction in 1926: “ an auction of gifts, including a Fabergé clock I brought back from Russia and an automobile brought lively bidding. ” The successful bidder was Polish soprano Ganna Walska, second wife of the president and chairman of the board of the International Harvester Company of Chicago, Harold Fowler McCormick. It was later acquired by Malcolm Forbes as his first Easter egg at an auction of her property in 1965 at Parke-Bernet in New York.
Michael Perchin, Fabergé's superbly gifted second
head workmaster, is best known for his objects designed in
the Neo-Rococo or Baroque style, of which the Spring Flowers
Egg (p. 376), the Rocaille Box 3
and Rocaille Opera Glasses 4 are
prime examples. Towards the last years of the nineteenth century,
a more sober Neo-Classical style made its appearance in Paris.
This movement was spearheaded by such great joailliers
as Cartier and Chaumet, who abhorred the lascivious,
sinuous orms of Art Nouveau. Fabergé, forever open-minded
towards new trends, readily adopted this fashion. In the case
of the 1902 Marlborough Egg, Fabergé's Neo-Classical
idiom is best seen in the design of the triangular pedestal,
the fluted base of the egg and his use of acanthus foliage,
husks, laurel wreaths and flower swags, all derived from Classical
Antiquity. Further examples of this new style in Perchin's
oeuvre are the Rosebud Egg (p. 128), the Chanticleer Egg (p.
306), the Imperial Writing Portfolio 5
and the Louis XVI–style cigarette case. 6
1. The early date attributed
to this egg by Fabergé/Proler/Skurlov (1997) stands
in contrast to its technical perfection. There is also an
inconsistency in the description of the 1887 egg, listed as
“Easter egg with a clock decorated with brilliants, sapphires
and rose diamonds (2,160 roubles)” and again as “gold egg
with clock, with a circle of brilliants, gold stand with three
sapphires and diamond roses.” Neither the mention of the sapphires,
nor its low price, corresponds to the mentioned egg, which
should have cost over 5,000 rubles.
2. Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, Glitter and the Gold . New York, 1952, p. 252.
3. Forbes/Tromeur 1999, pp. 136-137.
4. Op. cit., pp. 148-149.
5.Op. cit., pp. 184-185.
6. Op. cit., pp. 168-169.