THE COCKEREL (CUCKOO) EGG: A FABERGÉ IMPERIAL EASTER
EGG PRESENTED BY EMPEROR NICHOLAS II TO HIS MOTHER THE DOWAGER
EMPRESS MARIA FEODOROVNA AT EASTER 1900, WORKMASTER MICHAEL
PERCHIN, ST. PETERSBURG
body enameled translucent violet over a guilloché
ground, supported by three slender pilasters enameled translucent
oyster, the dial enameled in translucent white with stylized
green flowerheads, the diamond-set Arabic numerals mounted on
circular reserves enameled translucent oyster on sunburst grounds,
the border of the dial set with pearls, above the dial an arch
of foliage set with diamonds and pearls, below the dial an openwork
apron set with diamonds and hung with tassels and swags of fruit,
the shaped circular base applied with gold scrollwork and foliage,
the top of the base enameled opaque white, the incurved sides
of the base enameled translucent lilac. When a button at the
top rear of the egg is depressed the circular pierced gold grille
opens and the bird rises crowing on a gold platform, moving
its wings and beak, the crowing finished it descends again into
the egg and the grille closes, on the top of the grille the
date 1900 is inscribed beneath a diamond, marked on side
of base with Cyrillic initials of workmaster, Fabergé
in Cyrillic and assay mark of Yakov Lyapunov (1899-1903), 56
standard for 14 karat gold.
The Cuckoo or Cockerel Egg is Fabergé's rendition of an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century singing-bird clock, technically related to the singing-bird boxes produced in Geneva in the early nineteenth century. When first published in 1933, the egg was listed as “Clock Egg.” 1 In 1953, the singing bird in the egg was labeled as a cuckoo apparently based on Eugène Fabergé's identification , 2 a misnomer that remained uncorrected for fifty years. More recently the feathered bird has been correctly identified as a rooster or cockerel, as it was originally listed in Fabergé's invoice.
The egg is first mentioned in a letter of Tsar Nicholas II to its intended recipient, his mother, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, April 5, 1900, who was in Moscow at Easter time that year:
“Forgive me, dear Mama, for not sending you anything for Easter, but Fabergé did not send the present here, as he thought that you would be returning to Gatchina. With all my heart: Christ is risen! I warmly embrace you and the whole family. Your son, who loves you from the bottom of his heart, Nicky.” 3
Fabergé's invoice was submitted almost one year late, January 13, 1901: “Easter egg of mauve enamel, with rooster and clock with one lozenge diamond, 188 rose-cut diamonds, 2 rubies. St. Petersburg, January 13, 1901 6500 rubles.” 4
The delay may have been due to Fabergé's involvement
as member of the Jury and exhibitor hors concours at
the 1900 Paris World Fair, which opened with much fanfare
on April 14 and closed November 12, having been visited by
some fifty million spectators. Covering over 270 acres and
with 76,000 exhibitors, it was the greatest exhibition of
its kind ever held. 5 The fair
marked the apogee of art nouveau, a style that had emerged
in Paris in the early 1890s and was flourishing by 1897. Its
chief exponent was René Lalique, the brilliant artistebijoutier
, who was awarded the Legion of Honor and a Grand Prix
for his exhibits. Fabergé, too, received the same high
distinction and a Gold Medal for his exhibits, his son Eugène
was created Officer of the Académie Française
and the firm's head workmaster,Michael Perchin, was awarded
a Bronze Medal.
The present egg is the first of three singing-bird mechanisms
in Fabergé's oeuvre. Automated singing birds driven
by compressed air or steam were apparently known in Antiquity.
6 The first automated singing-bird
boxes with movement of the beak, wings and tail, as in the
present case, were produced by the well-known firm of Jacquet-
Droz, beginning in the mid-1770s. Jacquet-Droz and J. F. Leschot
in Geneva and Henri Maillardet in London became the chief
purveyors of these articles towards the end of the century.
Around 1800 Geneva became famous for its exquisitely made
enameled gold cages with singing birds. As in the case of
watch mechanisms, which Fabergé generally procured
from the firm of Henri Moser in Le Locle, the mechanism of
the present Easter egg may well also be of Swiss manufacture.
The singing-bird mechanism is simple, independent of the clock
movement and activated by depressing a button. Thereupon the
pierced gold grille at the egg's apex opens, the feathered
bird appears, moving its beak and wings, while a singing sound
is produced by bellows. 7
The egg is designed in an interesting medley of styles, the front with a combination of acanthus foliage, scrolls and strap work, laurel foliage and swags of fruits of indecisive origin; the angled pilasters have Régence-style applications, the back is applied with, and the cover of the grille pierced with, elaborate arabesques often found in early seventeenth-century engravings and on Augsburg silver of this period.
The Cockerel Egg is listed among the confiscated treasures transferred from the Anichkov Palace to the Kremlin in 1917 as : “clock in the form of an egg with lilac enamel on three feet decorated with pearls and brilliants ” 8 and again in a list of 1922 when transferred from the Kremlin to the Gokhran as: “gold egg/clock with three diamonds, roses and pearls .” 9 An archival photograph shows a drop pearl originally suspended by a ring under the dial.
The Cockerel Egg was confiscated by the Provisional Government
in 1917 and transferred to the Kremlin. It was one of nine
eggs sold by Antikvariat to Emanuel Snowman of Wartski around
1927, sold by them to Mrs. Isabella Lowe around 1949, reacquired
from her in 1953 and sold in 1970 to Robert Smith of Washington,
D.C. The egg was sold at auction on his behalf at Christie's,Geneva,
in 1973 for a record of $227,700 to Bernhard C. Solomon of
Los Angeles and sold by Solomon at Sotheby's, New York, in
1985 for a record $1,760,000 to Malcolm Forbes.
1. Bainbridge 1933, p. 175.
2. Snowman 1953, p. 90.
3. Preben Ulstrup, “The House of Romanov and the House of Fabergé” in Treasures of Russia – Imperial Gifts , 2002, p. 183 (Russian State Archive, Moscow [GARF] 642).
4. Fabergé/Proler/Skurlov, 1997, p. 146.
5. See Géza von Habsburg, “Fabergé and the Paris 1900 Exposition Universelle ” in St. Petersburg/Paris/London 1993/4 , pp. 116-125.
6. For singing-bird mechanisms, see Alfred Chapuis and Edouard Gélis, Le Monde des Automates , chapter XVIII (Les Oiseaux Chantants), pp. 77-138.
7. See Géza von Habsburg, “Die Uhren des Peter Carl Fabergé” in Alte Uhren , January 1, 1981, pp. 12-26. See fig. 23 for a view of this egg's mechanism.
8. Muntian, op. cit., p. 25 (Archive of the Kremlin Armory Museum, stock 20, inv. 1917, file 5, p. 117).
9. Ibid. (Archive of the Kremlin Armory, arch 23, fol. 20, 1922).