Le Matin, Monday May 14, 1900
An "eye witness account" of the Fabergé exhibit at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle was published in Le Matin, Lundi 14 Mai 1900, Collection Imperiale - Les Oeufs de Pacques de l'imperatrice. It gives a new and interesting insight into the Imperial Easter Eggs displayed. The French reporter was shown all the eggs by "a son of Karl Fabergé". He reports fourteen (14) eggs were exhibited, which contradicts the number of 40 (Harrison, Stephen, et al. Artistic Luxury – Fabergé Tiffany Lalique, 2008, 21 and 72) also published in the October, 24, 1900 English language Jewelers' Circular. Was this perhaps an incorrect translation of the French words quatorze (14) and quarante (40)?
In 1900 at the time of the Exposition Universelle, a total 22 Imperial Easter Eggs had been made by Fabergé for the two Empresses, Maria Feodorovna and Alexandra Feodorovna.
A partial translation of the article relating to the Imperial Easter Eggs exhibit is supplemented with the name of the eggs added in brackets by this writer:
...and here are, side by side, presenting the past, the present, representing happiness, tenderness and hope, fourteen (14) Easter Eggs, presented to two Empresses, by the Emperor, their husbands.
This is telling us Mr. Fabergé, the son of the Russian Court jeweler.
And, isn't this one beautiful? [1891 Memory of Azov Egg]
- And this one? asks Mr. Fabergé ... His Majesty Nicholas II presented it to Alexandra Feodorovna in the year of the coronation [1897 Coronation Egg].
- Voila, this is chiseled by the barbarians of the North! says Mr. Fabergé laughing. And he is showing us other extremely beautiful Easter Eggs. To touch them, after the royal hands caressed them ...
The goldsmith who enjoys our astonishment, is showing them all, one after the other.
- This one here, gold and red enamel, contained a screen on which are painted all the castles of the Dowager Empress. [1890 Danish Palaces Egg]. And Nicholas II, to remember the generosity to his mother by the deceased tsar, has two years ago given a similar egg to his young Tsarina. [1896 Egg with Revolving Miniatures]
Two others ... the 1898 one [Lilies of the Valley Egg]. The 1899 one [Pansy Egg] ...
Do we have to describe the other Easter Eggs from gold, rock crystal, delicate marble, the style of Louis XVI - one of them bearing, in its case, the elephant with the Danish arms [1890 Diamond Trellis Egg] ...
It is interesting to note the reporter talks about the elephant with the Danish arms (l'un d'eux porte, en sa gaine, l'elephant des armes du Danemark) and does not mention any mechanical or moving parts. Surely, had the elephant been an automaton, "Mr. Fabergé" would have been only too proud to demonstrate it, or at least have made a mention of it as being the first automaton in an Imperial Easter Egg made by the Fabergé firm.
Update October 2015. And although Mr. Fabergé did not mention the automaton, the elephant very well was, and is, an automaton!
The 1892 Imperial Diamond Trellis Egg (Courtesy McFerrin Collection)
The Elephant Surprise
(Courtesy the Royal Collection)
The history of the bowenite Diamond Trellis detailed in Lowes and McCanless, Fabergé Eggs: A Retrospective Encyclopedia, 2001, 34, includes this description from the List of Easter Eggs at the Gatchina Palace in 1891-1892:
… figure of an elephant and a key for winding 1 Ivory figure of an elephant, clockwork, with a small gold tower
We know Fabergé made many elephants, based on the Royal Danish Order, (Empress Maria Feodorovna was a Danish princess before she married the heir Alexander III) including some in the Queen Elisabeth II Royal Collection.
Badge of the Royal Danish Order of the Elephant (Courtesy kongehuset.dk)
Fabergé Elephants in the Royal Collection - Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Fabergé Elephant from the collection of King George I of the Hellenes (Courtesy Christie's)
A review of automatons and Imperial Easter Eggs suggests the elephant in the 1892 Diamond Trellis Egg was perhaps too early to be a mechanical elephant, as all other Imperial Easter Egg "automatons" were made only from 1900. Here below are listed the known Eggs and their automatons or mechanisms.
1900 Cockerel Egg - mechanical cockerel
1900 Kelch Pine Cone Egg - mechanical elephant
1902 Rothschild Clock Egg - mechanical rooster
1904 Kelch Chanticleer Egg - mechanical rooster
1906 Swan Egg - mechanical swan
1908 Peacock Egg - mechanical peacock
1911 The Bay Tree - mechanical bird
1914 Catherine the Great Egg - mechanical sedan chair (missing)
The 1898 Lilies of the Valley Egg made for Empress Alexandra, has a mechanism to move the little portraits, but it is not an automaton. The train in the 1900 Trans-Siberian Egg, also made for the Empress, has a moving train, but it does not "resemble a human or animal action", and therefore, is strictly speaking not an automaton.
Searching for information where the "automaton" story and the Diamond Trellis Egg began, all info found was "a key for winding it, the elephant".
Fabergé, Proler, Skurlov, The Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs, 1997, Appendix 3, p. 253
Lowes and McCanless Fabergé Eggs A Retrospective Encyclopedia, 2001, 34
The author suggests the surprise of the Diamond Trellis Egg perhaps is an elephant with a clock like the Fabergé table clock shown below.
Example of a Fabergé Table clock in the form Elephant (Von Habsburg, Géza, Fabergé Hofjuwelier Der Zaren, 1986 image 210, text 209)
Had the descriptions of the 1897 Diamond Trellis Egg had no mention of a key, the elephant below would be a serious candidate.
Jeweled and Enameled Gold Figure of an Elephant
Dr. Géza von Habsburg, Fabergé Imperial Craftsman and his World, 2000, 190.
Indeed, Dr. Géza von Habsburg in his Fabergé Imperial Craftsman and his World, 2000, 190, writes:
Perhaps it was not the Renaissance egg of 1894, but the Diamond Trellis Egg of 1892 to which the above elephant belongs? More research will have to be done to solve this puzzle.
Research will continue.
And research did continue! That the original ivory elephant was found in the Royal Collection was announced in October 2015. Appearently the hallmarks (Fabergé and workmaster mark MP for Mikhail Perkhin) on the elephant were only recently discovered. Until that moment it was not known the elephant was made by Fabergé. Once it was clear who the maker was, I guess it was linked to a missing Fabergé elephant automaton and the happy news is now that the beautiful 1892 Diamond Trellis Egg and its surprise both are known and although not living together, both are alive!
Page updated: October 14, 2015
Page made: aw April 30, 2014