Early Exhibitions - San Diego (US) and Moscow (Russia) - 1989 - 1990

Fabergé: The Imperial Eggs - Фаберже: Императорские яйца

San Diego Museum of Art - October 22, 1989 to January 7, 1990
Armory Museum, State Museums of the Moscow Kremlin - January 30 to March 15, 1990

Poster of 1989 San Diego Fabergé Exhibition
Signed Poster of the Exhibition - Personal Collection Author

Thirty years ago, in 1989, "a miracle" happened in San Diego (US) when the biggest ever exhibition of Imperial Easter Eggs was organized in the San Diego Museum of Art, and was permitted by the then Soviet Union in January 1990 to travel to Moscow to be exhibited as first foreign exhibition inside the Kremlin walls.

That miracle was the agreement permitting the Fabergé Imperial Eggs from the Armory Museum in Moscow to be exhibited together with the Forbes Magazine Collection in San Diego, and the subsequent organization taking shape. Maureen O'Connor, San Diego's Mayor at the time, was putting together a San Diego Arts Festival; Treasures of the Soviet Union, to stimulate cultural trade with Russia. In the words of Timothy Adams, art historian, citizen of San Diego, and a participant at the exhibition:

"She won over the Bolshoi Ballet, a Russian men's choir from Moscow, the Boris Godunov Opera, and eventually the center of this festival became the Fabergé Egg exhibition. One million people came to see it over the months it was here.

She made the Russians and Malcolm Forbes sit at a table and bid up the amount of Eggs they would send. When the Russians offered one, then O' Connor would turn to Forbes and get him to offer one. They went back and forth, the last one was the Rosebud Egg offered by Forbes, but the Russians said wait a minute... that is awfully small... Forbes laughed and said ok, I will send one more to compensate. Then O'Connor went to the Royal Collection and convinced them to send theirs, as well as museums here in the US to lend theirs too. So eventually, she put together the largest Fabergé Egg exhibition ever."

The Royal Collection sent its two Imperial Easter Eggs as it was only at this very exhibition that the 1901 Basket of Flowers Egg was recognized by George W. Terrell, Jr. in a photo displayed by the Russian participans of the 1902 Von Dervis exhibition.

San Diego 1989
Russia's Irina Rodimtseva, Director, State Museums of the Moscow Kremlin, negotiating the number of eggs for the venue. Russia had just bid its seventh Egg-participant. (Photo Personal Collection Timothy Adams)

This photo above was made in the New York City town house of Malcolm Forbes. Irina later loved to tell people that the photo was made in the same room where once Elizabeth Taylor had visited. After the deal was made, the party toasted with vodka in a Fabergé vodka set from the Forbes Magazine Collection! [1]

People standing in line, San Diego 1989
People standing in Line to visit the Exhibition in San Diego (Photo Timothy Adams)

No less than 24* Imperial Easter Eggs were gathered together for this exhibition. A number never before and never after seen together since the fall of the Romanov Empire. Malcolm Forbes lent 8 Imperial Easter Eggs, the Moscow Kremlin lent 8, the Matilda Geddings Gray Foundation lent their 3 Eggs, the Royal Collection of Queen Elizabeth II lent 2, and two eggs from private collections made it to the exhibition too.

*At the time it was thought 27 Imperial Easter Eggs were present. Later scholarly insight "degraded" three Eggs to non-Imperial status. The 1900 Kelch Pine Cone Egg was present as the only "other Egg" since it was owned by Mrs. Joan Kroc, citizen of San Diego, supporter and major sponsor of the exhibition.

Danish Palaces EggMemory of Azov Egg Caucasus Egg Renaissance Egg Rosebud Egg Coronation EggLilies of the Valley EggMadonna lily Clock Egg Pansy Egg Cuckoo Clock Egg Trans-siberian Railway Egg Love Trophies Egg Alexander Palece Egg Standart Egg Alexander III Equestrian Egg Colonnade EggBay Tree Egg15th Anniversary Egg Napoleonic Egg Tercentenairy EggMosaic EggRed Cross Tryptich Egg Order of St. George Egg Steel Military Egg

The 24 Imperial Eggs and below the non-imperial, of which the Resurrection Egg today is considered to be the surprise to the 1894 Renaissance Egg, the Blue Enamel Ribbed Egg and the Spring Flowers Egg are no longer considered Imperial and the Pine Cone Egg today is identified as a Kelch Egg.

Resurrection EggBlue Enamel Ribbed EggSpringflowers EggPine Cone Egg

After the venue in the United States, all but four Imperial Eggs, (the 1890 Danish Palaces Egg, the 1893 Caucasus Egg, the 1899 Pansy Egg, and the 1907 Cradle with Garlands Egg) traveled to Moscow where they were united with the two Eggs which had not left the Kremlin. In the Kremlin were thus 26 Eggs exhibited, 22 having Imperial status.

 Clover Leaf Egg Moscow Kremlin Egg
The two Russian Eggs that did not Travel to San Diego

Malcolm Forbes had agreed to have his Imperial Easter Eggs travel to Moscow on one condition, that they should travel in his plane "the Capitalist Tool" and so it happened. Sadly, shortly afterwards, while his Eggs were still in Moscow, Malcolm Forbes died suddenly at the age of 70. [2]

Behind the Scenes

Behind the scenes numerous people worked hard to make the event possible. Many people from all over the world participated in one way or another making the dream come true for an exhibition of this scale to become reality.

The Russians too believed in the dream of art and beauty. They sent their staff including the three Irinas, Irina Rodimtseva, Irina Polinina (Head of the USSR Diamond Fund, State Museums of the Moscow Kremlin and coordinator of the exhibition) and Irina Mikheyeva (Department of Foreign Relations, USSR Ministry of Culture) without whom the event never would have happened.

Below Irina Polinina inspecting the Imperial Eggs in the vaults of the San Diego Museum of Art. On the bottom shelf one can see some of the metal cases in which the Eggs were transported to and from the exhibition.

Irina Polynina inspecting Imperial Eggs, San Diego 1989

An amusing story is told by George W. Terrell, Jr., who accompanied Eggs on a flight from New York to San Diego. George traveled together with Margaret Kelly Trombly then curator of the Forbes Magazine Collection, and with them they carried three eggs in their transport boxes. The Eggs had their own tickets and seats on the plane. Margaret and George guarded the suitcases and did not want to tell anyone what was inside. So people around them questioned if they perhaps were an organ transplant team. [1]

Tim Adams holding the 1913 Tercentenary Egg Irina Polinyna and Tim Adams, San Diego 1989
Timothy Adams with the 1903 Romanov Tercentenary Egg, and with Irina Polinina inspecting the 1901 Madonna Lily Egg. They are seen preparing the Eggs to be packed up for transport back to Moscow. (Photos Timothy Adams)

Margaret Kelly inspecting the Rosebud Egg
Margaret Kelly Trombly, curator of the Forbes Magazine Collection, examining the Rosebud Egg (Photo Courtesy George W. Terrell, Jr.)

George W. Terrell, jr. and Mr  and Mrs K. Snowman Kenneth Snowman and Timothy Adams
George W. Terrell, Jr. with Sallie and A. Kenneth Snowman of Wartski, the doyen of Fabergé experts and right, Kenneth Snowman with Timothy Adams at the opening night of the Exhibition. (Photos Timothy Adams)

Christel McCanless and Malcolm Forbes at the Exhibition in 1989
Christel Ludewig McCanless and Malcolm Forbes at the Exhibition.
(Photo George W. Terrell, Jr.)

San Diego 1989 Lily of the Valley Cake San Diego Exhibition 1989
Huge Lilies of the Valley Egg Cake - San Diego Exhibition Hall
(Photos George W. Terrell, Jr. and Timothy Adams)

San Diego Mayor and Malcolm Forbes in Moscow
San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor and Malcolm Forbes in Moscow
(Photo Courtesy George W. Terrell, Jr.)

GWTjr and the two Irinas
Irina Rodimtseva, George W. Terrell, Jr., and Irina Polinina in Moscow
(Photo Courtesy George W. Terrell, Jr.)

Lifelong friendships were made between the Russian participants and their Western colleagues, many of whom traveled to Moscow to follow the Eggs to the Kremlin Exhibition.

Irina and George
Lifelong friendship, Irina Polinina and George W. Terrell, Jr. in Moscow, 2016
(Photo Courtesy George W. Terrell, Jr.)

It seems unlikely that so many Fabergé Eggs will ever be together again. The value of these Eggs has skyrocketed in the past three decades and no insurance firm today probably would or could insure an event of this magnitude.

Last but not least, in those days, 1989 - 1990, there was no email and no internet available to the public. Email only became widely used by the mid 1990's. This make the organization of this exhibition even more remarkable!



All exhibition photos on this page, personal collections of Timothy Adams and George W. Terrell, Jr.
Exhibition Poster - Gift to author from George W. Terrell, Jr.

[1] Timothy Adams and George W. Terrell, Jr. - personal email communications, January 2019 and earlier.

[2] Toby Faber, One Man's Masterpieces and the End of an Empire - Fabergé's Eggs, 2008, 248.

[3] Fabergé: The Imperial Eggs, Exhibition Catalog, San Diego Museum of Art and Armory Museum, State Museums of the Moscow Kremlin, Prestel-Verlag, Munich 1989. English edition.

Internet Sources

Not Imperial, but Still Fabergé: https://www.nytimes.com/1989/05/28/arts/antiques-not-imperial-but-still-faberge.html (Retrieved January 2019)

The Egg Women - Mayor O'Connor, Joan Kroc, Helen Copley, and the Faberge eggs: https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/1989/jun/01/faberge/# (Retrieved January 2019)


Annemiek Wintraecken
January 2019



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Page updated/corrected: January 28, 2019