Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Fabergé’s 1896 Imperial Easter Egg in Alexandra’s Study in the Winter Palace

The 1896 Fabergé Imperial Easter Egg was on the top shelf of the vitrine in Empress Alexandra’s study on the 2nd floor of the Winter Palace.

Fabergé’s April 12th, 1896 invoice describes a ‘Rock Crystal Egg … with 12 miniatures’.  It is listed as #192   'Egg made of white rock crystal … the frames contain different miniature landscapes on both sides' on N. Dementiev’s April 10th,, 1909 inventory.

The Provisional Government directed F. Golovin on May 10th, 1917  to prepare an inventory of ‘items of great value’ in their Majesties Winter Palace rooms. Karl Fabergé, a member of the commission compiling the numbered list, handled the Imperial Eggs as a former court supplier.

Fabergé described the vitrine's four Eggs on the top shelf: 1900, 1898, 1902 and ‘An egg white rock crystal’. It is a mystery why Fabergé did not date the egg as he did with all the others in the vitrine.

After Hammer Galleries acquired the egg, it became widely known as the 1896 Egg With Revolving Miniatures. An undated letter from Hammer to Lillian Pratt describes the egg with “… twelve handpainted miniatrues on ivory, signed, by Zehngraf …” Attached with it is a note 'See photographs of miniatures in inside of crystal ball of Russin Imperial Easter Egg. The writing on the back of the photographs which gives location of the residences is said to be the handwriting of Queen Mary'.  [http://www.wintraecken.nl/mieks/faberge/research/1896-Miniatures.htm]

There is no artist signature visible on the Winter Palace miniature (below). On the upper right, there is a gap. It appears the miniature had been pried out, revealing the handwriting noted above, causing damage when replaced.

The miniature is a replica of the photograph (below) of the Winter Palace c1890 with the three figures on the quay! The Danish artist, Johannes Zehngraf, eliminated the fence and added the ventilation tower built in 1895.


  1. Great post Joanna! I love Faberge egg's would really like to have one of my own or maybe a small collection ;)
    Ghostie x.

  2. Thank you very much. When I saw the photo of the Winter Palace, how familiar it was to the Egg!

  3. Hello Joanna,
    What a great find! Those three little figures indeed. Super!
    best wishes,

  4. Thank you Annemiek. Do you know when Queen Mary had the egg in her possession to write the notes on the paintings?

  5. Hello Joanna. After finding the photographs that appearently were used to identify the buildings, VMFA came to the conclusion that although similar, the handwriting was not of Queen Mary. So she may have seen the Egg but never had it in her possession.

  6. It is difficult to imagine Queen Mary pulling out the miniatures to write on the back. She had a reverence for historical items.

  7. Annemiek, it appears the miniatures may have been removed three times.

    Once by Hammer Galleries to identify the artist noted in their letter since there is no signature on the paintings. How did Hammer confirm it or is it because the artist was Fabergé’s main painter of miniatures? What is the date of Hammer’s letter? Do you know if Hammer received it as part of a consignment from Moscow’s Diamond Fund?

    Another time when the person wrote the place names on the back of the miniatures.

    And again when the Virginia Museum later attached a note and needed to confirm the handwriting. Do you know the date of the note?

    Was the 1896 Egg ever in London to allow the erroneous claim of Queen Mary’s handwriting?

    It makes one question if the miniatures are the originals. Is there photographic proof prior to 1917 when the egg was removed from Alexandra’s study?

  8. Joanna, there were photos of the miniatures and on the back of the photos etc.

    Catherine, I find in general that Armand Hammer knew a great lot about the Imperial Easter Eggs he got out of Russia. No clue who thaught him, but most of todays errors originated long after Hammer had sold the Eggs. I do not know that the miniatures were removed, but to be honest, I simply do not know. I do know however that 10 of 12 of the miniatures are signed by Zehngraf and painters do that usually on the front of their work, however small, so there was no need to dismantle the Egg. PHOTOS of the miniatures were used to identify the buildings. There is one photo of the Egg still in Moscow, before being sold to Hammer. For all your other questiosn, contact the VMFA. Best greetings

  9. Ladies, here is the whole story about the miniatures: http://www.wintraecken.nl/mieks/faberge/research/1896-Miniatures.htm