Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution at the V&A
Fabergé in London is a wonderfully curated exploration of excess in the early 20th century. It displays the jewellery, figurines and other handcrafted objects made and sold by The House of Fabergé, a Russian jewellery company that expanded across Europe and reached as far as Thailand from the late 1800s until 1917. Under the careful control of Peter Carl Fabergé, who inherited the family jewellery business and became the official goldsmith of the Russian empire, as well as the head of Fabergé, the firm ended up opening five locations, including one in London which opened in 1903.
Fabergé is best known for the extravagant Easter Eggs that the Imperial Romanov family commissioned each year, but this exhibition branches out in a triumphant display of wealth, beauty and decadence. Twinkling diamond tiaras, sparkling turquoise brooches, ornate jewelled animal figurines, gold cigarette cases and much more are shielded in cabinet displays, whilst videos, photographs and information cards tell the story behind the items.
It offers a multi-sensory experience that has been cultivated to take the visitor on a journey through plush opulence to the dark realities of the Russian revolution. As you step into this show, your feet touch a soft, pastel carpet. Calm, regal music plays in the background and soft lighting guides the way as you take in the pink walls, rose-coloured information cards and rows of photographs of the Romanovs, the Russian Imperial Royal family in the early 1900s and Fabergé’s patrons. The thought that has gone into how the work is displayed, as well as the lighting and colour, is incredibly apt: it feels like the exhibition in itself is a work of art.
The sheer beauty of these creations will fill you with awe, but this presentation isn’t just about jewels: it also brings us into Fabergé’s world. It gives us a taste of early 20th century Russian and British high society: we learn how the brand had become so popular that one high society hostess decreed that any guests coming to her party had to exchange Fabergé gifts, with some having to decline their invitation as a result.
We are taken through the enamelling process used in the company workshops, and we learn about the familiar and romantic bonds of the Romanovs through their exchange of Fabergé gifts. Throughout, we are immersed in a world of intricate perfection, where everything is pristine and contains a multitude of expensive, precious stones. We are also given a further insight into Russian society through the personalised figurines of cleaners alongside generals.
The mood darkens as forbidding music beckons us into the War, Revolution and Exile room. The lighting is now red, the walls are sparse and black, and footage of WWI and the revolution is projected onto the wall. It is here we learn about Fabergé’s downfall and the sad end of the formerly prestigious owner of this company.
The V&A show ends, however, with a feeling of hope as we finally get to see the famous Fabergé easter eggs lit up in a darkened room as beacons of hope, examples of his legacy living on. Some of the eggs are damaged, and some parts are missing, but the ornate, dazzling beauty still shines through. From the cold beauty of the Winter Egg to the mastery behind the Imperial Egg, you will leave in a daze, expecting the whole world to sparkle.
Fabergé in London lives up to the hype. It is an emotional, informative and perfectly executed journey. This isn’t just an art exhibition: you learn about history, about change and about the lost era of imperial Russia, a world on the brink of definitive change.
Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution is at the V&A until 8th May 2022. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.