GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 25, 2013

An empire of luxury at PEM

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — While Manchester is hosting a week-long event highlighting ties between Cape Ann and Russia, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem currently has an exhibition related to Russia with “Faberge Revealed,” displaying more than 230 luxury items created by the House of Faberge in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The bejeweled works by Fabergé are known for their craftsmanship and ties to the Russian imperial family. “This exhibition explores ideas of luxury, innovation, entrepreneurship and imperial patronage while providing insight into Peter Carl Fabergé’s life, business and legacy, according to the museum website.

Peter Faberge, the man behind the eggs, inherited his father’s small jewelry business in St. Petersburg in 1872 and within 25 years had transformed it into an international firm.

Faberge created 50 imperial eggs, 42 of which are still known to exist. Four signature imperial eggs made for Nicholas II and the Romanov family are part of the museum special exhibit.

“These, of course, were the most spectacular products of the House of Faberge — and among the most beautiful art objects ever created,” said Dean Lahikainen, curator of American decorative art at the PEM.

But if the many exquisite works in this show leave a lasting impression, it is also because of the story of their production and the bloody times in which they were created.

The House of Faberge produced an estimated 150,000 items in its 35 years of existence, generating around $175 million a year in business, Lahikainen said.

The items on display are from the Lillian Thomas Pratt collection at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which has the largest Faberge collection in the United States. The exhibit includes a range of utilitarian items from snuff boxes to parasol handles, and much more. There are also cases filled with miniature carvings of animals inspired by Japanese netsuke, made from silver or semiprecious stones native to Russia.

Most of the jewelry Faberge created was sold by the Bolsheviks after they murdered the Romanov family during the Russian revolution, but there is no shortage of precious materials or exquisite craftsmanship in this exhibit. A green jade cup adorned with gold, rubies and sapphire features a handle in the shape of Neptune’s trident, and there is a chess set made of aventurine quartz.

IF YOU GO ... What: "Faberge Revealed" When: Now through Sept. 29. Open Tuesday - Sunday, 10 to 5; open 'til 9:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month. Where: Peabody Essex Museum, Salem Tickets: $5, which includes audio tour, in addition to museum admission. Regular museum admission is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors; $11 for students. Youth (16 and under) and Salem residents free. Information: www.pem.org, 866-745-1876.