Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C., the home of the late Marjorie Merriweather Post, is a treasure trove. Two of the most unique decorative arts pieces nestled within its dazzling walls are imperial Easter eggs created by Peter Carl Fabergé and his workmasters.
Mrs. Post, as wife to the second ambassador to the USSR, Joseph E. Davies, purchased numerous Russian treasures of imperial provenance during her time in Moscow.
In 1885, Alexander III began the annual tradition of commissioning Fabergé for intricate Easter eggs as gifts for his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna. After his death, his son, Nicholas II continued the tradition by purchasing two eggs every year for Easter. One for his mother, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. The second, for his wife, Tsarina Alexandra.
This decades-long tradition produced more than fifty eggs, two of which made their way into Mrs. Post’s collection.
Commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II and presented to Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in 1896, the diamond-studded Twelve Monogram Easter Egg (also known as the Imperial Monogram Egg) is decorated with the Cyrillic initials of Alexander III and Maria Feodorovna. The initials are made entirely of rose-cute diamonds and are set against a dark-blue enameled background. Fabergé and his workmasters were especially skilled in enameling. The surprise inside the egg was a frame holding six tiny portraits of Alexander III. Sadly, the surprise is now lost to history. Maria Feodorovna was immensely pleased. In a letter to Nicholas II she wrote, “I can’t find words to express to you, my dear Nicky, how touched and moved I was on receiving your ideal egg with the charming portraits of your dear, adored Papa. It is all such a beautiful idea, with our monograms above it all.”
Commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II and presented to Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in 1914, the Catherine the Great Easter Egg has pink translucent enameled panels showcasing allegorical scenes of the arts and sciences. Four smaller panels contain scenes from the four seasons. According to a letter written by the Dowager Empress to her sister, Queen Alexandra, the surprise inside the egg was a seated Catherine the Great. Catherine the Great was a lover of the arts and sciences, so it makes sense that she would have been the surprise. However, by the time this egg made it to the collection of Mrs. Post, the surprise was also lost to history. In older literature, you may see this egg listed as the Imperial Cameo Egg.
Hillwood Museum Exhibit: Fabergé Rediscovered
Fabergé and the Russian Master Goldsmiths (1989) by Gerard Hill