Tuesday’s Royal Trinket: Hillwood Mansion and Museum

© The Royal Archivist

It’s not one trinket today. It’s many, so grab a cup of tea and settle in for a few minutes of enjoyment. If you love decorative arts, then you will love Hillwood Mansion and Museum in Washington, D.C. It’s filled to the brim with items of royal connection.

Long before Hillwood was a museum, it was the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973), the heiress to the Postum Cereal Company. Post had a fascination with royalty and a life-long interest in decorative arts. As you can image, I completely appreciate that about her.

During her time in the Soviet Union (she was married to the US ambassador to the Soviet Union), she picked up many interesting pieces at auction. In the image above, you can see that Post purchased watches, cigarette cases, decorative boxes and other trinkets of Romanov provenance. Post acquired items that belonged to the Romanovs, the Orthodox churches and numerous aristocrats. These items are now housed at her home, Hillwood.

We’ve already discussed the eggs and the nuptial crown. Let’s take a peek at a few other items in her house.

© The Royal Archivist

The dining room was designed to house Dutch paintings of hunting scenes. You can spot them on the wall in the photograph above. But what’s most fascinating to me is the nineteenth-century carpet. It was a gift from Napoleon III to the ill-fated Emperor Maximillian of Mexico. It’s ironic because Maximillian would not have been executed if not for Napoleon III.

© The Royal Archivist

The grand staircase in the entry hall is laden with paintings of Russian royals. You can spot Catherine the Great. Alexandra Feodorovna, the last tsarina, hangs right underneath Catherine. Also, you can barely see him, but Alexander III hangs on the right side of the wall. Who else do you recognize?

© The Royal Archivist

And here is a close-up view of the staircase, with a view of the chandelier. The chandelier probably came from Russia’s Gatchina Palace.

I hope you enjoyed today’s peek into a few items at Hillwood Mansion and Museum. If you can’t visit in person, you can always visit virtually.

Thank you for stopping by and have a great new week!

Tuesday’s Royal Trinket: The Blue Serpent Clock Egg by Fabergé

© The Royal Archivist. Photograph from an exhibit at Hillwood Museum. Apologies for the poor picture quality.

It’s always fascinating tracking the history and provenance of Fabergé items. Today’s trinket, the Blue Serpent Clock Egg by Fabergé, is nestled within the gilded halls of the Palais de Monaco. For a short time the egg was almost lost to history. Almost. Even the Grimaldi family was not aware of its provenance.

Here is the background:

Emperor Alexander III commissioned Fabergé for an easter egg as a gift for his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna. However, the emperor died in 1894 and the Blue Serpent Clock Egg was not finished until 1895.* Instead, the Fabergé item became the very first egg the new tsar, Nicholas II, presented to his mother for Easter in 1895.

The Blue Serpent Clock Egg is a fitting tribute from a deceased husband to his beloved wife because the egg, made of gold, enamel and diamonds, represents love. Trails of roses are entwined on top of the enameled clock. If you look closely, you’ll note that the clock’s hand is a diamond-encrusted snake. A snake is no longer considered romantic, but it used to signify eternity. And if we dig a little deeper, perhaps the egg also alludes to eternal love because true love transcends a scant ticking clock. This egg functioned as a proper clock and was not made to hold a surprise.

After the revolution, the Blue Serpent Clock Egg made its way to the fabled vaults of Wartski. In 1972, Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos purchased the Blue Serpent Clock Egg from Wartski. It is at this point in time that the egg disappeared from history.

Wartski lost track of the egg until they received a letter in 1990 penned by His Serene Highness Prince Rainier III of Monaco. In the letter, the prince explained that the egg was given to him many years earlier by Mr. Niarchos. The prince was unaware of its imperial provenance until Wartski provided him with a history of the clock. Prince Rainier even loaned it to Wartski for an exhibit.

Today the egg is part of the personal collection of His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco. It is generally not on view, but you may be able to spot it at exhibitions around the world. I was lucky enough to have seen it at Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C.

PS. You can find two more Fabergé eggs (with much better photographs) here.

*Earlier reports date this egg to 1897, but today it is certain that it was made in St. Petersburg in 1895.

Sources

Wartski: The First One Hundred and Fifty Years by Geoffrey Munn

Fabergé Revealed exhibit at Hillwood Museum

Imperial Fabergé Frame

© The Royal Archivist. Please do not duplicate.

Last week we talked about Easter eggs by Fabergé at Hillwood Museum, so I thought you’d like to see another Fabergé item.

Mrs. Post, who developed an appreciation for Russian culture, purchased this picture frame made by Fabergé during her time in Moscow. The frame is composed of rhodonite, gold, silver, enamel, diamonds and mother-of-pearl. A picture of Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna, daughter of the last Tsar and Tsarina, is in the frame. It feels sad to look at Tatiana’s picture given the tragic fate that befell the Romanovs.

Next to the frame is a presentation box also made of rhodonite and gold, with the seal encircled in diamonds. Though it matches the frame almost exactly, it’s not by Fabergé. The maker is unknown, but it’s believed to have been made in Western Europe during the first half of the 1800s.

Sources

Hillwood Museum

The Imperial Easter Eggs at Hillwood Museum

© The Royal Archivist. Please do not duplicate.

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.

© The Royal Archivist. Please do not duplicate.

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.”

© The Royal Archivist. Please do not duplicate.

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. 

Sources

Hillwood Museum Exhibit: Fabergé Rediscovered 

Fabergé and the Russian Master Goldsmiths (1989) by Gerard Hill

Russian Nuptial Crown

© The Royal Archivist. Please do not duplicate.

The Russian Nuptial Crown was created in 1840. According to Stefano Papi’s Jewels of the Romanovs, English jeweler Nichols and Plincke used diamonds from the collection of Catherine the Great to create the nuptial crown. There is mention in Geoffrey Munn’s Tiaras: A History of Splendour that Nichols and Plincke maintained the Russian crown jewels. At one point, the nuptial crown was stored in a specially-fitted case with the firm’s name. After the firm shuttered in the 1880s, Fabergé was able to win the Imperial family’s patronage. Through the years, the nuptial crown was worn by numerous Romanov brides, the most recent high-profile being the Tsarina Alexandra in 1894.

To raise funds for their regime, the Bolshevik government sold the Russian Nuptial Crown in 1927. It was auctioned by Christie’s for £6,100 (a very high price at the time) and in 1966 made its way into Mrs. Marjorie Post’s collection.

Today the nuptial crown remains on display at her home, Hillwood, which opened to the public as a museum in 1977. The nuptial crown is probably one of the most significant pieces of the Russian crown jewels outside of Russia today. 

Sources

Permanent Exhibit at Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C. 

Christie’s The Jewelry Archives Revealed by Vincent Meylan

Jewels of the Romanovs by Stefano Papi

Tiaras: A History of Splendour by Geoffrey C. Munn