V&A's Fab Fabergé Exhibition Far Outshines Eggs-pectations

Fabergé in London - V&A ★★★★★

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 32 months ago

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Last Updated 19 November 2021

V&A's Fab Fabergé Exhibition Far Outshines Eggs-pectations Fabergé in London - V&A 5
This exhibition knows how to make an entrance, with miniature jewelled versions of the Russian Imperial Regalia greeting visitors.

If I asked you to name a luxury object, Fabergé eggs would probably come high up on the list. It's an item that's synonymous with opulence, even for those who've never seen one before — but there's plenty to see in this blinging exhibition dedicated to the Fabergé story at V&A.

The stall is set out early, as the entrance of the exhibition features a carpet that's far plusher than any I've experienced in a museum before. Raised up in a glass case are jewelled replicas of Russian Imperial regalia — that's right, they've taken crowns that are already pretty spectacular, made them smaller and thrown even more jewels at them. A glance at the lengthy list of precious metals and jewels it contains suggests it would have been easier to list those that haven't been used.

There are beautiful objects at every turn, including enamel cases featuring Windsor Castle or Hampton Court Palace on the front, and a silver and sandstone match striker shaped like a toad. I try not to dwell on the fact that every object in this show, including a toad shaped receptacle to hold matches, is probably worth more than my flat.

A beautifully crafted obsidian rhinoceros.

When I finally do prise my eyes away from the shiny stuff, there's a detailed story to be told of how Fabergé opened its store in New Bond Street in 1903, and how it became the jeweller to royalty. A handy family tree shows all the European royals who were patrons of Fabergé's fine craftsmanship. It would also be a disservice to talk about how it's all bling, as there are some subtler — and I use that word loosely here — pieces on display, including a black rhinoceros made from obsidian that's beautifully crafted so we can see it's skin folds defined to perfection.

A section on the first world war shows that when metals were in demand, Fabergé switched to making 'austerity' pieces — the exhibition has to use quotes here because while these bowls may be made from copper and brass, instead of silver and gold, they are still snazzy by any crockery standards and there's nothing austere about them.

The Moscow Kremlin egg. Copyright the Moscow Kremlin Museums.

Ultimately, this magnificent exhibition is all about the exquisite objects. Every time I try reading about Fabergé's history, something shiny catches my eye and I'm drawn to it like a fly towards a blue light — knowing that I should read more history but finding myself staring mouth agape at the intricacies of each item. The final room contains a superb collection of eggs, such as the Kremlin Egg that's based on the Kremlin's cathedral, sat atop stairs and turrets with a miniature altar visible through one of the windows, and the translucent winter egg which contains a bouquet of jewelled flowers within it.

Even though I know that if it weren't for the vast wealth inequality in the world these objects wouldn't exist, there's an over-riding and compelling attraction to the story and the drive to create some of the most desirable objects in the world.

Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution at V&A. 20 November 2021-8 May 2022, £18.