This month we explore the connection between the English Rothschild family and the world famous Court Jewellers, Fabergé. As collectors and commissioners of luxury items, the family has been patrons of many famous artisans, but perhaps none so venerated today as Fabergé. The work of Peter Carl Fabergé (1846-1920), goldsmith by special appointment to the Russian Imperial Crown, will be celebrated in an eagerly anticipated exhibition opening later this month at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.
The Rothschilds and Fabergé
Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution will be a ground-breaking exhibition devoted to the lesser-known London branch of the Russian goldsmith. The only branch the Fabergé family ever establish outside of Russia, it opened on New Bond Street in 1903 to engage an Edwardian high society clientele. Patronised by members of the Royal family across Europe and beyond, the Fabergé branch in London had little difficulty attracting commissions and purchasers; twenty-five members of the Rothschild family held an account, with perhaps the greatest Rothschild patrons being Leopold (1845-1917) and Marie (1862-1937) de Rothschild.
Leopold already had an interest in Russian decorative arts fostered by a visit to St Petersburg and Moscow in 1867. He purchased many other items from Fabergé including items enamelled in the Rothschild racing colours (blue and gold) which Leopold would gift to friends and acquaintances. The Fabergé accounts show that between 1909 and 1914, Leopold purchased an item a year for his brother Alfred’s birthday. The Rothschild Archive holds some examples of receipts for items purchased by Marie de Rothschild.
Receipt, 28 February 1914 from C. Fabergé for items supplied to Marie, Mrs Leopold de Rothschild, at 4, Hamilton Place, Park Lane, on 28 November 1913:
- Bell-push, grey birds eye wood, yellow enamel and 1 meccastone, £12-10-0
- Pencil, black and white opq [opaque] enamel £16-0-0
Note: the pencil was possibly purchased as a Seasonal gift (£16 in 1913 is over £1,600 today)
Born into a family of collectors, Leopold de Rothschild was the youngest of the five children of Baron Lionel (1808-1879) and Baroness Charlotte (1819-1884). His father was senior partner of N M Rothschild & Sons. A keen collector of art and objet d’art, Lionel bequeathed to his three sons an impressive collection upon which they would go on to build magnificent collections of their own. When he became a partner at New Court, Leopold was as popular with the staff as he was with his acquaintances in the sporting arena, his more favoured environment; his Southcourt Stud produced a number of winning racehorses, making him extremely popular with the public too. Having studied at Cambridge University together, Leopold and the then Prince of Wales [King Edward VII] had struck up a close friendship. Their friendship would endure, with the Prince of Wales attending Leopold’s wedding to Marie Perugia at London’s Central Synagogue on 19 January 1881. But it was their friendly rivalry on the turf that perhaps became best well known through the press, and this rivalry was to produce some of Fabergé finest pieces for the English Rothschilds.
Persimmon and St Frusquin
Leopold had become an enthusiastic racegoer during his college days at Cambridge, with regular trips to Newmarket. The more desperately his mother urged him to study '"something - drawing, painting, music, languages", the more his interests turned to the turf. Leopold inherited Palace House in Newmarket, and here the Prince of Wales often stayed during race meetings. Leopold also took over the running of his father's stud at Gunnersbury before moving it to his own estate at Ascott. It became the Southcourt Stud farm, from where he bred many winners; his great hope was for the Derby in 1896 when his horse, St Frusquin, entered as the race as the favourite. But after a close race, St Frusquin was beaten by a neck by the Prince of Wales' horse Persimmon. At their next meeting St Frusquin was the victor.
Persimmon and St Frusquin were half-brothers and in tribute to them, silver models were cast by Fabergé. Today Persimmon is in the Royal Collection and St Frusquin remains with the Rothschild family. The cast model making of St Frusquin is well documented; being of a temperamental nature, the horse proved quite the handful to gain a likeness of and was only calmed by the presence of the stable cat. The wax model, when finally completed was sent to Russia to be cast in silver and returned to England where it was purchased by Mrs Leopold de Rothschild for £110-0-0 (over £11,000 today), and later gifted to her husband for his 67th birthday.
A Fabergé vase was gifted by Leopold to Edward’s son, King George V and his wife Queen Mary in 1911 for their coronation. As a passionate horticulturalist, Leopold filled the beautiful enamelled and gem set gold mounted rock crystal piece with prize-winning orchids from his glasshouses at Gunnersbury; the gift was taken to Buckingham Palace and placed on the Royal breakfast table. The vase and the model of Persimmon will be on display at the V&A exhibition, (two of over seventy items on loan from the Royal Collection), together with the model of St Frusquin, reuniting the two horses in silver.
For further information on the Rothschild/Fabergé relationship see ‘Faberge and the Rothschilds’ by Kieron McCarthy in The Rothschild Archive Review of the Year: April 2004-March 2005. Kieran is a director of Wartski, a British family firm of antique dealers specialising in Russian works of art.
Fabergé in London
With the outbreak of war in 1914, and as discontent took hold in Russia, the purchases and commissions slowed. A letter in The Rothschild Archive from Faberge's solicitors Rawle, Johnston & Co. was sent out in early 1917 to loyal customers including Leopold and Marie and stated that the London branch was closing “for the present”. The world was changing, and no one was untouched. Leopold and Marie's son Evelyn Achille (1886-1917) was tragically killed in action in Palestine in 1917, and their two other sons, Lionel Nathan (1882-1942), and Anthony Gustav (1887-1961) both served in the military.
Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution: a dazzling display
Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution, Victoria & Albert Museum London, Opens 20 November 2021
The first section of the exhibition highlights the important patronage of the Romanov family whilst exploring Carl Fabergé’s youth, his travels throughout Europe, and entry into the family firm. The second section of the exhibition tells the story of Fabergé’s time in London. The final section of the exhibition celebrates the legacy of Fabergé through the iconic Imperial Easter Eggs. The collection on display will include several items that have never before been shown in the UK. The Rothschild Archive is loaning a portrait of Leopold de Rothschild along with a circular sent to clients in 1917 announcing the closure of the business; Two unique items to commemorate a remarkable relationship between patron and craftsman.
RAL XI/17 Receipts for items supplied to the English Rothschild family by C. Fabergé, 1914; Letter from Rawle, Johnston & Co., 1917