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July 24th

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Name Catherine the Great Egg (or Grisaille Egg, or Cameo Egg)

Date 1914

Provenance Presented by Nicholas II to Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna

Made in St. Petersburg

Work-masters Henrik Wigström - miniatures by Vasilii Zuiev (b. 1870) - surprise by Andrei Plotnitskii

Marks Fabergé, H W, assay mark of St. Petersburg 1908-17

Media four-color gold, diamonds, pearls, velvet

Size 12,1 cm tall - with stand 17,1 cm - diameter 8.9 cm

Techniques enamel, automaton

Kept in Hillwood Museum, Washington, DC, USA (The Marjorie Merriweather Post Collection)
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Click on the thumbnails to see a bigger image - the sedan cahirs here portrayed don't belong to this egg.

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eggThis Egg may best represent the height of Fabergé's career, expressions in miniature of the life of Imperial privilege. Henrik Wigström, Fabergé's last head workmaster, created this egg for Nicholas II to present to his mother, Maria Fyodorovna, on Easter morning in 1914. Vasilii Zuev, a designer employed by the firm, painted the monochrome in cameo style (en camaïeu) pink enamel panels with miniature allegorical scenes of the arts and sciences after French artist François Boucher. It was kept at Maria's favorite Anichkov Palace and it was inspired by the opulent embellishments of the palace interior, where many of the ceilings are painted en grisaille.

The Fabergé skill with mechanics is revealed in the automatons - wind-up figures, such as Catherine the Great's sedan chair, that strut their way out of the eggs. To feature Catherine the Great, who prided herself on being a patron of the arts and sciences, as part of the surprise is certainly in keeping with this elaborate egg's style and imagery.
According to a letter from Maria Fyodorovna to her sister, Queen Alexandra of England, the surprise was incredibly beautiful:

"Mr. Fabergé himself has brought me this most beautiful egg. Inside is a sedan chair carried by two Africans with Catherine the Great in it. And she has a little crown on her head. You wind it up and the two Africans walk. Can you imagine?"
By the time Armand Hammer acquired the egg in 1930 from the Antikvariat (the Soviet agency that supervised Russian art sales), the surprise had been lost. Marjorie Merriweather Post received the egg from her daughter Eleanor in 1931.

in(N.B. the "sedan chairs" here represented are not the one constituing the surprise of Catherine Egg, but they can give you an idea of what it could be like. This one was also made by Fabergé, and belongs to Forbes' Collection). For a long time it was thought that the picture at right, a mechanical chair from the Forbes' Magazine Collection (now The Link of Times-Collection), was the surprise from the Catherine the Great Egg. However when the Manager of the Hillwood Museum came to the New York auction with the Egg, it was a big disappointment to everyone that the surprise did not fit into the Egg en therefore was nót the long lost surprise.

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