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25th Anniversary at Buckingham Palace

At around 5pm on the evening of 3rd September 2011, with the sun shining, guests of the St Petersburg Collection began to congregate, for what proved to be a sparkling evening to celebrate twenty five years of the St Petersburg Collection. We were greeted by Virginia and Brendan at the Palace gates and by Chairman, Philip Birkenstein, within the waiting area, for our private tour of the Fabergé Collection belonging to Her Majesty the Queen, and other members of the Royal Family, and along the way, the State Rooms. I am sure that many ladies, like me, were hoping to see the Royal Wedding Dress as well.

The first treasures we saw as we walked along the corridor, before reaching the start of our tour, was a series of very modern paintings. Before beginning our tour we were given a brief history of the site which over the centuries has had Royal connections. It was here that James I planted the mulberry trees to feed the silkworms that were to form his silk industry. Unfortunately he planted black mulberry tree which were not suitable for the silkworms!

The Duke of Buckingham leased the house in 1698, and bought the house a year later, or so he thought. He built a new house on the site which was almost a palace. Following his death, his illegitimate son sold it to George III for £28,000, thus providing King George and his new bride, Queen Caroline with a comfortable London home. In 1775 it became known as the Queen‘s House. King George IV made it his home. During his reign John Nash was engaged to enlarge the House and at this time it became a Palace. The East Front was built in 1850, and it was altered to look as it does now in 1913.

Our tour then began, climbing the Grand Staircase to the Green Drawing Room, The Throne Room, where the Royal Wedding Photographs were taken, and the Picture Gallery, and by now the group was beginning to split as people were looking at the works of art. On into the Ballroom where we took a rest and where the Curator of Decorative Arts in The Royal Collection, Caroline De Guitaut, welcomed us. She gave us a short talk telling us about the exhibition and about the history of the Royal family’s collection of Fabergé. This collection is the largest and most important collection in the world, some items were bought and some given as gifts, and Caroline highlighted the more important pieces.

Queen Victoria was the first collector of Fabergé, she owned two pieces, one a notebook , which she used to record the names of her guests at her Diamond Jubilee celebration, and a clock. Both were presented to her by her granddaughter Alix of Hesse who married and became Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna. The notepad was there with a facsimile of one of the pages.

King Edward and Queen Alexandra were the most significant collectors, although they acquired rather than collected. Queen Alexandra’s sister, Dagmar, was Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, who also gave presents of Fabergé. As well as their gifts they also bought from both the shop in St Petersburg and in London. The London branch was set up in 1903 firstly in Berners Hotel, then Duke Street, and finally 173 New Bond Street. King Edward liked the animals and the cigarette boxes. Mrs George Keppel, his mistress bought him a spectacular Art Nouveau blue cigarette box with a diamond snake biting its own tail to signify everlasting love. Upon his death in 1910, Queen Alexandra returned this case to Mrs Keppel, and in 1926 she gave it to Queen Mary, hence it is still in the Royal Collection.

King Edward also wanted a replica of his horse Persimmon, cast in Silver. Two craftsmen came from Russia to make live wax models from which to make the Silver one. Queen Alexandra liked the flower studies of which she had twenty four, making it the largest collection. The vase of golden chrysanthemums is supported and strengthened with steel wire. Another unusual piece is the nephrite vase mounted in silver gilt, given to King Edward by his nephew Tsar Nicholas II.

King George V and Queen Mary carried on the tradition. They acquired three Royal Easter eggs, in 1901, the Basket of Flowers Egg, 1910 the Colonnade Egg and 1914 the Mosaic Egg. King George enjoyed the animals and Queen Mary enjoyed the objects of fancy, one of which was the miniature tea set, with cups no higher than 1cm, which fits in a small box, and some automatons.

It was in 1915 that the London branch of Fabergé had to close down, due to the war, and in those fourteen years, 10,000 objects were sold.

King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth, continued collecting, and they added a Kovsh, a traditional drinking vessel, this is made in enamel. Presentation boxes, flower studies, a miniature desk, clocks and photograph frames were added to the collection.

Queen Elizabeth II purchased clocks for the collection, Prince Philip has also inherited a clock and they were given a rock crystal inkwell from one of the Tsarina’s favourite ladies in waiting. Prince Charles has been bequeathed objects of Fabergé, so continuing the Royal Collection.

Now it was time to view the collection and it was awe inspiring. There were six exhibition cases, one for each generation of the Royal Family and they could be viewed from both sides. This gave a better impression, than when they are displayed on shelves against a wall. All of us left the exhibition realising how lucky we were to see them in this way.

Our visit was not over yet, as it was back into the Ballroom for a view of HRH The Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress, and how beautiful it looked. No wonder she looked so beautiful. Her earrings and shoes were there, as was the wedding cake. It was made up of seventeen cakes in eight tiers, it was decorated in the same shade of cream as her dress and was decorated with the flowers of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Cascading like a waterfall between the second tier and the base, were flowers. It was now time to move on through the Blue Drawing Room, The Marble Hall and into the Bow Room where the doors opened onto the lawns.

We were greeted here with a glass of champagne before going onto the terrace. Here Philip thanked the Curator, Caroline for her introduction to the exhibition. He also thanked us all for coming and for our support for the St Petersburg Collection, and his friendship and work with Theo Fabergé. He regretted that the new gallery was not yet open, but invited us to visit when it was.

As we all left on the golf buggies towards the main gates to leave the Palace I think we all felt how privileged we were to be here. I am sure I speak for us all when I say thank you very much to all who helped to organise this occasion.

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