Fabergé's production of flower studies is thought to have begun in the 1880s. The collaborative process involved many skilled artists and goldsmiths of the firm. It began with designs which, according to H.C. Bainbridge, were often executed by Carl Fabergé himself. The work was then carried out in stages: setting the precious stones, enamelling the flowers, adding the gold stalks and grasses, and finally assembling the flowers (see Caroline de Guitaut, Fabergé in the Royal Collection, London, 2003, pp. 103-104). Approximately eighty flower and fruit studies are known to have survived.
The inspiration for these objets d'art came from different sources, such as Russian lapidary art, European jewelled bouquets of the eighteenth century, and Chinese hardstone carvings. Never-wilting flower studies were popular among Russian aristocrats, who were known for their love of flowers and knowledge of botany. St Petersburg was home to countless florists, some of whom supplied Imperial palaces with fresh flowers transported on ice by train from France. With her purchase in 1895 of a yellow rose, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna was the first member of the Imperial family to purchase a flower study. She was soon followed by Empress Maria Feodorovna, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, wife of Vladimir Alexandrovich, and Queen Alexandra of England.
Fabergé's elegant creations were often put in rock-crystal vases, carved in trompe l'oeil technique so that they appeared to contain water. The shaped golden stems were delicately engraved with fine lines, and the flowers were often executed in enamelled gold with diamond-set centres, such as the present study of a cornflower.
Several Fabergé cornflower studies are known and include those in the Hermitage (previously in the Yusupov Collection), in the Royal Collection (RCIN 100010), purchased at Wartski by Queen Elizabeth II, and in the collection of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (47.20.222), formerly part of Lillian Thomas Pratt collection. The latter bears a very close resemblance to the present lot. Further examples of cornflower studies have appeared at auction in recent years: Sotheby’s, New York, 12 April 2011, lot 262; and Sotheby’s, London, 27 November 2012, lot 560.