This previously unrecorded Fabergé egg is known from the codicil to her will quoted above to have been given to Germaine Alice Halphen on her engagement to Baron Edouard de Rothschild in Paris, and married in 1905. It was a gift from Edouard's elder sister Béatrice (also known as Béatrix) Ephrussi, née de Rothschild, and has remained in the recipient's family until now.
Fifty Imperial eggs were produced and delivered by the Fabergé workshops in St. Petersburg as recorded by Tatiana Fabergé, Lynette Proler and Valentin Skurlov in their book The Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs, London, 1997, although not all survive.
Between 1885 and 1896, eleven were commissioned by Emperor Alexander III (1881-96) as Easter gifts to his wife, Maria Feodorovna, née Princess Dagmar of Denmark. The remainder were given by Nicholas II to his mother as well as to his wife, Alexandra Feodorovna, née Princess Alix of Hesse und bei Rhein, from 1896 to 1916. These eggs, representing the Resurrection, were given on the moveable Feast of Easter ('Paskha' in Russian) each year except 1904 and 1905, on account of the Russo-Japanese war.
Comparable in importance and quality and, indeed rarer than, the Imperial eggs, a very few eggs were produced by the Fabergé workshops in St. Petersburg for a select group of exceptionally wealthy private clients. These include the Egg acquired by the Duchess of Marlborough, née Consuelo Vanderbilt, during her visit to St. Petersburg in 1902, the Iusupov Egg of 1907 commissioned by Prince Felix Iusupov, as a 25th wedding anniverary present for his wife, Zinaida, and Dr. Emmanuel Nobel's Ice Egg. (Tatiana Fabergé, et al, op. cit., pp. 70-91.)
Another enormously wealthy client, Alexander Kelkh, presented his wife, Varvara Petrovna, née Bazanova, no fewer than seven large Fabergé eggs between 1898 and 1904, the last being the Chanticleer Egg. Practically identical to the present egg, it is enamelled in blue, with variations to the plinth, and to the rose-diamonds on the cockerel's throat. This repetition of form in different colours is not unique and is mirrored in the Imperial Blue Serpent Clock Egg of 1887 and the translucent pink Duchess of Marlborough Clock Egg of 1902.
Both the Rothschild egg and the Chanticleer egg are in fact similar in style to the Imperial Cockerel (formerly Cuckoo) Egg of 1900. All these were inspired by the famous ormolu automaton Peacock Egg in the Winter Palace made by James Cox (d.1788). For over 20 years Carl Fabergé voluntarily gave his time and expertise, to the Imperial Hermitage, repairing, restoring and classifying its treasures. Fabergé, together with a mechanic, were known to have examined and repaired the automaton Peacock Clock, and familiarity with this large-scale mechanical work of art led to the design, of the smaller 1900 Cockerel Easter Egg, and the slightly later Rothschild and Chanticleer Eggs.
In fact these three large eggs are the only Fabergé eggs incorporating both a clock and an automaton. While it has not been possible to examine the movement of the Cockerel Easter Egg, from the description of that of the Chanticleer Egg, the latter's appears to be identical to that of the Rothschild Egg. (A. Chapuis and E. Droz, Automata, Switzerland, 1958, pp. 229-232, figs. 280-284.)
As is the case of all private commissions executed by the Fabergé workshops in St. Petersburg, there is no surviving documentary evidence recording an order for this newly discovered Rothschild Egg. There is, however, one exceptional and unique piece of photographic evidence, which has been drawn to our attention by Messrs. Wartski and is now in their collection. This shows the present Egg being executed in the workshop of Fabergé's workmaster, Michael Perchin, in the presence of the workmaster and his assistant and successor, Henrik Wigström, in 1902, at exactly the same time as a silver cigar-box shaped as a large Russian medieval helmet. The latter was delivered to the Imperial Cabinet, at a cost of 1500 roubles, and presented to Kaiser Wilhelm II by the Emperor Nicholas II on July 19th 1902. Although previously thought to illustrate the Chanticleer Egg of 1904, this detail supporsts Wartski's conclusion that this photograph is indeed of the present lot.
Baron Mayer Alphonse James Rothschild (1827-1905), son of the 'great' Baron James de Rothschild (1792-1868), founder of the French branch of the family, and regent of the Banque de France, married in 1857 his cousin Leonora de Rothschild (1837-1911), daughter of Baron Lionel of the English branch. Together they had four children: Bettina Caroline (1858-1892) who married Albert Salomon de Rothschild, Lionel James Mayer (1861) who died the same year, Charlotte Béatrice, and Edouard Alphonse James.
Charlotte Béatrice, generally known by her second name, and sometimes as Béatrix, was born in Paris on 14th September 1864, and raised with her siblings at the family mansion at 2 rue Saint-Florentin, and at the château de Ferrière in Seine-et-Marne. James de Rothschild had bought the château from the heirs of Fouché, Napoleon's minister of police, and completely rebuilt it. Throughout her childhood she was inspired by the architectural building of the family, the construction of gardens, and surrounded by the family collection of wonderful works of art.
On 5th June 1883, "après avoir été très courtisée", she married Maurice Ephrussi, 'Frousse', a friend of her parents. She was described in Les Modes à travers le Monde, "La mariée, d'une rare beauté, portait une robe de satin blanc avec un grand voile de dentelles anciennes", the same periodical in the following years recorded some of her social engagements, costumes and jewellery. They lived in avenue Foch in Paris, and at their property, the château de Reux, in Calvados. Maurice died on 26th October 1916 and was buried there.
Following her husband's death she felt herself abandonned and would sometimes stay with her uncle Edmond. After the war she did not like the new world of the années folles, so would travel and go on cruises, where she could continue her passion, gambling.
On their father's death Béatrice and her brother Edouard inherited his immense fortune, and, after a visit to relatives on the Midi, she bought seven hectares of land at St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (of which today only 3.5 remain). Here, in the tradition of other members of the family in France and England, Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild had built between 1905 and 1912 a spectacular Venetian-style villa 'Ile-de-France', named after a favourite cruise ship. So fastidious was she that she changed numerous architects and gardeners in the hope of perfection. She amassed a collection of paintings including old masters, furniture, sculpture, porcelain and works of art and laid out a wonderful garden, which contained her own zoo of birds and animals. Here among her treasures she would entertain lavishly. Towards the end of her life she lived in Davos, Switzerland. Aged 69, her nephew recorded 'Elle était encore belle, avec le halo neigeux des ces cheveux entourant la pâleur de son visage'.
Her younger brother Edouard was born on 24th February 1868. He became engaged to the much younger Germaine Alice Halphen, whom he married on 1st March 1905. They had four children, of whom three survived to adulthood. Baron Edouard took over the running of the family bank, de Rothschild Frères, within months of his marriage, in which he was joined by two cousins, in accordance with the wishes of their grandfather and the founder of the bank. He inherited part of the Château Lafite-Rothschild vineyard as well as a large art collection, which he expanded. He also took a great interested in thoroughbred horse racing, keeping a stable at Chantilly. During the German occupation of France during the Second World War he and his family escaped to America, returning to France in 1944. Baron Edouard died in Paris in 1949. After Charlotte Béatrice's death in 1934, Edouard and Germaine inherited the château de Ferrières, and in turn, it passed to their son Guy, who gave it to the University of Paris in 1975.
Baron Guy de Rothschild records in his memoirs, The Whims of Fortune, published originally in French as Contre bonne fortune, in 1985, remembering his father's personality as a 'highly-strung business man at the office, kindly, generous father at home', who became increasingly absent-minded in old age. His mother, Germaine, he remembers as 'petite, smaller than she seemed to be', and very down-to-earth, who admired English manners and comportment, and whose entourage included many musicians; 'a virtuous woman with a generous heart. Mindful of her obligations, she considered it only natural to help others'. Always inquisitive, 'a perennial student who loved learning new things', she wrote a biography of the 16th-century scholar and ceramist Bernard Palissy, and of the composer Luigi Boccherini published in 1962.
A family of bankers in Odessa, southern Russia, who became established in Paris and Vienna. Charles Joachim Ephrussi (1792-1864), having built his fortune as a grain merchant, had two sons by his first wife, Bella Löwenson, and two sons and three daughters by his second, Henriette Halpherson (1822-88). The oldest son, Leon, owned the Odessa banking house 'Leonid Ephrussi & Co' which was liquidated in 1882. He died in Paris in 1877 at the age of 45. The second son, Ignatii, continued his brother's business and gave the sum of 20,000 rubles to build a business school, which at the beginning of the 20th Century was called the 'Ephrussi College'. They also apparently worked for the Rothschild family's interests in the oil business in Baku in Azerbaidjan, and the Baku to Batumi railway financed by the family.
The younger son of the second marriage was Maurice Ephrussi, born in Odessa on 19th November 1849. He administered the Banque Ephrussi with his nephew Jules and older brother Michel with their associate Théodore Porges. He occupied a privileged position in the world of business, as he administered the company Société Le Nickel, next to the bank in rue Lafitte. The Rothschilds had been associated with this company since 1884 when it became involved with explorations in New Caledonia. A collector of works of art, Maurice was advised by his nephew Charles (1849-1905), who was proprietor of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, and himself a collector. He also had a passion for horses keeping a stud at his château de Reux in the departement of Calvados, which he had bought in the 1860s. In 1883 he married Béatrice de Rothschild, but they had no children. Although he did not play an active part in the construction and decoration of the villa at Cap-Ferrat, he could visualise the hanging of the pictures of the impressionist and symbolist artists, Renoir, Sisley, Monet and Moreau, which he had bought on the advise of his nephew Charles. He died in Paris on 26th October 1916, and was buried at the château de Reux. After his death the château passed to the Rothschild family. (R. Vian de Rives, La Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Paris, 2002.)
THE ROTHSCHILDS AND THE HOUSE OF FABERGÉ
In the family archives it appears that the English Rothschilds bought exclusively from Fabergé's London branch until it closed in 1917. The French branch of the family also made purchases in London and on the firm's regular trips to Paris. Leopold de Rothschild had been introduced to the firm by his former university friend, the future Edward VII of England, although Leopold had become interested in Russian decorative arts on a trip to St. Petersburg and Moscow in 1867. Apparently he did not buy these pieces for himself, but he and his family acquired these pieces as gifts for others. Among these was a japonica flower study for Lady Carnarvon in 1908, a Louis XV style miniature escritoir in 1909 (now in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen), a Renaissance style hardstone vase bought in 1911 as a coronation gift to King George V and Queen Mary, and a Renaissance style hardstone shell cup, bought on 9th July 1912. (K. McCarthy, Fabergé and the Rothschilds, in 'The Rothschild Archive, Review of the Year April 2004 to March 2005', London, 2005, pp. 33-41.)
The mechanism has four trains powered by two double-ended spring barrels wound from the rear; the left side (viewed from rear) powers the going train and the train for lifting the bird platform; the right side (viewed from rear) powers the strike train and the automata train for the bird. The clock will run for eight days whilst giving approximately fifty performances of the bird; it requires more frequent winding if the bird is used more often. It is regulated by a platform lever escapement with cut bimetallic balance. The back plate is signed in Cyrillic No3 N. Rode Petersburg. In the base is a fifth train powered by a further spring barrel and wound through the rear; this drives the two bellows via cranks, supplying air to two reed pipes above two valves activated by a cam driven by the bird's automaton train. The pipes provide two tones for the bird song. The front plate of the movement is engraved in Cyrillic N. Rode N 3 1902. The underside of the base has a silk panel which allows air to breathe into the movement for the bellows. This is applied with a printed paper inventory label P. 48 E. de R. and numbered in manuscript 494.
At the hour a rack causes the gold filigree lid to open and the gold, enamel and diamond-set cockerel to rise on a filigree platform. It then flaps its wings four times before nodding its head three times while opening and shutting its beak; whilst its head nods the cockerel crows. This performance lasts approximately fifteen seconds. The clock then strikes the hour on a bell positioned on the front plate of the movement before the cockerel descends back into the case.
Above the dial there is a small lever for Silence/Sonnerie (with inscription Sil/Son on the gold inner bezel of the dial). This shuts off the strike and automaton function. To the top rear of the egg there is a gold repeat button; when depressed this causes the cockerel to perform and the clock to strike the hour.
(Christie's would like to thank the following for their help in the preparation of this catalogue:
Melanie Aspey, Director of The Rothschild Archive for her researches.
Kieran McCarthy of Wartski, whose comparative study of this original photograph and the Rothschild and Chanticleer Eggs proves beyond doubt that the Egg illustrated in Perchin's workshop is indeed the former.
Valentin Skurlov for identifying the helmet-shaped box as being delivered to the Emperor in 1902. This supports Wartski's conclusion that the photograph of box and the present lot, was taken in that year.)