Fabergé and Lanceray
The impressive quality and design of this kovsh embody Fabergé's distinctive neo-Russian designs in boldly chased silver. The sculptural form of the galloping steed and falconer that form the prow are related to one of Evgenii Lanceray's most celebrated compositions - Fauconnier du tsar au XVIIe siècle, 1870s (see G. Sudbury, Evgueni Alexandrovich Lanceray: 1848-1886, Paris, 2006, pp. 124, 132-133). One of the monumental versions of this model was included in All-Russian Industrial Art Exhibition in Moscow in 1882, in which the firm of Fabergé also participated for the first time and famously won their gold medal. Interestingly, one of the three large scale versions (now at the Azerbaijan State Museum of Art, Baku) was later transferred from St Petersburg to Baku in 1926 to be installed at the Absheron sanatorium. At the end of the nineteenth century the Nobel family often stayed in their dacha in the Absheron peninsula.
The traditional form and sculptural use of jewelled silver relate the present kovsh to other Moscow designs by Fabergé in the neo-Russian style, such as the Boris Godunov desk set (Important Works of Art by Fabergé from the Forbes Collection, Christie's, New York, 19 April 2002, lot 111), the Ivan Kalita bowl and monumental bogatyr kovsh, all of which draw on traditional Russian stories as a source for ornament (A. von Solodkoff, et al., Masterpieces from the House of Fabergé, New York, 1984, p. 178, no. FAB83017 and p. 173, no. FAB81001, respectively).
A closely related 'Racing Trophy' kovsh with a bogatyr on horseback charging off the prow is illustrated in H.C. Bainbridge, Peter Carl Fabergé, London, 1949, plate 16. Another similar example of a monumental kovsh with the prow modelled as a group of realistically cast and chased horse-mounted bogatyrs, was included in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts exhibition (see exhibition catalogue, Fabergé Revealed, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 2011, pp. 142-143, no. 5).
A similarly decorated neo-Russian coupe-à-bec (endova) with related falconer scenes, given by Emanuel Nobel was sold Christie's, London, 6 June 2011, lot 192.
The Nobel Family
The Nobel Brothers Petroleum Production Company was founded in 1879 in Baku, and became one of the largest oil-producing companies in the world at the time. The Nobel family is considered to be amongst Fabergé's most important clients. According to Francois Birbaum, Fabergé's senior master craftsman from 1893, 'E. Nobel, one of the kings of oil, was so generous in his presents that at times it seemed that this was his chief occupation and delight. Orders were constantly being made for him in the [Fabergé] workshops and from time to time he came to have a look at them. Often, he only decided for whom the present should be when the work was finished.' (F. Birbaum, Fabergé: Imperial Jeweller, London, 1993, p. 454). Six months before the October Revolution in 1917, which led to the nationalisation of the company in 1920, Nobel Brothers announced record profits. By this time the Nobels owned, controlled or had important interests in companies employing 50,000 workers, producing one-third of the total domestic consumption. In the summer of 1919, Emanuel left Russia with his family to settle in Sweden.