The Neuscheller Family and Fabergé
This miniature sedan chair was purchased by the Rubber magnate Maximilian Othmar Neuscheller (1860–1919) from Fabergé’s St Petersburg shop between 1900-1917. Both the Neuscheller family and that of his wife Cornelia, née van Gilse van der Pals, were established and important clients of Fabergé.
Christie’s sale of The Property of the late Max Othmar Neuscheller and his son Leo Neuscheller in 1978 attests to the breadth and quality of their collection. It seems the family lived surrounded by their Fabergé items; and one of their ten children, Cornelia (Alexandra) ‘Cory’ Neuscheller, who escaped to Finland after the revolution and worked for the jeweller A. Tillander, recognised the present sedan chair in both an exhibition and later in a photograph, fondly recalling that it stood on a table top in their family home on Kamenniy island (Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm, email, 2 October 2017).
Maximilian Othmar Neuscheller was a Swiss-born magnate, whose stepfather Leopold Neuscheller established the family’s fortune in 1860 by securing exclusive distribution rights in Russia for his company Russian-American India Rubber Co.
In 1909 Neuscheller amalgamated the various factories over which he had control, including the Russian-American India Rubber Co and Fast Walker (‘Skorohod’), to form the company Triangular (‘Treugolnik’), which quickly became the leading producer of galoshes in Russia. Following this successful merger, Neuscheller turned his focus increasingly to his cultural pursuits.
As one of the richest industrialists in Russia, Neuscheller built a magnificent manor on Kamenniy island, one of the most desirable areas of St Petersburg, where his art collection was displayed. Maximilian Neuscheller had a strong and diverse interest in the arts. In addition to collecting Fabergé, his hobbies included astronomy, music and colour photography.
Maximilian Neuscheller was very aware of his fellow industrialist, art enthusiast and Fabergé collector, Emanuel Nobel. In 1900, Neuscheller purchased a large area of land in the Karelian Isthmus, where the Nobel family had established their summer residence, Kirjola, in 1894. In parallel to the Nobel family’s expansion of their manor in 1903, Neuscheller oversaw construction of his own summer villa, Suur-Merijoki. Neuscheller’s family home became the most famous Finnish Art Nouveau building of its time, with fully integrated furniture and textile designs.
Following the Russian Revolution, Maximilian Neuscheller was arrested and shortly died in Russia on his way from Moscow to St Petersburg. His large family, including his wife Cornelia and some of their ten children left the country. His son Leo, who married Lucy van Gilse van der Pals, emigrated to America and later returned to Switzerland, where part of their family collection, including this sedan chair, was sold at Christie’s in 1978.
Fabergé Sedan Chairs
The present sedan chair is one of only a few known examples of miniature sedan chairs by Fabergé and is among the rarest types of objects produced by the firm.
The design of this miniature sedan chair is most closely related to another example by Michael Perchin, which is of the same form, but with a different door handle and Trophies painted in grisaille rather than created by gold paillons. The grisaille version was originally purchased by J. P. Morgan Jr. from Fabergé’s St Petersburg branch in 1905, as a gift for his father, then eventually formed part of the Forbes Magazine Collection.
Of the examples by Perchin, another miniature sedan chair in the Louis XVI style made of nephrite, mother-of-pearl, rock crystal and gold is also recorded (K. Snowman, The Art of Carl Fabergé, London, 1962, pl. 283). A double-sedan chair made of pink agate and rock crystal with gold rococo mounts is also known (New York, A La Vieille Russie, Fabergé, 25 October – 7 November 1961, p. 77, fig. 270).
A yellow enamelled example, designed in a similar Louis XVI style, with gold mounts, rock crystal windows and mother-of-pearl interior is owned by the Link of Times foundation and preserved in the Fabergé Museum in St Petersburg.
A further related example is recorded in Fabergé’s London ledgers under number 17340 as made of mother-of-pearl, pink enamel, gold, and rock crystal; and was purchased by Leopold Rothschild for 146 pounds (cost price 802 rubles). This is possibly another known example in light pink enamel with neo-classical ornament by Henrik Wigström (New York, A La Vieille Russie, Fabergé, 25 October – 7 November 1961, p. 77, fig. 268).
The ledgers detail a further sedan chair in the Louis XVI style, described as a showcase for jewellery, that was purchased by Emperor Nicholas II on 23rd March 1896 for 900 roubles.
The present sedan chair also closely relates in style to the automated sedan chair with Catherine the Great, carried by two blackamoors, created by Henrik Wigström and sold Christie’s, Geneva, 13 November 1985, lot 30.
Miniature Furniture and the Louis XVI Style
The present sedan chair belongs to a series of miniature furniture, one of the rarest types of objects produced by Fabergé.
The Fabergé firm was famous for the whimsy of its miniature objets de fantasie, which included tiny replica furniture, often with hinged or functional elements, such as the working door and removable handles on the present sedan chair. The minute scale and diversity of materials used in these objects made them a showcase for Fabergé’s craftsmen to demonstrate a range of skills to replicate the real materials of the full-scale object. For example, the miniature door on the present sedan chair opens to reveal the magnificent mother-of-pearl interior, simulating a silk lining and the rock crystal windows are delicately etched to simulate gauze curtains.
Fabergé workmasters were particularly renowned for their use of guilloché enamels, a technique perfected by Michael Perchin. Drawing widely on French sources, Perchin’s name became synonymous with the refinement of Louis XV and Louis XVI styles in Fabergé’s oeuvre. Interestingly, the most difficult enamelling techniques were used for works in the Louis XVI style, as can be seen in both the diversity and intricacy of the enamel designs used on the present sedan chair. Next to the Imperial Eggs, the present sedan chair is one of Perchin’s most impressive expressions of his signature style.
Sources for the Design
While much is written about the immense skill it took to create miniature furniture, less is known about the sources for its design.
Architectural drawings appear to be one inspiration for Fabergé miniature furniture designs. It has been suggested that the designs of Leo von Klenze (1784-1864), a Bavarian court architect trained in Berlin and Paris, gave inspiration to two miniature Empire-style chairs by Fabergé (one sold Sotheby’s, New York, 16-17 April 2007, lot 32 and now owned by The Link of Times foundation, the other reproduced by Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm et al., Golden Years of Fabergé, Drawings and Objects from the Wigström Workshop, New York, 2000, pp.102 and 103 ). In 1839 von Klenze was commissioned by Emperor Nicholas I to build the New Hermitage in St. Petersburg and design all of its furnishings. Earlier Leo von Klenze had also famously designed the furniture for a large part of the Royal residence in Munich.
Imperial palaces were clearly a source of inspiration, and it has also been noted that the Louis XVI form of the automated sedan chair with Catherine the Great, which closely resembles ours, is similar in description to that of the sedan chair seized by the Bolsheviks from the Dowager Empress’s Palace (T. Fabergé, L. Proler and V. Skurlov, The Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs, London, 1997, p. 218).
In its inherent luxury, the sedan chair has been a symbol of court culture from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. The Museum of Court Carriages (the Stables Museum) in St Petersburg, formed in the 1820s during the reign of Emperor Alexander I, must also be considered as a further design source. By the reign of Emperor Nicholas II, the museum housed one of the world’s most extensive collections of carriages and ceremonial harness. The collection specifically included a group of sedan chairs or ‘porte-chaises’ that were produced both in Western Europe and in the workshops of the Stables between the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries. The earliest sedan chair in the collection dates from mid-seventeenth century France and is upholstered in embroidered silk. Located near the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, the Museum of Court Carriage’s collection offered Fabergé workmasters a rich array of source material for their historical designs.
The nineteenth century fascination with miniature sedan chairs is also illuminated by a ‘toy’ model of a sedan chair in the State Hermitage Collection. Made of silk, velvet, brocade, wood and glass and measuring only 26 cm. high, this opulent toy further reflects the prevalence of Louis XVI taste in miniature. The similarity in design between the ‘toy’ sedan chair and the present model is starkly contrasted by the sophistication of the materials and techniques used in Fabergé’s version. In their mutual whimsy and extravagance, however, it can be suggested that the spirit of the two objects remains the same.