HUDSON, N.Y. — Found in Rhinebeck, N.Y., a recently discovered Fabergé carved hardstone portrait figure of the personal Cossack bodyguard of the last empress of Russia, Alexandra Feodorovna, commissioned by Czar Nicholas II in 1912, soared to record price in 15 minutes during intense bidding to a packed sales room at Stair Galleries on October 26. In addition to the lively bidding in the room, there was an active group of phone bidders. The rare Fabergé imperial figure ultimately sold to a phone bidder for $5.98 million (including premium) against an estimate of $500/800,000. The last hardstone figure sold for $1.8 million in 2005 at Sotheby’s New York.
Nicholas II commissioned Fabergé to produce this portrait figure of N.N. Pustynnikov, the personal Cossack bodyguard (Kamer-Kazak, or Chamber-Cossack) to the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and also a second figure of the Kamer-Kazak to the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in 1912. It was found in an attic by the executor of a Rhinebeck estate. It was purchased at Hammer Galleries in Manhattan by George Davis in December 1934, and has been in the same family ever since. The figure was known to collectors, but the whereabouts was unknown until two months ago.
The total number of Fabergé hardstone carvings of human figures produced by Fabergé is probably no more than 50. They are therefore extremely rare, on a level of rarity with the imperial Easter eggs, and the portrait figures, depictions of known historical persons rather than simply “types,” are rarer still. Very few portrait figures were produced by Fabergé.
The piece was purchased by Wartski, the famed London-based jeweler, who are the jewelers to the Queen of England. The firm specializes in Russian pieces, most notably Fabergé. It is not clear if they were purchasing it for stock or a private client, according to Stair Galleries. The firm said, “The purchase of the figure is a continuation of our long-running tradition of acquiring imperial Russian works of art. Wartski were Armand Hammer’s prime rivals in the 1920s and 1930s in buying the confiscated imperial treasures from the Soviet government. We have over the years owned 20 of these rare hardstone figures, as well as a dozen of the legendary imperial Fabergé Easter eggs.”
A complete review will appear in an upcoming issue. For information, 518-751-1000 or www.stairgalleries.com.