S T A I R. Auctioneers & Appraisers.
October 26 – 27, 2013
Russian Imperial Treasure.
LOT 125: AN IMPORTANT FABERGÉ IMPERIAL CARVED HARDSTONE PORTRAIT FIGURE OF KAMER-KAZAK N.N. PUSTYNNIKOV, THE PERSONAL COSSACK BODYGUARD OF EMPRESS ALEXANDRA FEODOROVNA, ST. PETERSBURG, DATED 1912
ESTIMATE: $500,000 – $800,000
Depicted in an alert and attentive posture, with studied gaze, the long nephrite coat affixed with gold and multi-colored enameled orders and medals, and bordered with brown Caucasian sardonyx, the gold edges enameled with black Imperial eagles and outlined with translucent red enamel, the life-like face and hands carved of cachalong, the eyes set with cabochon sapphires, the hair and beard of grey Siberian jasper, the belt of purpurine, with black jasper trousers and boots, the trousers with gold piping, the purpurine and black jasper fur shako with gold trim (lacks bow-knot), the heels of the boots inscribed, FABERGE in Cyrillic capitals on one, and, 1912, on the other, the soles of the boots inscribed in Cyrillic capitals, N.N.PUSTYNNIKOV, on one, and, KAMERKAZAK since 1894, on the other. Contained in original fitted holly wood case, the interior silk lining stamped in black with the Imperial Eagle and with, Fabergé, St. Petersburg, Moscow, London, in Cyrillic.
Height 7 inches (17.8cm). Provenance: Nicholas II, Hammer Galleries, Mrs. George H. Davis.
Thence by Descent
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. See, H.C. Bainbridge, Peter Carl Fabergé, B.T. Batsford Ltd., London, 1949, p.113, where Bainbridge, who was Fabergé’s representative in London from 1908 to 1917, discusses these orders from the Tsar. The personal bodyguards to the Empress and Dowager Empress accompanied them whenever they left their residences and were held in high esteem by the Imperial family, which explains Nicholas’s desire to memorialize them in this fashion. Nikolai Nikolaievich Pustynnikov (1857-1918) faithfully served the Empress Alexandra from the time of her marriage to Nicholas II in 1894 until the imprisonment of the Imperial family in 1917, hence the inscription of 1912 on the boot of the figure, “Kamer-Kazak since 1894.” A photograph of Pustynnikov accompanying the Empress Alexandra and her daughters Olga, Tatiana and Maria, in a horse-drawn sleigh, is reproduced by Alexander von Solodkoff, The Jewel Album of Tsar Nicholas II and a Collection of Private Photographs of the Russian Imperial Family, Ermitage, London, 1997, p.193.
In his 1949 memoir, Bainbridge describes the figure of Pustinikov (sic), which he illustrates, as the personal bodyguard of the Dowager Empress . In fact however as we now know, Pustynnikov was the Kamer-Kazak of the Empress Alexandra, and the personal bodyguard of the Dowager Empress Maria was Alexei Alexeievich Kudinov. Fabergé’s invoice to the Emperor for the figure of Kudinov, described by Fabergé on the invoice as the Kamer-Kazak to the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna has been published by Valentin Skurlov, Tatiana Fabergé and Viktor Ilyukhin. See, K. Fabergé, and his Followers, Hardstone Figures, published in Russian by Liki Rossii, St. Petersburg, 2009, p.62, where the authors also reproduce the image of Pustynnikov’s figure, although at that time its whereabouts remained unknown. The figure of Kudinov is preserved in the collections of the State Pavlovsk Museum, near St. Petersburg, and was exhibited in 1993/4 in London, Paris and St. Petersburg. See, Géza von Habsburg and Marina Lopato, Fabergé:Imperial Jeweler, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1994, p.203. The figure of Pustynnikov was also kept at Pavlovsk until the 1920’s when it left Russia with the American entrepreneur and art dealer Armand Hammer, who subsequently sold it to an antecedent of the present consignor on December 11th, 1934.
The drawing for this figure of Pustynnikov from the workshop of Fabergé’s Head Workmaster, Henrik Wigström, was published in 1994 in the exhibition catalogue above referenced, Fabergé: Imperial Jeweler, and in 2000. See, Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm, et al , Golden Years of Fabergé, Drawings and Objects from the Wigström Workshop, A La Vieille Russie, 2000, p.51, where the author refers to this figure, under the heading of “Personal commissions by the Imperial family,” as “(an)example of gifts alluding to the daily life of the Empresses.” Obviously this figure was ordered by Nicholas II from Fabergé as a gift to his wife the Empress Alexandra.
The drawing was apparently designed to serve as a model for both Kamer-Kazaks, with, of course, the individual features of each one. Although the production of these portrait figures was executed under the supervision of Wigström, presumably by the stone-carving masters Derbyshev or Kremlev, the actual modeling in wax was carried out from life by sculptor Boris Frödman-Cluzel in his studio. Bainbridge wrote; “The Tsar Nicholas II commissioned Fabergé to make stone models of these guards. They were to be portraits from life, the two Cossacks attending at the Fabergé studios where they were modeled in wax,” p.113. For an essay on the sculptor Boris Frödman-Cluzel, born in 1878, see, Valentin Skurlov, Fabergé Firm Artist and New Discovery of Fabergé’s Stone Scuptures, Carl Fabergé, Goldsmith to the Tsar, National Museum, Stockholm, 1997, where the author notes (p.37), that, “as late as 1925 the figurine of Chamber-Cossack Pustynnikov was still at the Pavlovsk Palace Museum, together with his ‘brother’ Chamber-Cossack Kudinov.”
According to Bainbridge and other researchers, the total number of hardstone carvings of human figures produced by Fabergé was probably no more than fifty. They are therefore extremely rare, on a level of rarity with the Imperial Easter Eggs, and the portrait figures, depictions of actual persons rather than simply “types,” are rarer still. Very few portrait figures were produced by Fabergé. Another known portrait figure is of the famous Gypsy singer Varya Panina, reproduced by Alexander von Solodkoff, Fabergé, Pyramid, London, 1988, p.84, and one other can be identified as the Yardman (Dvornik) of Fabergé’s St. Petersburg premises, reproduced by A.K. Snowman, Carl Fabergé, Goldsmith to the Imperial Court of Russia, Greenwich House, 1983, p.72.
The figures of the Kamer-Kazaks, Pustynnikov and Kudinov may be considered the most important hardstone figures produced by Fabergé. Their cost of 2300 rubles each was more than twice the cost of the second most expensive figure purchased by Nicholas II during the period 1908 to 1912, which was the boyar, at 950 rubles (sold by Sotheby’s New York, April 21st 2005, lot 44), and almost three times the cost of the famous dancing moujik, at 850 rubles, formerly in the collection of Forbes Magazine and now owned by the Link of Times Foundation. See, Tatiana Fabergé, Eric-Alain Kohler and Valentin Skurlov, Fabergé: A Comprehensive Reference Book, Editions Slatkine, Geneva, 2012, p.395, where the authors give the cost of the Pustynnikov figure and state that this figure “has now disappeared,” and also Valentin Skurlov’s essay above referenced, published in Stockholm in 1997, where the author lists the costs of eleven hardstone figures purchased by Nicholas II between 1908 and 1912 ranging in price from 480 rubles to 2300 rubles.
This figure of Kamer-Kazak Nikolai Nikolaievich Pustynnikov has remained in the hands of the same family since 1934, and has never before been publicly exhibited. Its re-emergence into the public sphere in 2013 after the greater part of a century is therefore a significant addition to the history and documentation of Fabergé’s creations.