June 15, 2011
FRAME|WORK is a weekly blog series that highlights an artwork in the Museums' permanent collections. This week, we feature an exquisite tea service from Russia made by Peter Carl Fabergé currently on view at the Legion of Honor.
This Empire style ten-piece silver tea set with its matching silver-gilt-mounted tea table was given to Alma Spreckels (the founder of the Legion of Honor) by Victoria Melita, Grand Duchess Kyrill of Russia, in 1922. The Grand Duchess, who was the granddaughter of both Queen Victoria and Tsar Alexander II, presented this auspicious gift to Mrs. Spreckels for the museum to be built in memory of the Californians killed on French soil during World War I.
A letter sent from Cannes, where the Grand Duchess was exiled, accompanied the tea set. In it she writes:
Dear Mrs. Spreckels,
Having heard of your wonderful new museum, and of all you are doing to help my sister the Queen of Roumania [Mrs. Spreckels raised money for medical supplies for Romania], I wish to present you with a golden [silver-gilt] tea service made by our famous Russian artist 'Fabergè. It is one of our few treasures saved and I am glad if it can find a place in the glorious monument you are building to the memory of your California soldiers. It has always been a tradition in the Russian Imperial family to help whenever they could, however they could, and wherever they could, and as at this moment we cannot build anything in remembrance of our own millions of fallen brave, who fought and fell for the same cause, I am happy to offer a token of respect and regard to your 3,600 California sons whom you are immortalizing.
Yours very sincerely,
Victoria Melita Grand Duchess Kirill of Russia
When the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917, the Grand Duchess and her husband supported the Duma (the revolutionary provisional governement), which, along with the Grand Duchess's reformist sympathies, provoked the severe criticism from the rest of the Russian imperial family. After the October Revolution, the Grand Duke and Duchess fled Russia to Finland where they spent the first part their exile. Although they were granted safe passage out of Russia by the provisional government, they were not allowed to bring anything of value with them, which makes the survival of this tea service so extraordinary. When it was gifted to Alma Spreckels in 1922, it became one of the founding (if not the very first) objects to call the new Legion of Honor home.
Peter Carl Fabergé was the goldsmith and jeweler to the Imperial Russian Court. He is better known for his splendid gold, jeweled and enameled Easter eggs, but he also produced a wide range of equally luxurious gold boxes, jewelry and silver that were produced in St. Petersburg and Moscow during the reigns of Tsars Alexander III (1881–1894) and Nicholas II (1894–1917).
Drop by Gallery 17 for a spot of tea and a dollop of royal history on your next visit to the Legion of Honor!