Fabergé Mystery at the Brighton Museum

Last week I was writing about Brighton Museum and in particular, four unique Fabergé items that are currently on display there. The items include a gold-mounted photograph frame in translucent purple enamel, a smaller beautiful frame in rose pompadour enamel and two enamelled gum pots, one with a moonstone finial and the other topped with a garnet and objet de luxe, in the form of a striking blue, stamp damper. There is a bit of a mystery surrounding these items and I promised to share the story so far. So here goes.

A Fabergé find 

In 2019, Geoffrey Munn, fine jewellery expert on the BBC1’s Antiques Roadshow was visiting the RPMT Fashion curator, Martin Pel when he spotted just the corner of some Fabergé items wrapped up in tissue paper in the museum stores. Despite the patina from years of tobacco smoke and lamp oil, Geoffrey knew straight away that he was looking at work produced in Russia, under the watchful eye of Carl Fabergé, the famous Imperial Court jeweller to the Tzars. Both photographs show women of high status, dressed in expensive lace, furs and fine jewellery, but there is no record of who they are. That said, the important looking nature of the larger implied some sort of royal, if not imperial provenance.

Brighton Museum

British and Russian Royalty, an Edwardian spy and an English Manor house 

As yet, no one has been able to discover who the women are or how these objects came to be in the Brighton Museum but Geoffrey Munn has an idea that one of the women might have royal connections. He explains, “The lady in the purple frame looks very like Princess Alice of Battenberg, great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, mother of the Duke of Edinburgh and mother-in-law of the Queen.”

In another twist to the story, museum curatorial staff have discovered a link to a British spy which may explain how the items ended up in Britain. Dame Ellen Thomas-Stanford who used to own Preston Manor, an Edwardian manor house in Brighton had a stepson Henry Vere Benett, nicknamed Croppy, who was based in St Petersburg during the Russian revolution in 1917. During his time there, he wrote to his stepmother saying that he “hunted long and often in jewellers & bric a brac [shops]” for things to send back to her.

Could Croppy have picked up this Fabergé collection from a Russian émigré fleeing the revolution? In such desperate times, many people sold their riches and art works to fund their escape.

Can you help solve the mystery? 

While the items are now on display, the museum is keen to hear from anyone who may be able to shed some light on the mystery women and how the items ended up at Preston Manor. Curator Martin Pel said; “These are beautiful items which we’d like to know more about. It would be fantastic if anyone could help us uncover more about them. If you have information contact info@rpmt.org.uk or call 03000 290906.”

About Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, part of Royal Pavilion & Museums Trust, is one of Britain’s oldest public museums. Located in the Royal Pavilion Estate at the heart of the city’s cultural quarter, the collections showcase arts and crafts from across the world and history from Ancient Egypt to modern Brighton.

The items will be on display until June 2022.

For more information about Brighton, and what the city is like, you might like our: Why Move to Brighton post.

 

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