Thursday, January 29, 2015

(No.282) Faberge Eggs at a Vegas Casino

"Faberge's Imperial Easter Eggs at a Las Vegas casino"

by Alastair Rickard

When Steve Wynn, the most creative and sophisticated entrepreneur in the history of modern Las Vegas, built the Mirage Hotel in 1989, then the magnificent $1.6 billion Bellagio Hotel (centrally located on the Strip) in 1998 followed by Wynn Las Vegas in 2005 and its sister establishment Encore in 2008, he set the standard for upscale resort hotels along the Strip.

In the Bellagio Wynn included an art gallery where he displayed his own extensive collection. A major work in Wynn's personal collection was Picasso's Le Reve which he had bought in 1997 for $48 million. In 2006 he had arranged to sell it for $139 million to hedge fund player Steve Cohen. However, while showing the painting to some guests Wynn (who has degenerative eye disease and is now legally blind) turned and put his elbow through the painting. No surprise, the sale was cancelled.

The painting was repaired for $90,000 but was still considered to have lost considerable market value.However in 2012 Wynn did sell the painting to Cohen -- this time for the higher price of $155 million.

After Wynn sold the Bellagio hotel to the MGM chain the art gallery was maintained as a space for special exhibitions and is now called the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art (the BGFA). It is not a particularly large space compared to that available in a major public gallery but it does bring to Las Vegas some interesting special exhibitions which change periodically. These are arranged with various galleries like the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

To some extent the presence of the Bellagio Gallery as a public attraction on the Las Vegas Strip, while in admirable contrast to the huge monument to excess and (largely) bad taste constituted by the Vegas Strip, seems almost as unlikely as a string quartet would be playing at the Palomino Club on Las Vegas Boulevard North..

If you visit Las Vegas and have an interest in art it is always worthwhile to check out what the special exhibition at the Bellagio is. Pat and I have visited the Bellagio gallery to see several exhibitions. For example: "A Sense of Place: Landscapes From Monet to Hockney" was worthwhile viewing as was "Claude Monet: Impressions of Light".

Currently on display at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art and continuing through May 25 this year is "Faberge Revealed: Jeweler to the Czars".  It is an exhibition organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) which has perhaps the best public Faberge collection outside of Russia. Most of the VMFA's collection came from a 1947 bequest by an avid Faberege collector, Lillian Thomas Pratt, the wife of a GM executive.

The Faberge exhibition currently at the Bellagio has been on tour since the autumn of 2012 while renovations have been under way at the VMFA. The tour included a 9 month stay at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The last stop will be The Palace Museum in Beijing (April-July 2016).

The House of Faberge was founded in St.Petersburg in 1842 by Gustave Faberge. His son Karl Faberge (1848-1920) created many valuable objects for Czars Alexander III and Nicholas II, having become a supplier to the Russian royal court in 1885, the year in which Faberge created the first Imperial Easter Egg.

The exhibition comprises 240 objects from the VFMA collection including 4 of the 43 remaining Imperial Easter Eggs commissioned by the Czars as gifts for family members. Today the Kremlin has only 10 Imperial Eggs, the Communists having sold off all the rest post-revolution.

Also included in the exhibition at the Bellagio is a small collection of so-called "Fauxberge" objects -- Faberge forgeries and look-alikes that have inundated the art market since after the Communist revolution ended both the lives of the Imperial family and the Faberge presence in Russia in 1918. Karl fled to Switzerland in 1918 and died in 1920.

Throughout the decades of the later 1800s and early 1900s the House of Faberge produced more than 150,000 works of art, jewelry, gold and silver, a large majority of which have disappeared. These one-of-a-kind objects were produced with exceptional design and artistry. The exhibition at the Bellagio Gallery, featuring some magnificent signature pieces from Faberge, is an impressive offering.

Both the audio guides to the exhibition and the explanation panels on the walls of the gallery are excellent. For details of the exhibition currently at the Bellagio in Las Vegas until May 25, 2015
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