Russian buys Forbes Fabergé collection

The Forbes Collection of Fabergé has been sold to Russian industrialist Victor Vekselberg, who said he intends to return the collection to Russia, Sotheby’s announced Wednesday. Before returning to Russia, highlights from the collection, including the fabled nine Imperial Easter Eggs, will go on public exhibition at Sotheby’s in New York, at a date to be announced shortly.

Terms of the sale, which were negotiated by Sotheby’s on behalf of the Forbes family, were not released by the auction house.

The collection was scheduled to be sold at auction by Sotheby’s on April 20 and 21. When the auction was first announced last month, the auction house said the most valued item, the Coronation Egg, could go for as much as $24 million, and the entire collection could fetch up to $90 million.

Only 50 Imperial Easter Eggs are known to have been created by the House of Fabergé, and the collection acquired by Vekselberg includes nine of them. Among the nine are the very first Imperial Egg, the Hen Egg, which was commissioned by Tsar Alexander III for his wife Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, and the last Easter egg he commissioned, the Renaissance Egg. It also includes the Rosebud Egg, the first egg the new Tsar, Nicholas II, commissioned for his wife Tsarina Alexandra. And the collection includes one of the most spectacular objects ever made by Fabergé—the Coronation Egg, which Nicholas II commissioned to present to the Tsarina on Easter in 1897 to commemorate his coronation in Moscow. Also among the Imperial Easter Eggs in this collection is the Fifteenth Anniversary Egg, commissioned on the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the coronation of Nicholas II. The four other Imperial Easter Eggs in this historic collection are The Lilies of the Valley Egg, the Cuckoo Egg, the Orange Tree Egg and the Order of St. George Egg.

The collection “represents perhaps the most significant example of our cultural heritage outside Russia,” Vekselberg said in a statement released by the auction house. “The religious, spiritual and emotional content captured by these Fabergé eggs touches upon the soul of the Russian people.”

“This is an unanticipated and exceptional outcome,” added Bill Ruprecht, president and CEO of Sotheby’s Holdings, Inc., said in the same statement “We were very excited at the prospect of an extraordinary auction and magnificent pre-sale exhibition, but we knew that this remarkable offer and the return of the Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs to Russia had to be taken very seriously.”

Malcolm S. Forbes, the former publisher and editor of Forbes magazine, began collecting the items in the 1960s and continued until his death in 1990. The collection continued to be displayed in the Forbes Galleries and in shows worldwide.

“The Forbes family in the same statement said it is “delighted that the advent of a new era in Russia has made possible the return of these extraordinary objects. It is an astonishingly romantic ending to one of the great stories in art history.”

Vekselberg, a native of the Western Ukraine, was key in building a Russian-United States partnership that acquired the controlling rights to Tyumen Oil Company (TNK), which soon became the third largest Russian oil and gas company. Acting as chairman of the executive board of TNK, he was instrumental in negotiating and establishing a 50-50 joint venture with British Petroleum in the largest private transaction in Russian history. He is currently a member of the board of directors and vice president of the joint venture called TNK-BP.