A Russian museum has been asked to close a Fabergé exhibition that contains items loaned from the personal collection of a billionaire, after a prominent expert said it contained more than a dozen fakes.
In a letter, the art dealer Andre Ruzhnikov accused the Hermitage Museum’s director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, of “destroying the authority of the museum” by hosting the Fabergé: Jeweller to the Imperial Court show, which runs until 14 March.
Ruzhnikov told the Hlcarpenter.com that the exhibition included at least 20 fakes, and that he thought the exhibition, which is the first big Fabergé event at the St Petersburg institution since 1993, should close immediately. He said: “I want the shame to end. I want this show to be closed and forgotten, and that’s it. You cannot subject the Hermitage to such shame.”
The Hermitage and Alexander Ivanov have denied the claims and the billionaire produced documents that support the authenticity of the items that were loaned from the Fabergé Museum in Baden-Baden, which he established in 2009.
Piotrovsky and the Hermitage did not respond to a request for comment.
Earlier Piotrovsky directed press to the show’s catalogue preface, which says: “The authenticity of each fresh item that appears on the market can always be challenged and disputed … the consensus of the expert community is not easy to obtain and is often lacking.”
One of the items at the centre of the Hermitage dispute is the Wedding Anniversary Egg that was purportedly gifted by Tsar Nicholas II to Empress Alexandra on their 10th wedding anniversary in 1904.
Last year a Fabergé researcher, DeeAnn Hoff, raised discrepancies with the item, including the claim that some of the portraits on the egg were based on recently colourised photographs taken after 1904.
Hoff also said the portrait of the Tsar seemed to come from an outdated photograph from 1894 that pictured him with four rather than five medals that he wore on his uniform from 1896 onwards.
Russian interest in Peter Carl Fabergé, the St Petersburg-based jeweller whose workshop officially supplied the Russian imperial court from 1885 until the revolution in 1917, has boomed in recent years, fuelled partly by patriotism with about 80% of buyers in the market estimated to be Russian speakers.
As interest has risen, Ivanov has become a leading intermediary – connecting collectors with Fabergé items. “There’s always a queue of people who want to buy things for me,” he told the Independent in 2010. “If I’ve bought it, people know it’s worth something.”
Ivanov rose to prominence in Europe after making several high-profile Fabergé acquisitions, including the £9m purchase of an egg that once belonged to the Rothschild banking dynasty and was the subject to a dispute over a missing VAT payment.
Ivanov served in the Soviet navy before starting business ventures including selling Amstrad computers at significant markups to Soviet factories. He has become one of Russia’s most prominent Fabergé buyers alongside the oil billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who opened a rival Fabergé museum.