This week I travelled to Montreal to see an exhibition of Fabergé eggs at the Museum of Fine Arts. I knew nothing about them, other than the fact that they were very expensive and covered in jewels. I left the show with an appreciation for their breath-taking beauty and for the rich historical stories they told. The egg craze started in 1885 when Czar Alexander III hired a young jeweler, Peter Carl Fabergé, to create a unique gift to mark his 20th wedding anniversary to Czarina Maria Fedorovna. Following his death, his son, Nicholas II ascended the throne and carried on the tradition of commissioning Fabergé eggs for special family occasions. In 1917, Nicholas was forced to abdicate. The following year, Bolsheviks murdered Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, with their five children – Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei.
And curiously there is an Ontario connection to this story. Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia ~ the youngest sister of Nicholas II, fled Russia for Denmark and eventually emigrated to Canada with her husband and children to start a new life as farmers in Ontario. Following her husband’s death, and as her health deteriorated, Olga moved to a small flat over a beauty parlour on Gerrard Street, in Toronto’s east end. On November 24, 1960, the woman widely known as the last Grand Duchess of Imperial Russia, died and was laid to rest in Toronto’s York Cemetery.
In historical hindsight, the Fabergé eggs might appear as frivolous indulgences of a decadent monarchy. But they are also truly poignant works of art which paint a fascinating story about a Czar, his family and a period in Russia’s history.