Faberge's Best at Russian Gala

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephanie Mansfield, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

As virtuoso Van Cliburn played a haunting version of "Moscow Nights," starry light from giant crystal chandeliers bounced off his white concert grand piano and guests in satin gowns and tuxedos sipped chilled Stoli and nibbled on pickled vegetables and caviar in the grand ballroom of the Russian Embassy, which was transformed Wednesday into a 19th-century gala Easter scene - complete with the traditional red hard-boiled eggs.

However, the real stars of the evening were the priceless bejeweled and enameled artifacts on display, works of the famed Peter Carl Faberge, who went into exile in Switzerland after the Russian Revolution.

Known as "jeweler to the czars," Faberge created an enduring image of imperial Russia, one that art lovers are hoping to restore with a new Faberge Museum and Center at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

The gala, co-hosted by the Faberge Art Foundation, was the opportunity to gather various pieces of Faberge's work from around the world. Among the objects on display: a gold, pearl and enamel double-sided picture frame given by Nicholas II to his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna; imperial presentation boxes; and brooches, table clocks and cigarette cases, all exquisitely crafted.

Among those admiring the collection were the host, Russian Ambassador Yuri V. Ushakov; gala chairwoman Jane Sloat (in ruffled black and white); Nuala Pell, wife of former Sen. Claiborne Pell; former PepsiCo chairman and lover-of-all-things-Russian Donald Kendall; benefactors Ruth Buchanan, James and Sylvia Symington, Mike and Pam Peabody, Albert and Shirley Small, French Wallop, Philip and Nina Pillsbury, Esther Coopersmith, Marlene and Fred Malek, and Robert and Carol Foley, all chatting with Obolenskys, Chavchavadzes, Tolstoy-Miloslavskys, Cantacuzenes and others of that ilk.

Special guest Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Hermitage Museum, grew rather animated when asked why nine Faberge Imperial Easter Eggs, once owned by the late Malcolm Forbes and purchased last year for an estimated $90 million by controversial Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, would not likely be part of the proposed new Faberge museum's collection. …