This was one of the most famous and admired works made by Fabergé and also most expensive work ever created in Fabergé’s workshop. The tableware attracted admiration with its craftsmanship, perfect style, fanciful forms and decorations. Its exceptionality is also proven by the fact that it mysteriously disappeared and today we know it only from pictures and designs. [il. 1, 17]
This extraordinary Neo-Gothic silver service was made for Alexander Kelch and his wife Barbara Bazanova. [il. 12-13] The Kelch service was made in a Moscow branch of Fabergé’s company. Alexander and Barbara wanted the tableware to be made by Fabergé because they admired and appreciated the works coming from his workshop. Alexander paid the astounding sum of 125,000 rubles for the Kelch service. For comparison, both imperial Easter gifts in the form of eggs ordered in 1900 cost only 13,500 rubles.
According to preserved accounts, the silver tableware ordered by Alexander and Barbara Kelch was supposed to match the decor of the dining room with its style and decoration. We do not know whether the style and the nature of the tableware were invented by Alexander or Barbara. Accounts link the idea to Barbara. [il. 8-11]
The tableware was designed in 1900 by a Russian architect Fedor Shekhtel. These designs may be found in the collections of the Schusev State Museum of Architecture in Moscow. The collection consists of 15 photographs of drawings showing single dishes included in the tableware. [il. 14-17]
The history of the tableware remains mostly unknown in the present state of research. Its history before 1918 consists of only three facts. According to the consensus of historians, the tableware was melted down in 1918 in the turbulent period of the October Revolution. Since then, for the next 100 years, there was no information about the Kelch tableware, and no part of this tableware appeared on the antique shop market or collections.
The situation changed surprisingly in 2016 when a collection of silver cutlery coming from Fabergé’s workshop appeared on the antique shop market. This group included two knives signed with a Fabergé mark, made in Gothic style, which is rare for this workshop. A detailed examination of the relics, the preserved iconography and Shekhtel’s designs confirmed the hypothesis that the recovered relics formed part of the Neo-gothic tableware of Alexander and Barbara Kelch.
The knives are decorated in Gothic style. They have richly ornamented handles with the main ornamental themes and symbols identifying the tableware. The knife handles have an angular shape. In their terminal part, they are decorated with a concave theme of a Gothic arcade. The front side of the handle has a relief in the form of a crown-topped shield with a monogram in the form of the letter ‘K’ and a scarf. In addition, the handle’s terminal part has decoration underlining its edges. The lower part of the handle has an ornament in the form of a lily. [il. 7]
The decoration of the found antique masterpieces is the same as the decoration of the cutlery depicted in the archival photo from Fabergé family collection (see pictures). [il. 18-20, 22]
View of the hallmarks on one of the found knives. Kokoshnik and Fabergé hallmarks. In the selected area it is possible to see the characteristic deformation showing the order of applying the hallmarks. Fabergé hallmark was applied earlier than the Kokoshnik hallmark. [il. 21]
View of the cutlery on the archival photography compared with the found parts of the Kelch’s silver service. In the selected areas it is possible to see the characteristic features of the decoration. [il. 23]
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