When artist Emi Avora stumbled onto a sumptuously illustrated book on Peter Carl Fabergé’s Imperial Easter eggs, she knew very little about the Russian court’s famous goldsmith and jeweller. The eggs fascinated her with their opulence and what she saw as their intriguing, bizarre absurdity. These legendary objects triggered her imagination: on the one hand, she was captivated by the complexity of their elaborate, almost excessive ornamentation; and on the other, by the simplicity and purity of their form – the egg, iconic, emotive, a universal symbol of new life, creativity and the absolute perfection of nature. This duality appealed to Emi, a committed maximalist, who borrows images from luxury magazines, films and architecture to create bizarre compositions that move between past and present, real and imaginary, blurring time and place, thriving on exaggeration and magnificence. As Emi read more about Fabergé and the Imperial Easter eggs, she became drawn in by their power, by the individual story behind each creation – their owners, their celebrations, meanings and memories, the historic circumstances in which they changed hands through the decades. She explains, “In my paintings I wanted them to act as gateways to an ambiguous fantasy world.”
Fabergé created 50 Imperial Easter eggs, and several others for a chosen few amongst his elite clientele. They were given first by Tzar Alexander III to his wife, and then by Nicholas II to his wife, Alexandra, and to his mother, each year in celebration of Easter. Each egg was a tour de force of both design and artistic invention, revolving around complex concepts for which Fabergé often drew on Romanov family ties, events and celebrations. Each egg contained a hidden surprise, ranging from an egg-shaped ruby, to a miniature model of the Romanov coronation coach, to a basket of exuberant spring flowers emerging from the depths of an icy winter rock crystal egg. As inspiration for her painting, Emi chose the Art Nouveau ‘Lily of the Valley’ egg (l898), with its riot of clambering pearl-flowered lilies resting on four scrolling gold legs that the artist felt turned the object into a creature. Other eggs, like the ‘Memory of Azov’ (1891), exuberantly rococo and named for a famous Russian battleship; the ‘Pansy’ (1899), ravishingly romantic, in Art Nouveau style; and the ‘Peacock’ (1908), the smooth rock crystal encasing an enamelled automatic strutting peacock, were chosen as the basis for a series of sketches in charcoal and pencil. Emi’s interpretations capture the dynamism of these masterpieces and the restless imagination of their genius creator.