Although it is said to be worth over $90 million, the circumstances of the agreement are shrouded in mystery. The Russian oil baron bought the collection even before the Sotheby's auction house announced that it would be put up for sale in April - which is a unique case! The Forbes family has refused to comment on the deal, while the unexpected statement from the head of the Sotheby's auction house on the deal with Vekselberg was released as if the point at issue were a routine event.
Viktor Vekselberg had the following to say about the situation:
"After learning about the forthcoming auction, I decided not to miss this opportunity and set up for this purpose a special fund to return Carl Faberge's works to their homeland and make them accessible to Russian citizens".
It is anybody's guess how much the tycoon offered, how "the opportunity was not missed" and how the enterprising Russian managed to acquire the Forbes collection.
Over the last fifty years, only individual Easter eggs have been sold. Carl Faberge made a total of 50 eggs for the Russian Imperial family, of which the Diamond Fund Exhibition in the Kremlin has ten, nine were collected by Malholm Forbes, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has five, the collection of Queen Elizabeth II three and other private collectors one each.
Nothing is known about eight eggs.
The Forbes collection includes what is perhaps the best work of the jeweller - the Coronation Egg, which contains a replica of the coach Empress Alexandra Fedorovna rode into Moscow on Coronation Day. The egg was Emperor Nicholas II's Easter gift to his young wife. It took Carl Faberge a year and three months to create this unique work, which is estimated to be worth $18-20 million.
Carl Faberge created all the 50 eggs in St Petersburg on the order of Russian emperors who by tradition presented their mother and wife with a diamond egg at Easter.
The late media tycoon Malcolm Forbes amassed his collection with the zeal of a true collector and it was hard to believe that he could ever sell his collection in his lifetime. Unfortunately, his heirs have been confronted by financial difficulties, which is proved by the sale of the collection.
In Russia, major industrialists and millionaires have always patronised the arts. Thanks to the efforts of the 19th century tycoons Shchukin, Tretyakov, Morozov and Mamontov, unique collections of paintings have been amassed, picture galleries, theatres and churches built and public parks opened. The Russian millionaire Shchukin laid the foundations of the present Impressionist collection at the State A.S. Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, when no one in Europe was buying works by Monet, Pissaro, or later, Gauguin and Van Gogh.
Society has always welcomed such grand gestures by patrons of arts. Roman Abramovich's purchase of Chelsea Football Club created a stir in Russia. Most Russians denounced the purchase as a whim of a favourite of fortune, who had more money than he knew what do with. Some sections in the press accused him of the lack of patriotism and asked why he had not invested in Russian football.
Vekselberg took these sentiments into account. The Forbes collection is returning home and already the first comments in the media have given a positive assessment to the exotic deal between the Russian tycoon and the world famous auction house.
It would be appropriate to mention that, prior to this event, the most recent example of purchasing Russian works of art abroad was provided by President Vladimir Putin. He answered a request from the Tretyakov Picture Gallery and allocated 225,000 euros from the presidential fund to buy the unique landscape "View of the Fort of Pico on Madeira Island" by Karl Bryullov, which had been put up for sale by its owner. This is the only landscape in the outstanding painter's artistic legacy. It has already been delivered from Madeira to Russia and is about to be put on display in the Tretyakov Gallery.