© 2004 the International Herald
Buyer plans to show Faberge eggs at historic site
Sophia Kishkovsky (NYT)
Friday, February 6, 2004
MOSCOW Viktor Vekselberg, the Russian aluminum and oil
tycoon who purchased the entire Faberge collection owned by the family
of Malcolm Forbes, said Thursday that he intended to hold the first Russian
showing of the imperial treasures in Yekaterinburg, the city where the
Romanov family was executed in 1918.
"The main piece in the collection is the egg that was given to Nicholas
II on his coronation," Vekselberg said, speaking of the Coronation
Egg. "His life ended on a tragic path in Yekaterinburg. We have been
sponsoring the construction of the Church on the Blood there. It would
be logical to bring it to Yekaterinburg."
Vekselberg, speaking in a telephone interview from Japan, where he was
traveling on business, declined to say how much he paid for the collection
of nine jeweled Easter eggs and about 180 other pieces - "I don't
want to make it a commercial question" - but acknowledged it was
more than $90 million. Mikhail Piotrovsky, the director of the Hermitage
Museum in St. Petersburg, and Yelena Gagarina, the director of the Kremlin
Museum, said their institutions would be the most appropriate homes for
the collection. The Kremlin Armory holds 10 Faberge Easter eggs, the largest
collection in the world. Russia's Culture Ministry had said in anticipation
of the Sotheby's auction, which now will not occur, that the state could
afford to purchase at most "one or two pieces" from the Forbes
collection and that it hoped a rich businessman would step in. Last month,
the Russian government lifted the 30 percent in taxes and duties that
private collectors had to pay to bring artworks into Russia. The fees
meant that almost all artworks purchased abroad by rich Russians were
left in their London and Paris homes.
"We would really like to have the collection, although this question,
unfortunately, does-n't depend on us," Gagarina, who is the daughter
of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, told Ekho Moskvy radio on Thursday.
But Vekselberg said the list of possible repositories should be left open.
"There are options," he said, mentioning Moscow's Cathedral
of Christ the Savior, which was blown up at Stalin's orders in 1931 and
has been rebuilt in the past decade. "We have consulted with the
Vekselberg's Siberian-Urals Aluminum company has major holdings in the
Sverdlovk Oblast, of which Yekaterinburg is the capital. Forbes magazine
estimates his fortune at $2.5 billion.
He said that the collection would be shown in regions across Russia where
his companies operate. He is also the chairman of the Tyumen Oil Company,
which merged last year with BP, a deal that Vekselberg said helped finance
his acquisition of the Forbes collection.
Vekselberg has not been a target of the government campaign against oligarchs,
which has landed the oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky in jail. "Right
now in Russia, capital is being accumulated at a huge rate, and there
is a question of how to use private property," Vekselberg said. "It's
not secret that the BP deal occurred and I as a shareholder got big financial
resources." He denied, however, that the Faberge purchase was any
kind of effort to improve the image of oligarchs who have been accused
of cashing out of Russia with deals like Roman Abramovich's purchase of
the Chelsea soccer team last summer. Vekselberg said he has already "quietly"
accumulated a private collection of 19th and 20th century Russian art.
Of the Faberge purchase he said, "I considered it my duty to do this,"
and said he was mulling over other acquisitions of Russian cultural treasures
to bring back to Russia through the foundation he created to purchase
the Forbes collection.
© 2004 The New York Times