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Faberge Imperial Easter Eggs
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Buyer plans to show Faberge eggs at historic site
© 2004 the International Herald Tribune, 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 Moscow Patriarchate."
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.