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Landmark Fabergé loan show scuppered by rising political tensions

Plans to send works from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' extensive collection to Russia were put on indefinite hold after insurance costs shot up by $1m

by Sophia Kishkovsky  |  10 March 2016
Imperial Tsesarevich Easter Egg (1912) by Karl Fabergé. © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Photo: Katherine Wetzel
Imperial Tsesarevich Easter Egg (1912) by Karl Fabergé. © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Photo: Katherine Wetzel
A major exhibition organised by the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond, Virginia, has been put on indefinite hold after insurance costs to bring the show to Russia shot up by $1m in the wake of rising tension between the two countries.

The show would have been “the grandest exhibition” of Fabergé ever held, says Vladimir Voronchenko, the director of the Fabergé Museum. The VMFA has the largest collection of Fabergé outside Russia, including five rare Imperial eggs. The Fabergé Museum, founded in 2014 by the Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, houses the world’s finest Fabergé collection. The show would have brought the two collections together for the first time.

The exhibition, due to open in Russia late last year before travelling to the US, hit a roadblock when insurers advised the Virginia museum to take out an additional $1m policy to safeguard its collection in Russia. The price was too high for the VMFA.
The need for additional insurance “astonished us”, says Voronchenko. “This is a decision based completely on the state of relations between our countries today.” Voronchenko says he offered to send his museum’s collection to the US first as a gesture of goodwill, but received no response.

The exhibition represented a rare opportunity for cultural exchange between the two nations. The Russian government has barred its state museums from making loans to the US since 2011, although private institutions like the Fabergé Museum are permitted to lend to the US. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 created added tension. Later that same year, a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague established legal grounds for the seizure of Russian state assets overseas.

Alex Nyerges, the Virginia museum’s director, is optimistic that the show “will happen”—one day. “I don’t think any of our obstacles are insurmountable.” The museum is seeking a new, less expensive insurance provider. In the meantime, the VMFA’s Fabergé collection is headed to another far-flung location with fewer legal obstacles. It is due to travel to the Beijing Palace Museum next month for the first exhibition of a US museum’s collection in the Forbidden City (16 April-17 July).

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