The Road to NOLA


Maybe you can tell by this week’s painting demonstration that I am in NEW ORLEANS this weekend!  (If you’re in a hurry for a painting lesson and Give Away of this watercolor of the French Quarter, skip to bottom of post. But you’ll miss out on my Lesson in Connoisseurship. I’m just saying.)

Yes, this weekend Top Cat and I are haunting the the great gardens, bars, restaurants, cemeteries, and museums in our favorite American city which means that in addition to guzzling  sazeraks and gorging on beignets we are feasting our eyes on this stuff :



The New Orleans Museum of Art is home to the Matilda Geddings Gray collection of Faberge — which includes three imperial eggs (left to right above: the 1893 Causcasus Egg, the 1912 Napoleonic Egg, the 1890 Danish Palaces Egg — the mother of the last czar, Nicholas, was a Danish princess). In all my previous trips to NOLA I have managed to avoid the New Orleans Museum of Art but this time a visit is necessary because lately I’ve had to brush up on my Faberge-looking-at skills…


This is a real Faberge egg, non-imperial, called The Apple Blossom Egg that I sold at Christie’s in the mid-1990s.

Last week I got an email from a complete stranger which is always fun, right? This stranger asked me to look at a piece of “Faberge” jewelry going on sale in a small out-of-the-way auction in the English countryside. He thought he might have discovered an out-of-the-way Faberge treasure, and he asked if could I advise him on authenticity and bidding strategy (seeing as I am a world famous /once famous/famous in my own mind former Faberge expert for Christie’s auction house).


This is a copy of The Apple Blossom Egg.

I only had photos to look at but still,  it was easy to spot several things about the piece that seemed off. Such as, there was wear and tear in places that didn’t make sense unless the object had been assembled from several unrelated pieces. But the No. 1 thing that was wrong about the item was that it was ugly. So I told him it was fake fake fake. Faberge doesn’t make ugly.

Here’s where I make you a Faberge Connoisseur in ten minutes: Maybe you heard about  this story that was in the news last month:


My mother sent me this news item about a man from Ohio who is suing the “antiques dealer” who sold him several fake Faberge items including a fake Faberge egg mounted on a snuff box for $165,000. Wait. There are people IN OHIO smart enough to have $165,000 in spare change but still dumb enough to blow it on obvious  fake Faberge? Yes, this egg is an obvious fake  — Faberge eggs go for $5 – 20 million dollars (you pay more if Romanoff hands ever touched it) so your first lesson in Ten Minute Connoisseurship is that if you bought your Faberge egg for a measly  $165,000 you probably bought a fake. Because this is what $165,000 buys you in Faberge World:

Faberge owl seal 4This is a one-inch tall wax seal thingy with impeccable Imperial provenance dating from its purchase in 1910 by the Dowager Czarina Marie Feodorovna (the Danish princess) directly from Fabergé in St. Petersburg. The owl is jade with diamond eyes and the piece still has its original box, which is worth lots of money to a collector. The seal is made of gold and do you see the color of the enamel? It’s a shade of pink that is highly sought after (and worth extra $$$$) by connoisseurs. This is the famous Faberge pink — maybe you can see it better in this object:


Or this one:


This is the 1890 Danish Palaces Egg in the New Orleans Museum of Art.

This luscious opalescent pink enamel is uniquely Faberge. It can only be achieved by layering a citron or tangerine-colored enamel underneath a pink enamel in two separate firings, a tedious and delicate process that is beyond the skill of most enamelers (not that anybody these days is doing real enamel any more).

Your second lesson in Ten Minute Connoisseurship is that if your Faberge egg is  mounted on a snuff box it is fake. Why?

Unknown-4 Faberge never made ugly, which is why Faberge would never make an egg mounted on a snuff box. The concept is ugly because it doesn’t make sense.

Unknown-5A snuff box that has a big fat Faberge egg on it would be useless, since snuff boxes are small and meant to be carried in a gentleman’s pocket. So a snuff box with a knick-knack on top of it is an ugly concept that just does not make sense. Or, I should say, it makes as much sense as a whistle with a bud vase attached to it, a toothbrush that is also a remote control for your TV, or a stopwatch on your hairband. Dumb is ugly, and ugly is fake.

So now, dear readers, now that you are connoisseurs, you know how to avoid making a $165,000 mistake when you are shopping for Faberge.

It’s not just Faberge that I hold to a high standard when it comes to ugly. I also hold myself to that criteria: I do not stuff my books with any old illustration that comes off my itty bitty brain. For instance, I painted two pictures last week that are utterly ugly:


A walled garden in London that doesn’t look anything like the walled garden in London I was trying to paint. That’s supposed to be Victorian architecture in the background. Ew.

And this:



And yes, when I spend hours on paintings that are ugly it puts me in a very bad mood. I start looking on Craig’s List for  jobs that are better suited to my total lack of talent. I almost mop the kitchen floor before I remember that I hate housework even more than I hate being a failure as an illustrator.  I consider ditching the Damn Garden Book and writing porn instead (porn, even bad porn, sells BIG).

But on this day I made myself a nice big G&T and sat our in the backyard because this week we had two and a half days in a row with sun shine and above 70-degree weather!!


Taffy in his Sphinx pose.

This was the first time in 2013 that you could step out of your house and smell real, lush, vegetative scents in the air. Grass, forsythia, turned-over garden dirt…ahhhhhhhh. The fragrance of living things! Time to sit outdoors and enjoy a Happy Hour G&T in the golden rays!!


Lickety right before he sneezed into my gin and tonic.

As you can see, maybe we’ve achieved maximum adorableness already here in Vivian World.


And the next day it was grey, and cold, and miserable, so I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan to see how REAL ARTISTS GET IT DONE:


I went to the American Wing and gazed at early American portraits of cats.


Fur Trappers in a boat on the Missouri River: I thought this was cat  until I looked really really closely and saw that it was a dog:


This is the entrance to the American Wing:


This is the view of Central Park from the atrium here:


And here is a view of Versailles from a panorama c. 1820 in the American Wing:


Yeah, I thought that was weird too. I really enjoyed the rooms that have been salvaged from stately mansions of pre-Revolutionary America…


…for obvious reasons:


And during a stroll to the exit I came across this:


It’s the entire Matilda Gedding Gray collection of Faberge from the New Orleans Museum of Art!!!


WTF? All three Imperial eggs are right here, in New York City! Well ain’t that a kick in the pants? (BTW, as usual the eggs were displayed in a case that was far too low. Faberge needs to be displayed at eye-level, please, and make that eye-level for a person who is 5-foot-six, please.)

OK! Let’s make some New Orleans art! Because lord knows that next week , when Ive been to New Orleans and back, I’ll probably be too hungover to draw a straight line.




I’m using my No. 0 size brush, the one that I cut half the bristles out of…so really it’s a No. -1 (negative one) size brush.


For the iron filigree I’m using my Rapidograph pen:


And voila, today’s triscuit: (Delicious baked wheat snack cracker included for scale.)


However, this might suit the subject matter better:


If you would like to own this Triscuit of New Orleans for your own gallery, just leave a Comment below and Top Cat will pick a winer TBA next week.

It is 40 degrees F and pouring rain as I type this for you on Friday morning on Long Island. I’m off to NOLA in 30 hours. Plllllllleeeeeze let there be lightness and warmth and sun and GARDENS! And dear readers, if I find any those things in NOLA, you’ll see it right here next week.


45 Comments, RSS

  1. Elaine

    So I was porcelain painter for the Franklin Mint. Yes, you guessed it… Franklin Mint Faberge Eggs!!! Serial Mom was a favorite. In fact, another decorator took an egg to a John Waters meet and greet and had him sign it. Sooo jealous! Funky stuff but a fun job.

  2. Love the watercolor..and all the info on Faberge..
    I didn’t know..
    I even like the paintings you don’t like..I tried my hand at Triscuits..I like painting(It’s not really painting I do..)..I like playing small..I tried larger and I just don’t have it in I soft pasteled over the large..hides a multitude of playing sins.
    You are great at that fine iron/scrollwork..
    See..everything is relative..I would be so happy to be able to paint as well as you and your dear friend from NY who is in Paris right now.

    And we are getting 20cms of snow today..Imagine that.

  3. Patricia

    Would love a triscuit of New Orleans of my very own…. I’ve been to NOLO once in October many years ago and was downright shocked at how darn hot it was. We only walked on the shady side of the streets and clung to any sliver of shade when trapped in the sunlight … like vampires. Hey I’m from Seattle, land of clouds. Hot bright shiny things in the sky confuse me.

  4. Cat

    I hope that you are having a wonderful time in New Orleans!
    If you are checking your Comments while you are there, I hope you get a chance to check out a sweet little restaurant (perfect for lunch with a great wine list) called The Green Goddess. I was there in February 2011 and I understand that they have a new chef since my visit, but fingers crossed, it’s still great. It was so good we went back a second day and they were my favourite meals that trip. They’re on a tiny street,at 307 Exchange Place.
    I’m looking forward to hearing your New Orleans Garden District/Streetcar riding/Fabulous eating adventures!

  5. Loved the Faberge information because I am on my way to view Hillwood Estate – former home of Marjorie Meriweather Post ($$$) billed as the biggest Faberge egg collection outside of Russia. Knowing nothing much of Faberge, I will now be especially on the lookout for the famous pink…I want to compare it to the way the computer screen shows it.

  6. Susie

    Pick me, oh, pick me, pick me, pick me!

    ‘nuf said….except I laughed so hard at that VW and your point about ugly, I had tea coming out my of my nose.
    Thank you for the kitty pics, too.

    Question please? How do you store your Triscuit paintings? I’ve done a few (thank you!) and just put them in a plain envelope. But I’m thinking you have a system….?

  7. Hi there!
    We do love Faberge eggs!
    My chum Margaret who lives in my building was curator of The Forbes collection of Faberge for ages and ages until…….we will no go into details.

    Yes, what bliss it was on the beach on Monday on LI see ( if you can be bothered to.

    Yes, I always thought it was a CAT in the Metropolitan picture on the boat –though most cats wouldn’t like it too much.

    ps you are wonderful painter and we have to meet soon
    and you can meet Buster too!

  8. TinyDancer

    Every time I read your blog I feel like I get a lesson in Better Living. I promise I will consult with you before I purchase a Faberge egg for my knick-knackateria.

    I can’t believe that a painter from the Franklin Mint is IN THE HOUSE! I love to hate the Franklin Mint but I have to admit that my grandmother used to adore that stuff. When she passed away we all prayed that she gave her collection to charity. Ha ha.

  9. I always look forward to Fridays and your blog post. Its my happy hour. 🙂 Interesting thing about those Faberge eggs… I received a package yesterday with a fake one in it as a gift. Obviously fake if you know what I mean. Then I come here and you are talking about them. 🙂 Oh and please put me down for winning that NO painting. I LOVE it!!! Have fun in NO.

  10. SandraK

    I used to love visiting the Forbes collection of Faberge whenever I was in New York. A Russian billionaire bought the whole thing — every egg, snuff box, and lorgnette — for a mere couple of million. Maybe if Malcolm had let the kids play with the stuff more they would have come to love it as much as their dad did and wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to get rid of the whole caboodle.

    For letting the collection disappear from public view into some Russian “tasteful” mansion, I wouldn’t vote for Steve Forbes for dog catcher let alone President.

  11. c'estmagnifique

    Ms. Vivian-I discovered your book this week in my local bookstore. Almost as good as April in Pairs and I’ve been catching up on reading your blog and I see you are working on a garden book. Enjoy the Garden District of New Orleans!

  12. Megan Hyatt

    Thanks for a;; the cat photos, they do look like they are really enjoying themselves… true bliss. That dog int he boat looks just like my cat, Chester! Hope you have a great time in NOLA.

  13. Joan

    Whee!!! Put my name in the hat (ONLY my name) for Top Cat to pick for the NOLA painting. I have the perfect itty bitty frame for it.

    Love the “expert” lesson on Faberge’ stuff, even though I’ve never been a fan, I do appreciate fine craftsmanship/artistry.

  14. Siouxie

    Yes yes yes yes I would love to have a triscuit!

    You owe me: you made me laugh out loud at that caption of Lickety who sneezed in your gin and tonic and I was on the train home from work and everybody thought I was a crazy person.

  15. michelle

    Vivian, Oh how I would love my own Triscuit, something we don’t get here in Australia, biscuit wise!.
    Hope your weather improves, we are enjoying a lovely warm autumn here in Canberra.

  16. Parisbreakfast

    So much fabulous info in this post and yet I’m stuck trying to figure out if its 30 hours yet and you’ve left for NOLA?
    I checked at 5pm Paris time and yr post wasn’t up.
    Now it’s 5am here and…wait that is just 12 hours later so you may not have left…
    Course being a trifle dyslexic my math is a disaster…
    It just confirms your uniqueness again. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say they were doing such and such in 30 hours. It simply isn’t done. Yet you can pull it off without a hitch and no one says boo.
    Go figure.
    Now you’ve gone and got us obsessed with that luscious opalescent pink enamel. There should be some in Paris but where to look besides the deadly Louvre.
    There’s a Russian store around the corner but they won’t have it, just Russcuits etc.
    I love your comment regarding the height of the display case at the Met. I’ve looked at the case almost every visit yet didn’t notice such a key thing. I went to the auction preview of the Hotel Crillon yesterday but there were no Faberge eggs up for grabs. The Forbes collection was a favorite of mine in its day and I did artwork for The Russian Tearoom who claims to own some originals but I hadn’t a thimbleful of knowledge to truly appreciate them.
    I shall do a search for Faberge in Paris and go check the height of the display cases and look for snuff boxes. At least now I know that but would that make me a connoisseur? i think not.
    Cheers Carolg
    perhaps a little more sleep is in order.
    Have a Fab trip!

  17. Judy Jennings

    Your cat paintings are always perfect–they have beautiful sweet faces which are HARD to paint, just as their rag doll limp bodies can be. I stare and stare at yours, lying, sitting, standing (them, not me) and wonder how you catch that “catness” so well…
    Who wouldn’t love one of your Triscuits?

  18. Gigi

    I hardly know which is finer: Taffy posing sphinx-like, three Imperial Faberge eggs (following Vivian around the globe), the four alluring tea cups, or the delicate filigree railings on the *triscuit* painting of the building in New Orleans. As it is my birthday today (truly), I do think I should have the good luck to win the whimsical watercolor. A visit to New Orleans creates such powerful memories: jazz as it sounds only when heard from down the street, the rumble of the St. Charles trolly, aroma medleys of beignets and muffalettas, and the sound of transformers exploding in the storm that became Tropical Storm Bill. Ah, yes. I remember it well.

  19. Jeannie

    I reached in the cupboard for the box of Triscuits and remembered I hadn’t checked your blog today. Seriously! I have always wondered about Faberge eggs and why everyone was so gaga about them. Now I know! The enameling is gorgeous and even I could tell that the fake was a fake! Gez, I don’t buy ugly, even if the czar drank his vodka out of it. I love how the pink in the building echos the pink of the Danish egg. Hope you are having fun in NOLA!

  20. janet bellusci

    NOLA is certainly on my bucket list…the short one!

    thanks for the quick faberge lesson. that was fun, beautiful and fascinating. love that tangerine under pink is what makes that famous color enamel. am pretty jazzed that i can take the train down to NYC to see the NOLA art museum collection of faberge at the MET. will put that on my MAY calendar! those of us who are 5’2″ (and shrinking) will probably not be offended by the height of the display ~ if they made them taller would we vertically challenged folk be given stools to stand on? or stilts? (my mind is running away with those images!).

    finally, thank you for taking out your rapidograph. during high school and college i lived with mine and went through mountains of drawing paper using it. it is such a great tool. perhaps i should pick one up in my retirement and see what’s left in these once creative hands??

    have a GREAT trip!

  21. I would love a triscuit NOLA, even without the actual cracker! Your kitties are lovely enjoying the sunshine. We too had a brief glimmer of spring for a few days in coastal Rhode Island. Enough of this crazy weather!

  22. Denise

    Hi Vivian,
    So good to read your post tonight , and see pics of your gorgeous cats. My own, one and only ” fur husband” Topper was found dead in my neighbours driveway this morning, killed by probably either a fox or a dog. I am heartbroken and keep expecting him to scratch at the window to be let in, or bound to the door to meet me. As I write, I’m feeling fuzzy headed from hours of crying, and from
    my loft bedroom I can see the gentle glow from the candle that burns on his resting place, a favorite napping spot within a circle of melaleucas ( teatrees). My neighbours, trying to comfort me said “you can get another one”, but my Topper is irreplaceable and the truth is I don’t know if or when I will be ready to welcome a new cat into my life. The place is awful lonely without one, however.

  23. Denise

    PS forgot to say that I would, of course be thrilled to have a triscuit. And also, after you’ve finished the garden book, how about a cat book?

  24. Laura

    I feel that I should apologize on behalf of Ohioans for the out-of-the-blue email about the ill-fated purchase of a tacky fake “Faberge”. I suppose every state can claim under-handed “antiques” dealers and shoppers with deep pockets. At least this person had the courage to ask an expert…eventually…about their purchase. It is a shame when buyer’s remorse happens for something that is indeed so ugly.
    My comment is that Ohioans CAN do better, and here’s how:
    Not too many years ago our incredible Cleveland Museum of Art hosted an excellent exhibition of Faberge. I visited with my mother and sisters and we took magnifying glasses to examine the details of the champleve beneath the translucent siftings of color.
    Our Cleveland Institute of Art is one of the few schools still teaching enameling as an individual major, not just a semester course in a jewelry program.
    I teach enameling to my high school art students. Although their work is very novice, we examine Faberge masterpieces for inspiration. Thanks to your tutorial on conniseurship, I will add resource to my lessons.

  25. Patricia

    And thank you for the education about Fabergre eggs. I finally got to see the real thing(s) at the Armory museum at the Kremlin in Moscow last May. I’m not sure they ever got all the drool and fingerprints off the display cases after they finally pried me out of there…

  26. Oh, dear Taffy — you look quite handsome ruling the roost on a warm day! (And I sure think that “dog” looks like a cat, too!).

    NOLA is such a fun place. Your triscuit captures it perfectly! The colors, the filigree, the energy!

    Faberge — This past winter Rick and I headed down to Detroit to see the Faberge exhibit on tour — and quite the exhibit it was. I would have gone no matter what, but we had a double purpose — our oldest artist-kid (he’ll always be a kid, even though he’s mid-20s) was commissioned by DIA to make five five-foot tall chalk interpretations of Faberge eggs using five Michigan elements in vogue at the time (well, still) — agriculture, water, mining, forestry, something else. SO, we went to see both of those AND the real thing. We were thrilled with both! (Greg’s pieces have been accepted into American Illustrator 32!). You haven’t seen exquisite art till you’ve seen a Faberge. The exhibits were well displayed (some were a little short!) and the explanatory graphics quite thorough. I really appreciate the detail you put into describing the fakes and the enamels. As always, when I visit here I smile and I learn. Can’t beat that! Have a great trip!

  27. Cats and the American Wing- how much better can a post get?

    When I was a kid, I couldn’t understand WHY on earth someone didn’t invent a fork with a “cutting edge” on the end tine, so you could truly cut your food with the side of the fork, like people are wont to do. It took me a few years before I realized we’d all look like The Joker from Batman if that were actually something that existed… your funky fork reminded me of that. (I also did not understand why hairstylists didn’t cut fancy designs on the edge of hair, like zig zags or something similar… seemed like a wasted opportunity!)

  28. chris w.

    I was browsing Portland’s Powell’s books today. Was in the “Grieving” section, not a small area. It was raining hard against the window behind bookcase, so it should have been the poetic moment to find something that’s good for me. Like a vitamin. Except. Funny things those vitamins, excluding my favorite (tiny, mighty Vitamin E), they can hurt to swallow. The books in this section are well written, topical and insightful. Except. Except, I’m only 46! I have very good reasons to read these books. I walked away.
    Downstairs I lolligagged in Gardening. But those books are heavy to carry. And I need to DO more gardening than read about it (with the exception of your book, I’m sure). I don’t know how it happened, but just like our dog “Rocko”, your book found me. I just needed a book about living, about nostalgia. About Paris. An adult Madeleine (also in watercolor and whose character had her own illness, although appendicitis, not cancer). It’s 12:30 am, and I’m reading Le Road Trip. I’m like a kid with a comic book, under the covers with a flashlight, trying not to wake anyone. If this book were a caramel, my jaw would be aching. And I’m a lover of sweets. But I have to be careful not to eat a whole bag because I get kind of hungover-sick feeling after, so I savour it. A few pieces at a time. When I found myself sleepily rushing through your hand-set text, I stopped and closed my new book carefully. I’ll read more tomorrow. And there will be a tomorrow.

  29. Carol

    I hope I’m not too late to enter for the New Orleans picture. It is so pretty. And I think the squints are good, too. But of course nothing compares to studies of felines lounging in the sun!! Happy Monday!

  30. Cheryl McLaughlin

    oh it would fit so nicely with my little wall of coffee and tea cup art – and to have an original VS painting, oh my goodness!

  31. I have my fingers crossed you find some sunshine on your travels. I went so far as to clean bathrooms AND do the dusting this past weekend the weather was so atrociously bad here. Desperately waiting for real spring and flowers.

  32. I have seen some Faberge eggs at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and also at a special exhibit on the Romanov in Cincinnati – they are magnificent. I am not sure if they were in NOLA when we went to the museum there but I did see many somewhere, could be in Palm Beach, and every time I was riveted by their loveliness. I hope you have a pleasant stay in New Orleans, the weather should be very nice right now and warm already.

  33. Kathryn

    Never been to NOLA but I have animal #1 of my own herd of Purely Decorative Furry Beings of Irresistible Cuteness. The vet bills are punishing enough with one so I am not sure when the herd will expand!

    (Pick me! Pick me!)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *