In 1898, Alexandra Feodorovna was given an egg made in the fashionable “latest” style, Art Nouveau. Fabergé was aware of the empress’s love for Art Nouveau, with its floral symbolism and sophisticated and whimsical lines. It was a family tradition: her brother, Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse, was one of the leading patrons of the Jugendstil in Germany. The interiors and furniture of Alexandria, the Lower Dacha in Peterhof and beloved home of the Imperial family, were executed in the Art Nouveau style. Some of the rooms in the private apartments of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna at the Alexander Palace were redone in the Art Nouveau style by the architect Robert Friedrich Meltzer. There were vases by Gallé and Lalique in silver rims by abergé and many other trifles. However, the Russian nobility, especially in St. Petersburg, was more than reserved in its attitude toward “the latest style,” but the empress stuck to her views almost always and in everything.
The egg’s shell is covered in translucent pink guilloché enamel and ornamented with vertical friezes of rose-cut diamonds and pearl lilies of the valley with diamond petals. Lilies of the valley, symbols of purity, youth, and innocence, were the favorite flowers of Alexandra Feodorovna, who avoided “any kind of pomp” and dedicated almost all her time to husband and children. The egg’s surprise are miniature watercolor portraits of Nicholas II and two small daughters of the royal family — Olga and Tatiana — in the form of a trefoil that opens on top of the egg when a pearl button is pushed. This is the second Imperial egg with portrait miniatures: the year before, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna received an egg with a surprise heart, which at the push of a button turned into a three-leaf clover with portraits of her son, daughter-in-law, and her first granddaughter, Olga.
The touching egg with its portraits of husband and daughters must have pleased the dreamy and rather rapturous Alix, who was brought up in the spirit of Victorian sentimentality.