Sunday 12 April 2020

From The Property of a Lady to Octopussy: Snowman's Art of Carl Fabergé

This Easter, my thoughts turn to one man - James Bond and the part that a 'suberb green-gold Imperial Easter egg by Carl Fabergé' played in the film of Octopussy (1983). The egg and the auction in which it (or, rather, a fake) is sold are, of course, taken from Ian Fleming's short story, 'The Property of a Lady'.

Writing the story, Fleming turned to Kenneth Snowman's The Art of Carl Fabergé for inspiration and information. The 'Property of a Lady' of the story is a 'terrestrial globe designed in 1917 by Carl Fabergé'. This fictional piece is based on two separate works. One of them is an Easter egg in the form of a clock, which was never produced, but exists as a watercolour design. This was reproduced in Snowman's volume and also accompanied Fleming's story in The Ivory Hammer, Sotherby's yearbook in which the story was first published. The other is a miniature terrestrial globe, an early work that Fleming mentions in his story and is described in Snowman's volume (which Fleming also references).

Perhaps to acknowledge Kenneth Snowman's help in Fleming's research, the art expert himself appears as a character in the story. 

Kenneth Snowman's volume was also a sourcebook for the film's screenwriters (Richard Maibaum and George MacDonald Fraser) and prop-makers. 

During his briefing with M, with art expert Jim Fanning in attendance, James Bond is handed an auction catalogue, turned to the page in which egg, known as 'The Property of a Lady', is described. One can just about make out the text, which begins: '[Imperial] Easter Egg, known as the Coronation Egg, by Carl Fabergé. Presented to Her Imperial Highness the Tsarina Feodorovna by the Tsar Nicholas II in the year 1897.' The prop egg is indeed based on the real Coronation Egg (right down to the model of the imperial state coach), and the introductory words in the catalogue are taken almost verbatim from the entry for the Coronation Egg in Kenneth Snowman's volume: 'Coronation Egg. Presented to Alexandra Feodorovna by Nicholas II. Dated 1897.'

Much of the remaining part of the catalogue entry is based on Kenneth Snowman's text, but his description is also used in the film's dialogue. At the auction, the auctioneer describes the egg as: 'A superb green-gold lmperial Easter egg by Carl Fabergé. Enamelled in translucent green, enclosed by gold laurel-leaf trellis. Set with blue sapphires and four petalled gold flowers with diamonds.' Compare this to Kenneth Snowman's text: 'This superb red gold Egg, enamelled translucent lime yellow on an engraved field, is enclosed by a green gold laurel leaf trellis work cage.' 

In its adaptation of Ian Fleming's 'The Property of a Lady', Octopussy is remarkably faithful, not only to the short story itself, but also to its source material.  

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