This retrospective of pieces made in the Imperial Porcelain Factory, the oldest in Russia, presents genuine masterpieces from the stocks of the State Hermitage and other Russian museums, as well as contemporary designer porcelain from the functioning enterprise.
The exhibition has been organized by the State Hermitage with the participation of the Imperial Porcelain Factory joint-stock company, the State Russian Museum, the Pavlovsk, Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserves and the Kuskovo 18th-Century Estate Museum.
The Imperial Porcelain Manufactory was established by Empress Elizabeth in 1744. It was there that the Chinese secret of porcelain was discovered and its manufacture from Russian raw materials was organized. The manufactory was the property of the Romanov family and worked on commissions from the imperial court. Porcelain from the enterprise adorned the residences of the ruling family, was used in some of the most important ceremonies, presented as diplomatic gifts and displayed at international exhibitions. The factory earned fame for its artistic creations. Thanks to them in particular, it became the pride of Russia and part of the nation’s heritage.
Developing in line with changing European styles, the Imperial Factory’s porcelain was created in “an alliance of the arts”, embodying ideas of world culture in the realm of sculpture, painting, graphic, applied and folk art. The exhibition presents porcelain in the Baroque, Neo-Classical and Empire styles, from the era of Historicism and the Art Nouveau. The display includes dining services, vases, table ornaments, decorative plates, porcelain compositions and works of small-scale plastic art – more than 400 items in all, created by the factory’s craftspeople from the moment of its foundation to the present-day.
The earliest item in the exhibition is a Bowl with a Relief Grapevine that carries the personal mark of the scientist Dmitry Ivanovich Vinogradov, the creator of Russian porcelain. No earlier than 1756, the first Russian table ensemble was created – Empress Elizabeth’s Own Service, intended for the personal use of the monarch. The Rococo-Baroque set is decorated with a gold “trellis lattice” with purple forget-me-nots and embellished with moulded garlands of roses.
From the time of Catherine the Great, Russian porcelain occupied an important place in the life of the Winter Palace and other residences. Pieces from the factory adorned the state rooms and the living apartments, adding to the visual effect of official ceremonies and family celebrations. The “white gold” of the tsars was also employed as diplomatic gifts that were sometimes presented directly in the halls of the Winter Palace.
In this period the Imperial Porcelain Factory produced some unique table services. These ensembles were associated with the names and personal tastes of the monarchs who commissioned them and their immediate retinue, and also with notable events. The services were ordered to meet the needs of the court or else were presented to the Romanov family by the factory at Christmas and Easter time.
The State Hermitage’s collection makes it possible to trace the history of the creation and subsequent existence of the services, the stylistic evolution of shapes, and of the sculpted and painted decoration; the development and technological achievements of an industrial enterprise attached to the court. The display includes items from a number of grand services: the Orlov Service (1770), the Cabinet Service (1793–1801), Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich’s Service (1848), the Raphael Service (1883–1903) and the Purple Service (1904–08).
The perfection attained by the Imperial Factory’s artists in painting on porcelain is demonstrated by grand palace vases and plaques bearing copies of works from the stocks of the Hermitage. The pictures chosen for reproduction in this way were among the finest in the Hermitage gallery and other distinguished collections. The results include a mid-19th-century porcelain plaque of The Rest on the Flight into Egypt created from the painting of the same title by Bonifacio Veronese (1487–1553). In Russian porcelain art, the magnificent vases decorated with copies of pictures represented the pinnacle of the Empire style of Nicholas I’s reign, in the late 1820s–1840s. Most frequently it was the works of Dutch artists – Frans van Mieris, Gerard ter Borch, Gerrit Dou and Philips Wouwerman – that were reproduced on porcelain, with the size of the copy varying, depending on the dimensions of the object being decorated. The exhibition includes a pair of vases with “picture” painting from the reign of Nicholas I (1834) adorned with reproductions of Jan Steen’s Tric-Trac Players and Quiringh van Brekelenkam’s Visit to an Artist’s Studio (both by the master of figure painting Vasily Meshcheriakov), as well as vases from the 1860s and the early 20th century.
The figurative images of a military character that appear on products of the Imperial Factory from the 18th century onwards can be assigned to the genre of history painting. The production of “military” plates carrying depictions of “the uniforms of the Russian army” began at the porcelain factory in Saint Petersburg in the time of Emperor Alexander I, after the Patriotic War against Napoleon in 1812, and became traditional for each successive reign. Porcelain vases and plates painted with subjects connected with military history are documentary records of a sort, preserving the memory of victories and notable events, different types of army and guards units, and military reforms.
Porcelain reflecting the ethnic diversity of the Russian state was produced in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. The appearances of the various peoples living in the empire were recorded in the painted decoration and sculptural components of the Guryev (Russian) Service (1809–16), as well as in two large series of figurines of The Peoples of Russia. The first was created in the 1780s–90s, during the reign of Catherine II, from models made by Jacques-Dominique Rachette; the second in 1907–15 to a commission from Nicholas II using models made by Pavel Pavlovich Kamensky.
After the revolution, the artistic traditions of the enterprise were preserved and the porcelain factory, which became state-owned, reflected the main stages in the development of Soviet art. The display presents the variety of artistic tendencies, themes and styles that found expression in the works of the Soviet period. There are the slogans of “agitation art” and images of revolutionary Petrograd, the avant-garde shapes and painted decoration of the Suprematists, exquisite works in the style of the World of Art (Mir Iskusstva) association, pieces that follow the method of Socialist Realism, the minimalistic décor from the period of Khrushchev’s Thaw, elegant bone-china items, and original works by the factory’s most outstanding artists from the second half of the 20th century. One of the factory’s most famous creations is the Cobalt Net service (1944). In this notable anniversary year for the Imperial Porcelain Factory, that legendary design by Anna Yatskevich itself reached the age of 75. The service has been mass-produced at the factory since 1950. In 1958 it was awarded a gold medal at the World’s Fair in Brussels. The service has become a sort of “signature piece” for the factory and an iconic element of 20th-century Saint Petersburg culture.
The exhibition “An Alliance of the Arts. On the 275th Anniversary of the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory.” will be the 18th in the Christmas Gift series that is devoted to the history and art of porcelain and has become a continuation of a long-standing tradition going back to the late 18th century revived by the Hermitage, by which as the Christmas feast approached the best pieces produced by the Imperial Porcelain Factory were put on display in the Winter Palace.
It is traditional for original works by current artists of the Imperial Porcelain Factory joint-stock company to be included in the Christmas Gift exhibitions. That part of the display shows the diversity of individuals within the creative team, the search for new forms, technologies and methods of decoration. Yet, for all the differences in artistic language, one can sense the continuity of the school of this long-lived enterprise.
The State Hermitage Publishing House has produced a scholarly illustrated catalogue for the exhibition – V sodruzhestve iskusstv. K 275-letiiu osnovaniia Imperatorskogo farforovogo zavoda [An Alliance of the Arts. On the 275th Anniversary of the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory]. It has forewords by Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovsky, General Director of the State Hermitage – “From ‘lattice’ to ‘net’”, and Galina Viktorovna Tsvetkova, chairwoman of the board of the Imperial Porcelain Factory joint-stock company – “Pride of the Nation”.
The texts are by museum researchers: Anna Ivanova of the State Hermitage ( “Porcelain as a chronicle of art”); Irina Bagdasarova of the State Hermitage (“Russian Imperial Porcelain in the Winter Palace”); Yelena Yeremeyeva of the Tsarskoye Selo Museum Preserve (“Imperial Porcelain in the collection of the Tsarskoye Selo Museum Preserve”); and Tamara Nosovich of the Peterhof Museum-Preserve (“Russian porcelain of ‘predominantly artistic significance’ in the collection of the Peterhof Museum-Preserve”).
The author of the concept, curator of the exhibition and compiler of the catalogue is Anna Vladimirovna Ivanova, head of the Museum of the Imperial Porcelain Factory, a branch of the State Hermitage.