The Imperial Porcelain Manufactory was founded by Empress Elizabeth, Peter the Great's dauther, in 1744. Here the gifted Russian scientist Dmitry Vinogradov independently discovered the secret of making porcelain and developed the technology for its manufacture.
Three hundred years ago no one in Europe had any idea of the materials and techniques used in making porcelain. The Chinese kept the secrets of porcelain production. Only in the early 18th century in Saxony the alchemist Johan F. Bottger discovered a way to produce "European" hard paste porcelain. These developments did not escape the notice of Peter I. During his frequent visits to European countries, Peter I pursued his interest in the secrets of porcelain manufacture and he attempted to introduce it to Russia with the help of foreigners, but unsuccessfully. Peter I's idea to establish his own porcelain production was brought to life two decades later by his daughter, who was then Empress Elizabeth (1741-1761).
The "work of porcelain" was entrusted to Dmitri Vinogradov. Among the best graduates from the Academy of Sciences, he and Mikhail Lomonosov were sent for training abroad. He studied at the oldest European University of Marburg. His subjects were "chemical science, mining, natural history, physics, geometry, mechanics, hydraulics and hydrotechnics". After that, he continued his training in the mining center of Freiberg. The young mining engineer had undertaken independent analyses of raw materials and sought the composition of the porcelain paste.
Between 1746 and 1748 all experiments were aimed at achieving pieces that, after firing, would not be reasonably white, thin shelled and lustrous. At the same time, he set out to prepare porcelain pain for decoration. Vinogradov's heritage was the study called "Detailed description of pure porcelain and how the same is made at St.Petersbug". The Monograph as preserved is incomplete but many of the principles contained in it are still valid for porcelain production today.
Russia porcelain, created by Vinogradov, was in no way inferior to that of Saxony, and the paste made of native raw material came close to that of China. Apart from the many snuff boxes, tea, coffee and chocolate cups with saucers were produces, as well as boxes, sweetmeat dishes, liqueur "glasses", salt cellars, walking stick tops, handless for knives and forks, punch spoons, buttons for caftans and camisoles, pipes, Easter eggs and many other small items since the kilns built by Vinogradov were not suitable for anything large.
From 1756 onwards, when he managed to build a large kiln, plates, dishes, trays, candelabra, wine and glass coders were produced: This is also the period of the first table service, which belonged to Empress Elizabeth personally - "Sobstvennyi" ("Own"). The service is of simple elegance. Only in Russia was china decorated in this manner. During the early 1750s, we also find the first reports about the production of "porcelain dolls" - figures of people and animals.
The tastes of society in porcelain in the middle of the 18th century tended towards the affected and elaborate Rococo - visible in its most extreme form in the pieces produced by Meissen's manufactory. Although the Vinogradov porcelain developed in the direction of greater naturalness and simplicity. Only a few pieces of the Vinogradov period have survived and are today of enormous historical value:
Under Alexander I reign the factory became large and was reorganized once again. An assistant professor of the Academy of Fine Arts, Stepan Pimenov was brought to the factory in 1809. From the Sevres factory they came the "Artist of the Porcelain Trade" - the gilder Moreau and the porcelain painter Swebach. Porcelain maid in this period fell into the high period of Russian Neo-Classicism - Empire style. Empire style had its own particularities in Russian art. The heroic figures of classical antiquity found their place in a Russian reality shot through with the heroism and love of country of the Great Patriotic War of 1812.
Typical of the stylistic idiosyncrasy of porcelain is the "Guryevski" service, ordered for Alexander I, one of the most important sets of the first quarter of the 19th century. It was executed under the aegis of master modeller Stepan Pimenov. This gala palace service is a glorification of the multinational Russian empire. Pimenov achieved an astonishing synthesis of shape, sculptural and pictorial decoration. The decoration was modeled on sketches made after engraving townscapes of Moscow and Petersburg, views of suburbs, the martial scenes and scenes from the life of the capital.
The service consisted of 4500 items and the several kilograms of gold were used for decoration. The major portion of the service is part of the collection of the Palace Museum of Pavlovsk. .
The greatest mastery was reached in the produced of the vases. Balance of detail, harmony and clarity of line characterise the Voronikhin vases. The greatest mastery was reached in the painted decoration of the vases too, the excellent were maid by Swebach and Moreau.
The production of porcelain plaques and large items involved a high degree of technical perfection. A special gilding process was used, and the pieces of that period are remarkable for their gentle polish, sheen and the lasting quality of the gilding, which achieved was never again. Platinum was also used for decoration. In the middle of the 19th century the large service "Gerbovyi" (the heraldic service), "Solotoi" (golden), "Babjegonskyi" were made. In order to enrich these services vases were made with groups in relief, depicting mythological subjects
In the unprecedented upsurge of agitatory mass art of the first post-revolutionary period was shown. Porcelain became an instrument in the spread of revolutionary propaganda. The artistic policy of the factory formed part of Lenin's programme of monumental propaganda. Plates, dishes and cups were furnished with the same maxims that could be seen on street posters. The motifs for decoration now were provided by peasants in military boots, Baltic sailors, red army soldiers - heroes of revolution. One plaque, decorated with all the newspapers published in Petrograd is artistically expressive: Despite low production, this porcelain was much appreciated by the wider public, thanks to press notices and to participation in international exhibitions.
The creation of post-revolutionary porcelain is mainly connected with the name of Sergei Chekhonin, who was appointed director of the artistic side of production. He had been well-known as a book-designer, as a master of miniature enamel decoration and as the creator of large ceramic wall plaques. He had introduced the subject of new Soviet political organisation of the State on the idea of a Russian empire and the rebellious spirit of the aesthetics of Futurism. His decorations were delicate in their colouring and graphic design. His many interests and his profound knowledge of the culture of the past had prompted him to engage highly trained porcelain master and painters belonging to various trends in art. Vasili Kuznetsov, Natalia Danko and Rudolf Wilde, MikhailAdamovitch, Sinaida Kobyletskay, Maria Lebedeva, Natan Altman and Mstilav Dobushinski, Vladimir Tatlin and Kusma Petrov-Vodkin, Pavel Kuznetsov, Boris Kustodiev and others.
In 1918, at the behest of Chekhonin, the painter Alexandra Shchekotikhina-Pototskaya joined the factory, she was a pupil of Nikolai Rerich and Ivan Bilibin. The main theme of her work was Russia. For many years, Stshekotikhina was held to represent a colorful, strong, spontaneous style of painting, which produced in porcelain a fairy-tale, folkloristic, theatrically sentimental picture of Russia. Brought up in a patriarchal orthodox family, she gave a special place to the deeply tragic picture of a past Russia, rigid in its silent expectation. In this, she borrowed from the sculptural elements in old Russian painting. ,
In the search for forms, the founder of the Suprematist movement, Kazimir Malevich, and his pupils turned to porcelain. For their decoration they used geometric compositions with combinations of patches of colour, dynamic in its proportions and lines. Kadinski made several sketches for porcelain. The Suprematists' forays were to provide valuable ideas for the Leningrad School of Porcelain.
For the World Exhibition in Paris of 1925, The State Porcelain Factory selected around 300 pieces. It was a resounding success: It received the Great Gold Medal. Gold and silver medals were also awarded to Shchekotikhina, Kobyletskaya, Wilde, Suyetin, Chekhonin, Matveyev, Danko, Ivanov and Kuznetsov. In 1925, the 200th anniversary of the Russian Academy of Science was celebrated and the factory took the name of the great Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov. .
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