History of Russian porcelain: from its origins to the present day.

Cup and saucers from Tea set Fantasic Butterflies

China has given our world lots of amazing inventions, the list can be started with gunpowder, compass, paper, silk and then continued with many useful and wonderful things, including porcelain. The English name “porcelain” comes from the old Italian “porcellana” (cowrie shell) because of its resemblance to the surface of the shell. Since porcelain was imported from China for a long time, it is also called China or fine porcelain. For centuries, Chinese masters had been improving the technology of production and achieved such a high quality of products that people said: “they [porcelain products] were as dazzling as snow, as thin as a sheet of paper, as strong as steel.” The recipe of the porcelain mass and production technology were kept by the inhabitants of China in the strictest secrecy, its disclosure to foreigners was forbidden under penalty of death. Interest in porcelain in Europe grew with the appearance of such exotic drinks as tea, chocolate, and coffee in the middle ages. These expensive drinks required suitable tableware, and the porcelain met these requirements, so for centuries many countries have tried to unravel the secret of Chinese porcelain, but only a few have succeeded. Russia is one of those countries that not only managed to unravel the secret of producing dazzling porcelain but also created a significant world art direction that is on a par with Meissen and Sevres. This article describes the history of the development of Russian porcelain under the influence of epochs, rulers, and trends in art, and justifies its worldwide fame and value.

Before creating its own porcelain, Russia bought strange “ringing goods” from foreign merchants: in the XIII-XIV centuries – from Chinese merchants, and with the opening of the Meissen manufactory – Saxon porcelain began to prevail in the everyday life of the Russian nobility. Attempts to discover the secret of porcelain were conducted in Russia since 1718, when Peter I met with the Saxon invention at the Dresden court. In 1723, the Emperor issued a decree granting privileges and privileges to manufacturers who would be able to create their own porcelain production in Russia with available in the Russian Empire materials. And in a year Afanasy Kirillovich Grebenshchikov opened the first majolica factory in Moscow, which initially produced smoking pipes on Dutch models, then the factory’s assortment included tiles and from the end of the 1730s – majolica tableware.

The Grebenshchikov factory was the first in producing majolica dishes with paintings on raw enamel. Diversity, solidity, and softness of the shapes featured this product. Masters of the factory used especially blue and three-color hand-painted ornaments on white bluish enamel. However, these dishes could no longer meet the needs of the nobility.

Under Elizabeth Petrovna (1709-1762), attempts were made to learn the secret of Chinese porcelain and organize its production in Tsarskoye Selo near St. Petersburg with the help of Siberian merchants, but these experiments did not bring the desired result. Only in 1747, a talented mining engineer Dmitry Vinogradov discovered the composition of Russian porcelain based on Gzhel clay. This porcelain was not inferior in quality to Saxon, and it was made exclusively from domestic raw materials with composition close to Chinese.

The life of Dmitry Vinogradov is too fascinating not to tell about it. In his early childhood the boy was sent to study at the Slavic-Greek-Latin Academy in Moscow, where the first meeting took place between 13-year-old Dmitry and 19-year-old Mikhail Lomonosov, a famous Russian scientist in future. They became good friends and brilliant students, and both gifted boys were sent for further education in St. Petersburg, and then to Germany to study mining. In Germany students received theoretical training and studied a variety of sciences: German, French and Latin, arithmetic and trigonometry, mechanics, theoretical chemistry, physics, hydrostatics, hydraulics, aerometry. Vinogradov even took drawing lessons and expanded his training in logic, metaphysics, and the humanities.

On his return to Russia in 1744, he entered the founded porcelain manufactory and became its manager. Dmitry Vinogradov inventor of russian porcelainVinogradov understood that the organization of porcelain production is a complex technical task that had to be solved from scratch. The only thing that could be used – knowledge of the technique of pottery production, which existed in Russia for a long time. But the development of a recipe for porcelain was not enough, it was necessary to develop technological techniques for enriching raw materials, grinding them and methods of mass production, develop furnace designs, find the optimal gas and thermal firing mode, find fuel for furnaces, develop the composition of glaze for shards, find the composition of ceramic paints and much more. The results of his experiments he wrote in a diary and, since the recipe for porcelain was a state secret, encrypted the records to hide them from industrial espionage. In 1748, Vinogradov discovered a recipe for real porcelain based on Gzhel clays. We can say that the history of Russian porcelain begins with this date.

Russian Nevskaya porcelain manufactory (later the Imperial porcelain factory; the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory – IPM) achieved great success in the quality of porcelain and in the variety of products made from it. The high quality of porcelain products is evidenced by the fact that it was hand-painted by students of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, and the drawings on the first products were approved personally by the Empress Elizabeth. And such products were available only to a very narrow circle of the elite.

In the 70s of the XVIII century, the interest of the Imperial court increased in the development of Russian porcelain production. Catherine II, who initially gave a clear preference to foreign-made porcelain, paid her attention to domestic porcelain, planning to turn the factory into a commercial enterprise and an object of Russian pride. The attitude to Russian porcelain around the globe today shows that these goals have been achieved.

Throughout the pre-revolutionary history of the factory, the main place in its production was occupied by luxurious Royal sets. They glorified the deeds of the emperors, reflecting events in the era of their reign. For example, the victory over Napoleon in the Patriotic war of 1812 caused the birth of “military plates” series, which depicted soldiers and officers in uniforms of all branches of the armed forces. Portrait, icon and miniature paintings on vases and plates, which reproduced paintings by old masters from the Hermitage collection, were also developed. For example, the wonderful tea pot “Antique” it is based on a Museum sample of the famous “Raphael” dining ensemble, which was commissioned by the IPM in 1883 by Alexander III and named after the ornament copied from drawings of the famous gallery in the Vatican.

A copy of Raphael’s famous paintings, commissioned by Catherine for the Hermitage, inspired many artists and masters of applied art. Today, artists continue to copy beautiful unique Museum exhibits, which allows you to purchase a piece of history in your home. This tea cup and saucer “Memory” is an exact copy of the original masterpiece from the Peterhof Palace Museum.

 

In our time, the IPM retains the traditional technique of producing porcelain. Its assortment includes more than 500 items. Modern artists create works that are not inferior in beauty and refinement to the products of their predecessors. For decades, the brand service of the plant “Cobalt net” has been in high demand.  In our store there are examples of such wonderful products that will allow you to get closer to the history of Russian porcelain: hand-painted fine porcelain coffee cup and saucer with underglaze Cobalt finishing and Gold plating

In the field of decoration various techniques were used: cobalt casting, underglaze landscape painting, as well as hand-painting with paints of rare and precious metals. The beginning of the XX century was marked by the influence of Art Nouveau. In the post-revolutionary period, nationalized enterprises conducted creative searches in the field of agitation porcelain and the implementation of ideas of Suprematism.

Coffee cup and saucer cobalt net
Coffee cup and saucer “Cobalt Net”

Hand-painted fine porcelain coffee cup and saucer with underglaze Cobalt finishing and gold plating. https://bestwonderstore.com/product/porcelain-coffee-cup-and-saucer-cobalt-net/

Today IPM products are exported to dozens of countries around the world. Author’s porcelain is also included in the range of modern production of the Imperial porcelain factory, where talented artists and designers work. The factory produces dishes made of solid material, the range includes also bone porcelain, characterized by transparency, whiteness, strength. Lomonosov porcelain factory was awarded the Gold Mercury International Award for many years of productive collaboration in the field of commercial and cultural relations.

Products with the IPM brand can be found in the collections of the largest museums in Russia and the world: the State Hermitage Museum, the State Russian Museum of St. Petersburg, the State Historical Museum in Moscow, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and many others. IPM products are presented as government gifts to foreign heads of state and as prizes at competitions and festivals.

By the middle of the XIX century, there were more than fifty porcelain factories and manufactories in Russia. Along with other industries (textile, spinning, leather, etc.), the manufacture of porcelain tableware and interior items was one of the top ten important and main industries. Therefore, Russian porcelain is not just one name, it is necessary to note the old manufactories of world-famous brands: Gardner’s porcelain, Kuznetsovsky porcelain, Popovsky porcelain, and, of course, Gzhel.

In 1766, the English merchant Gardner founded a private factory in the village of Verbilki near Moscow. Since Imperial porcelain was made for a narrow circle of people, and the majority purchased foreign porcelain, the entrepreneur decided to displace foreign porcelain from the Russian market and occupy this niche. Therefore, the manufactory was focused on the widest possible range of consumers, offering inexpensive mass-produced products painted in accordance with the existing fashion, usually with standard compositions of colors. Some decors copied the Meissen flower and ribbon bows, but there were also their own motifs: “rosan” and “dog rose” with features of Russian identity.

By the time of Franz Gardner’s death (1796), his company was considered the best private porcelain factory in Russia. It had the highest quality of products, not inferior to foreign analogues, and a huge collection of unique forms made on models of high art value. Exceptionally rare Gardner porcelain of the XVIII century today costs much more than Meissen porcelain, made in the same period. Gardner’s company still exists under the name “Verbilki porcelain”.

The Kuznetsov dynasty came from Gzhel. The founder of the dynasty, Yakov Vasilyevich Kuznetsov, created a successful ceramic enterprise and his family continued to develop his business. By 1913 the Kuznetsk Empire had included eighteen factories and accounted for almost  two-thirds of the country’s total ceramic production, and since 1902 Kuznetsov porcelain was called the supplier of the Imperial court and exported to Europe and the East, whose inhabitants preferred Russian porcelain. Kuznetsov paid attention to scientific developments and the quality of his products, introducing technical innovations at all enterprises. So, the Dulevsky porcelain factory was one of the best in terms of technical equipment in the world before the first world war.

Specialists of the enterprises had to keep up to date with the latest technical and artistic news from Europe and the East. The range of products produced at the factories was the richest. These dishes were intended for all segments of the Russian population. Even the products made in simple and modest forms were decorated with great taste with paintings of ordinary Russian flowers and berries. Products were produced with paintings of scenes, portraits of ladies, antique paintings, imitations of Saxon, Sevres, and other porcelain.

Dulevo porcelain began its development in 1832 and was named after the village Dulevo near Moscow. The factory was owned, like many others, by Kuznetsov family. The Dulevo production has two “roots”. This is the Safronov factory, which then already had its own “Safronov” style of painting and was famous for its skillful blue (cobalt), crimson, pink and yellow patterns. The second “root” is the ideas and practices of Gzhel industry for more than one hundred years.

Sets with gold paintings decorated the living rooms of wealthy homes, such dishes were called “bourgeois”. Tea ware of that time was often painted with large strokes, so it had too colorful appearance. The technique of hand-painting was worked out and simple: a wide brushstroke lusciously was put by the artist like a rose petal. The drawing itself was created by the factory’s artist Agafya Stepanovna Kustareva. Flowers looked so expressive on white porcelain that their image became a characteristic element of Dulevo porcelain. Dishes with this painting were called “agashka” (form of the name Agafya).

Gzhel is deservedly considered the birthplace of Russian porcelain and ceramics, its significance in the history of art comparable to the world’s ceramic centers. The history of craft goes back almost seven centuries since people settled here and discovered deposits of clay with unusual features. The first ceramic material in which local craftsmen managed to achieve art results was majolica. The forms of most majolica vessels were based on traditional forms of ceramics of the XVII century. The same capacious globular jugs, elegantly painted with fairy-tale cities, fantastic birds, picturesque flowers, and herbs. Our designer pancake server “Tom and Amazing Flowers” is an example of a wonderful combination of bright Gzhel patterns.  https://bestwonderstore.com/product/designer-pancake-server-tom-and-amazing-flowers/

But time changed, tastes changed, faience appeared, and majolica was replaced, having existed no more than half a century. Majolica was replaced by semi-faience, faience, and then porcelain. Here we should clarify the terminology. Porcelain from faience is chemically different with a large amount of kaolin in the composition, which makes it not only ringing and singing like crystal, but also having minimal water absorption. In practice, faience differs from porcelain with thicker walls and the presence of craquelure on the glaze due to its increased ability to absorb water and break down. Also, faience is not transparent, and any porcelain product is able to transmit light. If we talk about sound-the porcelain product rings with touch, and faience has a dull sound.

For Gzhel, these are not just terms, but epochs. Gzhel had independently mastered all these types of ceramics. Improving the manufacturing technology and experimenting with clays created its unique style. Gzhel porcelain is plastic, expressive, decorated with original paintings,  multicolored and elegant and always meets the purpose of the thing. Just look at tea pot “Plums” to make sure in elegance of Gzhel items https://bestwonderstore.com/product/tea-pot-plums/. Gzhel porcelain is one of a few crafts whose ancient and modern products are equally considered valuable collectibles. Interest in the process of manufacturing porcelain products has not weakened among domestic inventors in our days, and production technology is improving every year.

 

It seems that for 300 years since the appearance of Saxon porcelain in Europe, it is impossible to add something new to its recipe, but even the quantitative indicators for Russia tell a different story. The composition of the porcelain mass can vary widely. By introducing new components or changing the percentage of already known components, the inventors seek to increase the physical and mechanical properties of porcelain, improve its whiteness, reduce the price of manufactured products, and increase the service life of the equipment used.

Currently, Russia has more than ten porcelain companies that create real masterpieces, which occupy significant places at international exhibitions. These brands are known all over the world: IPM, Verbilki, Dulevsky porcelain, Gzhel porcelain factory and others. Most modern porcelain enterprises grew out of porcelain manufactories of pre-revolutionary Russia: the Gardner factory, the Mikhail Kuznetsov Partnership, the Imperial porcelain factory, the Kornilov brothers’ production, and others. And modern enterprises successfully borrow the forms of products developed by pre-revolutionary masters, loved over the years of production, and proved their demand among buyers. Our store offers porcelain products of various types and manufacturers, which gives you the freedom to choose which piece of art that presents the Russian identity and soul, you want to buy.

Russian Porcelain production is one of the most striking pages in Russian decorative and applied art, including all kinds of interior details. Russian porcelain has always been associated with the activities of enterprises and the art industry. The technical development of porcelain production went along with the evolution and improvement in the visual field. Russian porcelain products are not only homewares that perfectly complement the interior, they are not only a wonderful and valuable gift, Russian porcelain is a centuries-old history, it is a piece of art that reflects the devotion to tradition, manual work and genius of many scientists and artists. Russian porcelain is decorated not only with floral and folk ornaments, but also with images of custom and temper, holidays, nature, and many other aspects of Russian culture. All this makes Russian porcelain different from other brands, makes it unique and inimitable.

The Russian style of porcelain is so distinctive and recognizable that it is actively collected not only by Russian, but also by foreign collectors — in the United States, England, France, Germany, and around the world. Russian porcelain is the history of the nation presented in a wonderful item.

3 thoughts on “History of Russian porcelain: from its origins to the present day.

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