Imperial Porcelain: The History of Russian Imperial Porcelain from 1744 to 1917*
The Lomonosov Porcelain Manufactory is the most significant porcelain factory in Russia. For more than 150 years it belonged to the Romanovs, the Russian Imperial Family.
The porcelain production at the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory (Imperatorsky Farforovy Zavod, IFZ) was aimed at satisfying the needs in porcelain of Imperial Court. The highest standards of production and decoration were required to complete the Imperial Court’s orders. There were typically Russain features of beauty interpreted in the splendour of the Imperial Porcelain by IPM.
Colourfulness and a large variety of motifs, rich and splendidly decorated forms have all combined to produce the unique porcelain.
The Russian porcelain masterpieces by IPM adorn the collections of the State Hermitage Museum, the Russian Museum, palaces in Pavlovsk, Peterhof, Tsarskoye Selo, in Saint-Petersburg, and in State Historical Museum and Kuskovo Museum of Ceramics in Moscow.
1744-1762 The Vinogradov Period
The attempts to reveal the secret of porcelain making had been taken in Russia since 1718 visit of Peter the Great to Saxony, where he saw the Saxon invention at the Dresden Court. A talented mining engineer Dmitry Vinogradov who studied metal industry at Freiberg had invented the formula of the Russian porcelain. In 1744 Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, established the first porcelain manufactory in Russia.
The Russian porcelain by Vinogradov had quality similar to the Saxon porcelain while its formula which consisted of only Russian ingredients reminded of the Chinese porcelain.
The first dinner set Personal (Sobstvenny) was created. It belonged to the Empress Elizabeth (Elizaveta Petrovna) and was decorated in purple and gold.
At the beginning of the Vinogradov period the motifs were monochrome and simplified while at the end of this period the fine miniatures were completed on porcelain. The gold paint for porcelain was prepared from golden coins from the Imperial Treasury.
1762-1801. Catherine’s Porcelain. Porcelain of Paul I Reign. Early Classicism
‘The Golden Age of Catherine’ – the reign of Catherine II the Great – was the age of prosperity for the fine Russian porcelain. In 1765 the manufactory was renamed to the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory.
From the very beginning of Catherine the Great’s reign IPM was obliged to produce fine porcelain and to bring profit. The Imperial Court’s need for porcelain was large and the permanent orders from the Court had let IPM keep to the highest quality of the expensive porcelain.
In the second half of the 18th century the Russian art had followed the European trends from the fanciful rococo to the noble beauty and grandeur of classicism. There had been five departments and an office at IPM by 1787. There were a machinery department where raw materials were processed, a modelling chamber with a turning shop, a carving and a sculptural department, a kilning chamber for firing and glazing of porcelain with a moulding department, a painting chamber, and a laboratory where the porcelain paints were prepared with a kiln for firing of the decorated porcelain.
A talented French sculptor Jacques-Dominique Rachette (1744-1809) had worked as a chief modeller of IPM since 1779. He had been a head of the modelling department of IPM until 1804. J.-D. Rachette made series of the figurines reflecting the nationalities of the Russian Empire in the 1780s-90s. These series based on an illustrated work on the peoples of Russia by the German scholar Johann Gottlieb Georg were reproduced later on (e.g., 1913, 1920s, etc.) and they stay very popular among the Russian Imperial and early Soviet porcelain collectors nowadays. The painting chamber had been at the head of miniature-painter Alexey Zakharov since 1783.
The splendid dinner sets Arabesque (Arabeskovy) in style of the antique frescoes, palace Yachting set (Yakhtinsky) devoted to the power of the Russian fleet, the Cabinet set (Kabinetsky) in style of engravings of the Italian architectural antiquities, Yusopov’s set (Yusupovsky), Orlov’s toilet set (Orlovsky) which had been given by Catherine the Great to her minion Count Grigory Orlov with toilet articles and breakfast serving items.
Paul I reign continued from 1796 to 1801. The art of the Russian porcelain continued to develop in style of classicism with the increasing inluence of the Hellenic and the Roman motifs. During the last years of Catherine the Great’s reign and all through the years of Paul I reign the production of porcelain at IPM exceeded the needs of the Imperial Court’s office. There were no constant sales outlets outside Saint Petersburg. The porcelain by IPM was too expensive and could not compete with porcelain by the Russian private manufactories.
IPM Porcelain in the 19th Century
1801-1825. Porcelain of Alexander’s Reign. Restructuring of IPM. High Classicism, Empire Style
The masters from Berlin Koeniglische Porzellan Manufaktur and artists of porcelain making from Sevres were invited, the kiln chamber was restructured.
In 1806 a prohibitory law was adopted putting a ban to import of porcelain to Russia and after this adoption the competition between a variety of the Russian private porcelain factories had risen.
The production line of IPM porcelain was divided into an expensive low-profit Royal presents department and an ordinary porcelain department which produced lower-priced porcelain for consumers for the Russian nobility. IPM had produced the ‘printed’ porcelain for a while, but this kind of porcelain was not of any success with the Russian consumers of that time.
The Guriev’s set (Gurievsky) reflected the best way the pecularities of style of the high Russian classicism. It was the most significant work of the Russian porcelain art of Alexander I reign which continued from 1801 to 1825. The Guriev set was ordered by the managing director Count Guriev for Alexander I and had been produced under supervision of chief modeller adjunct professor of Academy of Art Stepan Pimenov. According to a supposition the general design of Guriev set was made by a prominent architect Jean Francois Thomas de Tomon (1760-1813). The Guriev set glorified the Russian nation and Russia. It had been used in Peterhof Palace at the rooms of the visiting princes. The additional items to Guriev’s set had constantly been being made since its production. The amount of articles in Guriev set totalled 4500 porcelain items with a few kilogramms of gold used for the decoration of the porcelain.
Vases by Voronikhin are distinguished by proportionate details, harmony and clear lines. The highest skill was achived in decorating of porcelain vases. In the motifs of vases, plates and porcelain sets items the motifs of the Patriotic war of 1812 and portraits of its heroes were frequently used.
By the end of the Alexander period the purity of style had disappeared while the disharmony between the form and the painting increased as the sense value of the precious porcelain had been lost.
After the Emperor Alexander I had passed away IPM produced an unprecedented vase of more than two meters high to commemorate his reign. There was a side-view portrait of the Emperor painted on one side of the vase and a globe surrounded by inscription Russia on the other side.
1825-1894. Historical period. Reigns of Nicholas I (r.1825-1855), Alexander II (r.1855-1881), Alexander III (r.1881-1894)
Since the reign of Nicholas I (r.1825 to 1855) the imported kaolin from Limoges had been used. Porcelain plaques and large porcelain items of high perfection were made. A special method of gilding of porcelain with a durable gilt which stayed on and looked perfectly with soft polishing and brilliance had been invented, although subsequently lost.
The platinum was also used to decorate porcelain. The art of IPM porcelain during Nicholas I reign was eclectic and stylized as it was at all the major European porcelain manufactories. After the dismissal of Pimenov IPM had been managed by the Imperial Court. Nicholas I took part in the managing of IPM. The projects of porcelain items were handed in to him for his confirmation. Under Alexey Voronikhin’s supervision the large sets Coat of Arms’ (Gerbovy), Golden (Zolotoy), Babiegonsky were made. During the reign of Nicholas I a large amount of porcelain for gifts had been produced including gifts for the Queen of England, the King of Prussia, the Crown princes and princesses.
The IPM porcelain was created after the German and French models, the Oriental, the Antique, and Russian antiquities. The following three forms of vases were produced: ‘medicis’ which reminded of the Antique crater from Medici’s collection, the spindle-shaped ‘fuso’ and the egg-shaped ‘bando’ form with a body thickened downwards and a crown-shaped mouth. The mirror frames and pier-glass tables, fire-plces, clock cases, tables, stools, chandeliers, candlesticks were made by the Imperial Court orders. Vases, mirrors and fire-places were decorated with modelled porcelain flowers. The porcelain flower bouquets by master modeller Petr Ivanov marked the highest achievement of porcelain making, but this secret was lost after the master’s death.
The most skillful painters, modellers and pattern designers had been employed at IPM in 1830-1840ties. The painters copied the masterpieces by Leonardo Da Vinci, Rafaello Santi, Corregio, Rembrandt, Titiano Vecellio, Rubens, etc. to the porcelain. These paintings on porcelain looked absolutely similar to the original paintings despite the difficulties of copying the colours to the pattern on porcelain which had to be fired afterwards. The portraits were painted on vases and plaques, the icons were also copied on porcelain. The figures of servicemen and military scenes were mostly painted on plates. There was a variety of different flower patterns in collection of IPM. The flowers were painted from nature. They were supplied from the manufactory’s own greenhouse. The painters also paid visits to the Botanic Garden. The IPM porcelain had received the Golden medal at the World Exhibition in London.
The Empire style which had predominated during the first half of the 19th century gave way to Neo-Rococo in the early 1840s. In the Imperial services, Rococo forms are present in the Banquet Service. The emphasis of painted decoration shifted from figurative imagery to ornament and floral motifs, which remained popular until the close of the century.
The manufactory’s own museum was established in 1844. Later on a library was formed from rare books on art, paintings and engravings.
By the beginning of reign of Alexander II (r.1855-1881) IPM had worked only on imported raw materials. A year before the abolition of serfdom the IPM workers had been gived freedom but many of them continued to work at IPM.
The number of the Imperial Court’s orders decreased. The porcelain was produced mainly on old samples. From the beginning of the 1870ties copying of the famous paintings on porcelain had been ceased, the landscapes had been painted rarely. The ornamental decoration prevailed. IPM started to use coloured glazes and to decorate their porcelain with pate-sur-pate patterns. Pate-sur-pate technique is a method of decoration by means of application of a slip to coloured (e.g., by cobalt or chrome) background applied on porcelain. This method was adopted from the Sevres manufactory. Almost all figurines were made after August Spies’ (1817-1904) models. There had been overall decay in the IPM’s porcelain production by the end of 1870ties. Waster in firing totalled 95%. The art level of the porcelain decreased.
The idea of closing down the ‘useless and unprofitable’ enterprise emerged in 1881. Later on the idea transformed into the assignation of IPM to the Imperial Academy of Arts but Alexander III whose reign had just started by then commanded to create the best possible conditions from technological and arts point of view to IPM so that IPM could bear its name ‘Imperial” with dignity and be a standard for all private porcelain manufactory owners. Alexander III considered spreading of arts a matter of state importance. He considered national character to be the main criterion of success in the field of art. IPM had undergone a process of restructuring. A ban was put on sales to ordinary consumers. IPM was to produce the high art quality fine porcelain only for the Imperial Court which required complicated technical works. The Imperial Porcelain Manufactory and the Imperial Crystal Manufactory merged. The managing director D.N.Guriev and the IPM experts visited the best porcelain factories in Prussia, Saxony, Bohemia, France and Great Britain to get acquainted with the up-to-date technology and know-how of porcelain industry. The equipment was renewed, the new machinery from Limoges was installed, up-to-date kilns and the other innovations were introduced. These measures let the IPM production compete within the European porcelain industry.
In 1889 the new glaze sang-de-boeuf formula was invented. Since 1892 the underglaze decoration technology had been mastered with the help of the Danish experts. The Russian Emperor was married to a Danish princess and paid interest to the underglaze painting.
The porcelain forms and patterns continued to be adopted from Meissen and Sevres, the Italian Renaissance, Oriental and Egyptian articles. In the last years of Alexander III reign the Danish porcelain had set standard for the IPM porcelain. The Rafaello’s (Rafaelevsky) set had been made for several years. It was completed in 1903. It was the most expensive porcelain article produced at IPM those days. Since then by command of the Emperor two copies of every porcelain article had been produced – one for the Imperial Court and the other for the IPM museum.
1894-1917. The Russian Art Noveau. Nicholas II Reign
Baron Nicholas von Wolf was appointed the new managing director of IPM in 1900. He was ordered to rise the reputation of IPM in Europe. By the beginning of the new 20th century the IPM had become one of the leading porcelain factories in Europe. The IPM porcelain was famous for its unexceptionable quality, it was produced from paste made of the highest quality ingredients on up-to-date equipment. This paste had been kept in cellars for 10 years before having been used in production.
In 1912 a famous chemist Nicholas Kachalov discovered the recipe of a ‘soft’ porcelain which required lower firing temperatures. This invention widened the range of colours for the underglaze decoration. The production of porcelain in the IPM laboratory was based on scientific methods. White biscuit porcelain or coloured porcelain, porcelain glazed with coloured or crystalline glazes, porcelain decorated with underglaze patterns of various colours on smooth or carved surfaces, on engraved or modelled porcelain were produced. Overglaze painting was made by enamels or overglaze colours.
The Art Noveau style had influence on the shapes of the porcelain. The porcelain with whimsically curved forms decorated by stylized plants, mermaids and other attributes of the Art Noveau was produced. As a rule, the vases were covered by underglaze decor. Every vase had a unique form. The underglaze decoration made it possible for the artists to paint changeable seasons and winter landscapes.
The IPM had been influenced by fine noble art aestetics of ‘Mir Iskusstva’ movement after Nicholas Strukov was appointed the new managing director. The Mir Iskusstva architect Evgene Lansere managed the art department, sculptor Vasily Kusnetsov and his assistant Natalia Danko worked at IPM. IPM once again started to produce porcelain plaques, paintings by Watteau, Lancret, Gainsborough were copied on porcelain.
The IPM have started to produce technical and chemical porcelain due to cease of import of porcelain from Germany after the World War I had been unleashed. The production of fine porcelain decreased to a minimum level. All the fine porcelain items produced were sold at charity auctions in favour of the Royal hospitals. Only Easter eggs were produced in large quantities for Easter celebrations of soldiers. After the October Revolution of 1917 IPM had been nationalized and renamed to State Porcelain Factory (GFZ).
See pictures of these items here
1. Items of the Personal set of Empress Elisabeth. IPM, St-Petersburg. 1750ties-1760ties.
2. The pocket snuff-box of Countess M.E.Shuvalova. IPM. St-Petersburg. 1750ties.
3. Candy-box with a lid. D.I.Vinogradov. IPM, St-Petersburg. 1748.
4. A plate from Guriev set
5. A vase with an Eagle figurine based on S.S.Pimenov’s project. IPM. 1809-1816.
6. Vase ‘Birch Trunks’, 1913. Design and decoration by V.S. Klenovskaya (1885-?). Porcelain with underglaze polychrome decoration.
Throughout its pre-revolution history the IPM due to the Royal Court's orders did not face any serious competition from the other Russian factories except for the years of decay during the of reign of Alexander II (r.1855-1881) - see above. The porcelain pieces by the IPM are very rare, extremely popular and expensive nowadays. The IPM porcelain items reach the highest bids at the international auctions and the number of false items made by frauds is constantly growing.
The Russian porcelain industry before the October Revolution of 1917 consisted of many enterprises. Among the most renowned Russian porcelain factories of the Imperial Russia are the Popov, Batenin, the Kornilov brothers, the Kuznetsovs and Gardner factories. The Kuznetsov enterprise had been founded in the early 1800s in the Moscow region. Afterwards it had expanded to a porcelain enterprise which included numerous factories that produced reasonably-priced porcelain around the country. The success of Kuznetsov was based on efficient manufacturing methods. The Gardner Factory was the only privately owned porcelain works of the 18th century that gained the established position then and the only factory which after being taken up by the Kuznetzov porcelain empire retained its brand name Gardner. Its ordinary dinner porcelain was purchased for the nobility households in the 18th century.
In the early 19th century the growing numbers of entrepreneurs had entered the Russian porcelain industry due to the adoption of a 1806 prohibitory law which had had put a ban to import of porcelain to Russia.
The sites of porcelain works were dictated by the availability of raw materials, and many of the privately owned factories were established in the environs of Moscow, were clay of good quality was available. The Popov porcelain was famous for its fine material and quality hand-decorated porcelain. All the abovemetioned porcelain factories produced a wide range of high-quality porcelain from reasonably priced decalled gift items to finely hand-decorated dinner sets.
Figurines depicting Russian society were popular up to the late 19th century. Many of them imitated the 18th century European models. However the figurines of the Russian characters - street vendors, country folk engaged in their tasks, and various town occupations - were the most popular figurines.
According to a survey published in the 2nd half of the 19th century (**) there were 51 porcelain and faience factories in Russia in 1877 which employed 6237 workers in 14 regions of the Russian Empire. In 1880 there were already 54 factories in 16 regions with the workforce totalling 7077 employees. The porcelain and faience industry was among the TOP10 industries of Russia.
Sources of information:
250 Years of Lomonosov Porcelain Factory in Saint-Petersburg. 1744-1994. G.Agarkova, N.Petrova. 1994. AOZT “Lomonosovsky farforovy zavod” LFZ-Desertina.
Russian Porcelain. State Museum of Ceramics and Kuskovo Estate of the 18th century. ‘Abris’ Saint-Petersburg, 1998
Under Imperial Monogram. Production of the Imperial Porcelain Factory from the Collection of the State Hermitage Museum. Propylaea Publishers. St.Petersburg, 2007
Venalainen posliini. Collection Vera Saarela ja Suomen kansallismuseon kokoelmat. Elina Anttila. Painotyo Lonnberg Print, 2008
- (**) Новь, том III 1885 г. "Отчетъ о Всероссiйской художественно-промышленной выставкъ 1882 г. въ Москвъ" Под редакцiею В.П.Безобразова, дъйствительнаго члена Академiи Наукъ. Спб. 1883-1884 г.
You can order contemporary porcelain produced by The Imperial Porcelain Manufactory (IPM) on our web-site. We will assist you in filling in the order form on our web-site. Kindly contact us for details at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can order vases, Easter eggs, decorative plates, world-famous cobalt-net dinnerware, reproduced imperial Russian porcelain, pictures and porcelain by well-known Russian porcelain painters, porcelain after Chemiakin, sculpture and many more. All items are hand-made and hand-decorated at the IPM in Saint-Petersburg, Russia.
Pictures of the IPM porcelain can be viewed on these pages:
IPM porcelain of the 18th century
IPM porcelain of the 1st half of the 19th century
IPM porcelain of the 2nd half of the 19th century
IPM porcelain of end of the 19th – beginning of the 20th century
The IPM Porcelain Marks (view marks here)
From the foundation of IPM to 1917
Since the beginning of reign of Catherine 2nd (1762) the IPM porcelain had been marked by a monogram of the ruling monarch. The mark of «ПК» added to the factory sign shows that this porcelain was assigned to the Royal Court Office. During Nicholas I reign a year mark was added to the factory mark. The pressed figures, letters, signs showed the formula of the paste.
Marks 1-4 are pressed or drawn in blue, black or gold colour. Marks 5-8 and 16-26 are in underglaze blue, sometimes in overglaze blue or gold. Marks 29-32 are in olive green underglaze. Marks 33-35 are in olive-green under glaze or in gold over glaze. Mark 36 is in blue or gold over glaze. Marks 37 and 38 – in underglaze olive green, overglaze gold. Marks 39-43 are in olive green or gold under glaze or overglaze.
1-4. Before mid 1760ties
5-8. Mid 1760ties – 1796
9-15. Imperial Court office marks
1918-1930. Porcelain of GFZ, LFZ
I. The first Soviet mark. GFZ porcelain 1918-1936
II. Pressed mark 1920ties-1930ties
III. An alternative mark of mark I, 1919
Alternative marks of mark I
IV – 1919, V, VI - 1921
VII – an alternative mark of mark I, 1921
VIII – a special mark only in 1921 in favour of the starving people in Volga Region
IX – an alternative mark of mark VIII, 1921
X – an alternative mark of mark VIII, 1921
XI – an alternative mark of mark I, 1922
XII – anniversary mark of 1922 devoted to the 5-years anniversary of the October Revolution
Alternative marks of mark I, 1922
XVI – anniversary mark, 1923-1924
XVII – special anniversary mark (?)
XVIII – export mark since 1920ties
XIX – export sign since 1920ties
XX – 1923-1930ties for suprematic porcelain only
1940 – 2006. Porcelain of LFZ, IPM
A-E. Overglaze and underglaze marks of LFZ of the 1940ties
A, B, C – Ist half of the 1940ties, overglaze and underglaze.
D, E – 2nd half of the 1940ties, overglaze and underglaze.
F-H. Marks of end of 1940ties- beginning of 1950ties, overglaze and underglaze.
I, J - underglaze and overglaze.
K – underglaze on figurines
L – overglaze and underglaze mark on vases of end 1950ties – beginning of 1960ties.
M – overglaze mark of the 1960ties.
N – overglaze on figurines, vases, decanters.
O, P, Q – overglaze. ГР – complexity level of the decor (from 6 to 15, ВНЕ ГР – the item exceeds the highest 15th complexity level), quality marks - first quality red mark, second quality blue mark, third (lowest) quality – green mark.
R-T. 1989-2001 overglaze.
R, S - 1989-1992
T – 1992-2001
U, V. Since 01.01.2002 overglaze
U – 01.01.2002 – 2006
V – since 2006
W, X Special marks
W – 1970ties underglaze export mark.
X – overglaze anniversary mark, from 1994 to 2002
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