Russian White Gold
By Natalia Shuvalova
Those who were at the dinner celebrating the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg were surprised and impressed by the beautiful table settings at the gala event. Their surprise was even greater when they found the stamp of the Russian Imperial Porcelain Factory, instead of dinnerware from Germany or China. The factory had won the tender set by the Kremlin to supply the porcelain to the St. Petersburg festivities.
The Imperial Porcelain Factory was founded in 1744 by the daughter of Peter the Great, Elizabeth. It was here that Vonogradov, a famous Russian scientist, discovered the secret of the “white gold” production. Until the Revolution in 1917 the factory belonged to the Royal Family and supplied them and the aristocratic elite with the best of tableware. Some of the table settings had more than a thousand items, each with a unique design or illustrations.
The factory always kept up with the latest technological developments. For instance, in the 19th century, it was world famous for the luxurious bouquets made of porcelain flowers as well as table ware decorated with hand made copies of paintings by famous European artists.
After the events of 1917, the factory was nationalized and worked to meet the needs of the new generation and its ideas. And it created a new decorative style – agit porcelain! In the 1920’s the designs were greatly influenced by the Russian avant-garde, with items decorated by Malevich, Tatlin, Petrov-Vodkin and Kandinsky. Later, the style of Soviet porcelain followed more classical designs. The prices were fixed at prices that the general proletariat could afford as well.
The era of transition during Perestroika was not easy. Galina Tsvetkova, the current major shareholder of the enterprise, remembers that her family decided to buy the majority of the shares just to save its national heritage, not to make money which seemed almost impossible at that time.
Although the factory’s future could have looked hopeless, 10 years later the liberalization of business practices has been enough to resurrect it. Today it produces more than 2,000 items each year. They have a special line called ‘Imperial’ which is very limited in number and high in price. These are the duplicates of the items that belonged to the Royal Family. The Kremlin is not the only client. The regular clients include Lukoil, Uralsib, Gasprom, and Nestle.
The factory is faithful to its promise to contribute to the national heritage. Several years ago, it opened its own museum. It continues to cooperate with a number of famous contemporary artists and designers. Besides, it maintains close ties with the Hermitage, which has the largest collection of Russian Royal porcelain. Now the Hermitage holds annual Christmas Exhibitions of the Imperial Porcelain Factory just like it used to do in the Royal times. It gives an ideal presentation to the public and the best pieces are given to the Hermitage collection.
On October 19th the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin opens an exhibition of the best art pieces of the Imperial Porcelain Factory which belonged to the Russian Royal Family. The 300 items will illustrate the time period of each ruler from Elizabeth to Nicklaus II and are borrowed from the Hermitage Museum. The exhibit is open to the public until January 13th 2008.