Extended to30 September 2005
The exhibition celebrates an extraordinary
moment in the history of 20th century art and design. It presents,
for the first time in this country, a comprehensive survey of the
porcelain produced at the world-renowned Lomonosov Porcelain Factory
in St Petersburg, formerly the Imperial Porcelain Factory, during
the years following the Russian Revolution of 1917.
This is a rare opportunity to consider
the achievements of a group of radical avant-garde artists –
Futurists, Cubists and especially the abstract Suprematist painters
in the circle of Kazimir Malevich – within the wider context
of Russian revolutionary porcelain.
The exhibition is jointly organised by
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, and the Courtauld Institute
of Art, London. The exhibition and catalogue have been made possible
by the generous support of the Russian financial corporation URALSIB.
Circling the Square comprises
some 300 pieces of porcelain and a total of 70 design drawings,
all dating from 1918 to the mid-1930s.
Objects and designs The exhibits come from
the Porcelain Museum, a new department of The State Hermitage Museum,
formed from the prestigious historic collection from the Lomonosov
Porcelain Factory Museum.
In addition, there are three important
objects which have been generously lent from private collections:
a saucer and a cup and saucer with abstract compositions after designs
by Wassily Kandinsky; and a plate by Nikolai Yankin, which will
be shown alongside the artist’s preparatory design.
Though fragile and generally perceived
as a luxury item, porcelain outlasted many forms of revolutionary
design and so tells us a great deal about the art, culture and economy
of the period.
The porcelain is shown in four
rooms, each focusing on a distinct facet or period of the factory’s
Room 1: Suprematism.
Room 2: ‘Artist’s
porcelain’, a selection of plates painted or designed by leading
avant-garde artists in a variety of different styles.
Room 3: ‘Agit-porcelain’
or propaganda porcelain, porcelain that has a direct and discernable
Room 4: The Suprematist
legacy of the 1930s, a final flourishing of avant-garde experimentation
at a time when Socialist Realism was introduced as the official
A fascinating group of largely unpublished
and some newly discovered preparatory designs are being presented
alongside the ceramics. For conservation reasons the drawings are
presented in two groups of 35 and will be changed mid-way through
the exhibition. All the designs will be published in the accompanying
The first gallery on Suprematism has the
greatest number of pieces and so forms the core of the exhibition.
This gallery showcases an exceptional array of boldly geometric
designs on plates, cups, saucers and services dating from what was
the most experimental and artistically innovative of all the phases
of the factory’s production: the Suprematist period around
It was during this short but intensely
productive period that the factory recruited Nikolay Suyetin and
Il’ya Chashnik, students and followers of Kazimir Malevich
who worked on a new, non-naturalistic style of porcelain decoration.
The Suprematists’ concepts about art centred on abstract geometric
forms – the square, the circle and the cross - so applying
these ideals to porcelain decoration was a perfect fit.
While all of Malevich’s designs were
painted by factory artists, Suyetin and Chashnik both designed and
painted the porcelain themselves. Several examples of the Suprematists’
famous deconstructed teapots, coffee pots, jugs and half-cups are
also on show. Essentially sculptural objects, their curvilinear
contours and multifaceted volumes are designed as extensions into
the surrounding space. As such they bear witness to the Suprematists’
interest in researching forms in space and in the creation of new
and unusual forms rather than in the design of purely functional
Early revolutionaries were quick to seize
the potential for propaganda of porcelain production and the Imperial
Factory itself was reorganised along new lines shortly after the
February 1917 Revolution. In March 1918 the factory was taken over
by Narkompos, the People’s Commissariat for Public Education,
with the aim of producing porcelain that was ‘revolutionary
in content, perfect in form and flawless in technical execution’.
The artist, illustrator and graphic designer
Sergei Chekhonin, was made head of the art section at the factory
in 1918. He played a crucial role in recruiting the painters who
would soon give the factory its revolutionary aesthetic. These included
many of the leading figures of the Russian avant-garde, such as
Natan Altman, Ivan Puni, Vladimir Lebedev, Alexander Samokhvalov
and Kuz’ma Petrov-Vodkin, as well as Mikhail Adamovich, Rudolf
Vilde, Lyudmila Protopopova and Nikolai Lapshin. At the end of 1922,
Nicolai Punin replaced Chekhonin as artistic director and it was
he who invited the Suprematists Suetin and Chashnik to the factory.
Futurism and Cubism
In the service of the State, these painters
and designers set about applying the international visual language
of Futurism and Cubism to the decoration of existing flatware or
‘blanks’ left over from the factory’s imperial
past, as well as to newly designed forms intended to reflect the
new way of life.
The designs were often propagandist in
content, celebrating in strong colours and bold modernist patterns
Soviet industrialisation, the Red Army, and the agrarian reforms,
or reflecting the iconography of the new regime and its leadership.
Chekhonin’s contribution as artistic
director is evident throughout the exhibition, and under his leadership
many different styles co-existed at the factory. His own artistic
contribution can be seen in a large number of his designs on view
in the propaganda gallery. Pieces such as his ‘Red Ribbon’
and ‘Cubist with Hammer’ plates of 1919 reflect a conservative
and refined aesthetic which manages to incorporate the era’s
new emblems – the hammer and sickle, the cog, the banner,
red star – in elegantly stylised compositions influenced by
with aphorisms from sources as varied as Karl Marx, Thomas More
and the New Testament, echoes and repeats the revolutionary slogans
to be found on the posters and banners in the streets and on the
sides of the trains and buses taking these ideas to the towns and
Noteworthy examples on show include Maria
Lebedeva’s plate bearing the slogan, ‘He who does not
work does not eat’ (with its poignant juxtaposition of a windswept
old woman and a large red star from which rays emanate), and Natan
Altman’s famous red and green plate ‘Land to the Workers’,
The prestigious job of decorating St Petersburg’s
Palace Square to celebrate the first anniversary of the October
Revolution fell to Altman and his watercolour design for this scheme,
which inspired the plate, is also shown.
The significance of porcelain in
terms of our understanding of popular street art cannot be overestimated;
for although the objects themselves very quickly became elite objects
– not for domestic consumption or for use by the masses –
the iconography and decoration serves as a lasting testament to
much of the temporary art put up at the time to celebrate major
Lomonosov Porcelain Factory and Museum
The St Petersburg Porcelain Factory was
founded by Empress Elizabeth in 1744 on the banks of the river Neva
on the outskirts of St Petersburg. During the reign of Catherine
the Great the factory was styled the Imperial Porcelain Factory
and production, until the Revolution of 1917, was exclusively for
the Imperial court. The quality of its products equalled those of
European porcelain manufacturers and during the 19th century it
was well represented at international exhibitions.
In 1844, to mark its centenary, Tsar Nicholas
I ordered the creation of a museum to house pieces from the factory
and serve as a teaching collection for the factory’s craftsmen
and artists. The museum was based on the existing collection of
models, supplemented by some of the finest works from the storerooms
of the Winter Palace and other royal residences. It was open daily,
apart from weekends and holidays, and entrance was free to all.
The museum contained examples from other celebrated European factories
as well as Chinese and Japanese ceramics.
As production at the factory grew, so did
the museum, and by the end of the 19th century one copy of all new
designs went to the museum, a practice that has continued into the
Following the February Revolution of 1917
and the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917 the factory was nationalised
and renamed the State Porcelain Factory. Surviving blanks from the
Imperial Porcelain Factory were decorated with the new revolutionary
designs. In 1925 it was re-named the Lomonosov Porcelain Factory
in honour of Russia’s first great scientist Mikhail Vasil’yevich
Lomonosov, who was also an admired poet and the founder of Russia’s
Academy of Science.
The museum’s collection moved several
times during the 20th century, eventually finding a home in the
factory’s administrative building in 1975.
The factory was privatised in 1993 and
in 2001 its prestigious historic collection was transferred to the
care of The State Hermitage Museum, of which it now forms the department
known as the Porcelain Museum. Today, Mrs Galina Tsvetkova, Chairman
of the Board of the Lomonosov Porcelain Factory, owns 75.61% of
the factory with minority shareholders holding the remainder. The
collection, which is still physically housed on the site of the
Lomonosov Factory, is open to visitors.
Mrs Tsvetkova’s husband, Nikolai
Tsvetkov, is President of Uralsib, the financial holding company
which is sponsoring the exhibition.
The exhibition is jointly organised
by The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg and the Courtauld Institute
of Art, London, and is the third exhibition following the alliance
The exhibition and catalogue have
been made possible by the generous support of the Russian financial