Nowadays the "Imperial Porcelain Manufactory" produces about 4,000 types of products in a wide range:
from tea, coffee and dinner sets, genre and animal sculptures, decorative plates to banquet sets of presidential level, gifts to government officials and the heads of foreign states, prizes for major competitions and festivals. They are made of solid and bone china.
Products are decorated in overglaze and underglaze painting, frequently using the rare and precious metals. The manufactory produces replicas of the museum's collection of XVIII-XX centuries, company tableware with a logo or monogram of the customer for special orders.
For decades the set «Cobalt net» (S. E. Yakovleva, A. A. Yatskevich), hallmark of the manufactory, is in the great demand. It was awarded a gold medal at the World Exhibition in Brussels.
Products labeled «ЛФЗ» (introduced in 1936) are exported to highly developed countries all over the world: USA, Germany, France, England, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Japan and others.
Start of Operations in 1744
Foundation of Manufactory under Empress Elizabeth of Russia
Established in 1744 in Saint Petersburg by order of Empress Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory became the first porcelain works in Russia and the third one in Europe.
It was here that D.I. Vinogradov (1720–1758), a talented Russian scientist, distilled the secret of so-called “white gold”. He was the first in the history of ceramics to draw up the scientific description of porcelain manufacturing process close to the latest concepts of ceramic chemistry. His porcelain was just as good as Meissen ware in terms of quality, while its formula which featured only domestic ingredients resembled Chinese one.
Initially the Neva Porcelain Manufactory made accessories, mainly snuff boxes for Empress Elizabeth who used them as presents for her attendants and diplomatic gifts. As soon as Vinogradov managed to construct a wide hearth in С 1756 , larger items became available and the first Sobstvenny dinner set was made for Her Majesty.
1762 - 1801
Rise of Russian Porcelain During the Reign of Catherine II and Paul I. Early Classicism
Upon enthronement of Catherine II ( 1762–1796 ), the manufactory was re-organized and re-named the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory in 1765. From then onward, it was to “satisfy the needs of entire Russia in porcelain”.
Russian porcelain was heavily influenced by J.D. Rachette, a French sculptor invited to the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory as a modelmeister. He finally set up the classicism tradition which dominated in France at the time.
The end of the ХVIII century is considered to be the Golden Age of Russian porcelain. The Imperial Porcelain Manufactory was one of European leaders. With such grand dinner sets as Arabeskovy, Yakhtinsky and Kabinetsky numbering up to a thousand items, the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory reached the pinnacle of fame. The centrepiece of these sets is table sculptures glorifying the great deeds of the Empress.
Catherine’s virtues are also praised in the allegorical painting which mirrored the landmarks of her reign. With the permission of Her Imperial Majesty, the manufactory made a series of sculptures called The Peoples of Russia (about one hundred items). It was later expanded to include the figurines St. Petersburg industrialists, craftsmen and street venders. Moreover, the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory made a great variety of vases. The perfect match of pattern and shape highlighted the whiteness of porcelain and the warm colour of shiny glaze.
1801 - 1825
Re-organisation under Alexander I. High Classicism
During the reign of Alexander I (1801–1825), the manufactory was controlled by Count Dmitry Guryev, a trusted man of the Emperor. He initiated major re-organisation under the leadership of F. Guttenberger, Professor of Engineering in the University of Geneva. Count Guryev spared no expense in attracting the best local and foreign experts.
The Sculpture Chamber was headed by Stepan Pimenov, Professor in the Academy of Arts and one of the eminent masters of the time. To enroot the Empire style, the best artists of the Sevres Porcelain Manufactory were invited to Saint Petersburg. However, the Russian Empire porcelain differed a lot from the Sevres china which was considered the gold standard of artistic achievements in Europe.
The Russian porcelain not only glorified the deeds of the Emperor but also conveyed national ideas and attitudes. For example, Guryevsky dinner set is an ode to the people who won the Patriotic War of 1812. This historical event also gave rise to a series of “war plates” depicting the soldiers and officers of all branches of Russian military service. Moreover, portrait painting was widely practiced. The Imperial Porcelain Manufactory used to make cups with the images of the crowned heads and dignitaries of the time.
Vases played a special part in the manufactory output from the early years of Alexander I’s reign and till the 1860s. Gold became one of the favourite decorative materials, while painting was dominated by landscapes and battle scenes. Another important group of products included palace dinner sets.
1825 - 1894
Era of Nicholas I, Alexander II and Alexander III
The Imperial Porcelain Manufactory provided almost all St. Petersburg palaces with its dinner sets during the reign of Alexander I and Nicholas I (1825–1855 ). Porcelain ware enjoyed the extensive diversity of styles. Among others, so-called Russian trend took the root. Fedor Solntsev, a Russian archaeologist and virtuoso, designed dinner sets for the Great Kremlin Palace in Moscow and Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich of Russia.
In the time of Nicholas I, porcelain stood out for its artful painting. The vases displayed the old masters’ chef d’oeuvres (Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Correggio, Murillo, etc.) mostly from the Hermitage collection.
The replicas are notable for their striking accuracy and refinement. The palette of pure and brilliant colours is in perfect accord with the originals. At the same time, portrait, icon and miniature painting on vases and panels also gained momentum. The awards of world fairs in London, Paris and Vienna proved the leadership of IPM in porcelain painting.
The Imperial Porcelain Manufactory celebrated its 100th anniversary by establishing its own museum in 1844. It included a fine display of exhibits from the Winter Palace collections (decision to make porcelain ware in two copies, one for the Palace and one for the museum, was not made until Alexander III).
Unlike his predecessors, Alexander II (1855-1881) did not show any personal interest in the factory. In the 1870s porcelain production has decreased. Only Easter and Christmas holidays presents to the court were retained as it was established under the reign of Paul I. The major purpose of the plant at that time was to supply storerooms of the palaces with the sets.
Products' dimensions were reduced; finishing and decorating became very modest. With all the available forms, the factory basically produced copies of the old European and Oriental ceramics. An idea to close the "useless and unprofitable" business occurred.
Reign of Nicholas II and Russian Art Nouveau
Owing to the technical innovations developed earlier, the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory reached top performance during the reign of Nicholas II (1894–1917), the last Emperor of Russia.
Rich art technique is an infinite source of pride of the IPM which gave birth to the acid-proof and electrical porcelain during World War I.
After the failure at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory was under the patronage of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna who placed two major orders«Alexandrinsky» and «Tsarskoselsky»dinner sets. In addition, a series of war plates depicting the troops of Alexander III and The Peoples of Russia series of sculptures designed by P. Kamensky were also made to order of Nicholas II.
The latter backed up the initiative of Catherine II to enhance Russian national identity. The sculptures are notable for their ethnographic accuracy.
In the mid 1900s the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory started establishing contacts with the members of the Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) artistic group, including Konstantin Somov, Eugene Lanceray and Sergey Chekhonin who promoted Neoclassicism in the Russian porcelain-making tradition.
October Revolution and Porcelain in the 1920s
The Imperial Porcelain Manufactory was nationalized and renamed the State Porcelain Manufactory in 1918. It came under the control of the People's Commissariat for Education which set a task to turn the former Imperial Manufactory into the «republican pilot laboratory of ceramics», where «propaganda porcelain in the highest sense of this word» would be made, «revolutionary in content, perfect in its shape and flawless in workmanship».
The art policy of the manufactory was a part of Lenin’s massive advocacy plan which formulated precisely the ideological — principles of the art of porcelain.
The porcelain of the 1920s is, probably, one of the most curious and surprising chapters in the history of applied arts. It preserved the atmosphere of the first years of proletarian revolution in the perfect artistic form.
The propaganda porcelain was created with the involvement of Alexandra Shchekotikhina-Potoskkaya– Potoskkaya, Natalia Danko, Vasily Kuznetsov, Maria Lebedeva, Mikhail Adamovich, etc. Skilful artists worked under the guidance of Sergey Chekhonin named the “master of the Soviet Empire style”. The porcelain of the 1920s is associated with the names of Boris Kustodiev, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Mstislav Dobuzhinsky…, Kazimir Malevich and Vasily Kandinsky.
The Leningrad Porcelain Manufactory was the first in the USSR to open the art laboratory in 1930s when the Soviet culture started forming. The creative team headed by Nikolay Suetin, an apprentice of Kazimir Malevich, invented the new Soviet porcelain style in tune with the «socialist way of life».
Talented artist and leader, Nikolay Suetin found a perfect expression for Suprematist ideas integrating the decorative touch typical of the Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) artistic movement with the realistic representation of nature.
The individual style of A. Vorobyevsky, I. Riznich, M. Mokh, T. Bezpalova, L. Protopopova, L. Blak, A. Yatskevich, S. Yakovleva, etc., determined the key features of Leningrad porcelain for years, i.e. pure and soft smooth shape, snow-white materials, fine painting and rich colours.
Neither the principles of socialist realism nor the formal style of public contracts of 1930-1950s affected the Leningrad porcelain. Unparalleled professional excellence helped save the centuries-long tradition of festive vases, portraiture and painting.
After World War II
The Khrushchev's Thaw of the 1960s revived such art slogans of the 1920s as «Bring art to everyday life» and «Bring art to production environment». After the pompousness and excessive decoration typical of the Stalin’s period, the interest in white porcelain, laconic design and simple shape was rekindled.
A number of artists and sculptors took an active part in the life of the manufactory: E. Krimmer, A. Leporskaya, V. Semenov and S. Yakovleva, just to name a few. Moreover, the unique style of such great master as V. Gorodetsky developed here. The 1950’s graduates of the Vera Mukhina Higher School of Art and Design, i.e. S. Bogdanova, K. Kosenkova, N. Pavlova, N. Semenova, V. Zhbanov, P. Veselov, etc., showed themselves to be the talented followers. With their grand multi-unit compositions, N. Slavina and I. Olevskaya took a fresh look at porcelain and joined the ranks of the leading national masters.
Traditions and Modern Trends
Respect for heritage coupled with continuous development and regular renovation of artistic traditions is still a hallmark of St. Petersburg porcelain school. This approach may be observed in the works by T. Afanasyeva and G. Shulyak, N. Petrova and O. Matveeva, M. Sorokina and S. Sokolova, etc.
Each of them found their own style in the art of porcelain, contributing to the decorative diversity and emotional vividness of the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory products. Thus, the manufactory is still a place where the art of porcelain is born day by day.
According to L. V. Andreeva, a sophisticated historian of Russian culture whose porcelain researches are used in this overview, the romanticism and national colour of Russian porcelain of the recent decades is one of the vivid cultural phenomena of the European arts of the second half of the 20th century. And Imperial porcelain is one of the brightest and most compelling facets of this phenomenon.
Nowadays the "Imperial Porcelain Manufactory" produces about 4,000 types of products in a wide range: