Early Soviet porcelain is usually called agitational. It is an exceptional phenomenon in the Russian art of the twentieth century, it became the highest achievement of artistic thought and skill. Russian propaganda porcelain, born after the October Revolution, was an active conductor of its ideas. «Who remembers Petrograd those years - deserts of the pavements, desolate houses plunged into darkness and cold, and in the windows with traces of the recent bullets - he remembers porcelain on the avenue of the 25th October. There, on the white brilliant dishes, red stars burned, the hammer and sickle shimmered with soft porcelain gold, fabulous flowers intertwined in the monogram of the RSFSR. There stood small porcelain Red Guards, sailors and the new chess «Red and White». On the big dish there is an inscription in a wreath of flowers: «We will turn the whole world into a blooming garden». (Elena Danko's memories about porcelain, displayed in the shop window on Nevsky avenue).
Plate «We will turn the whole world into a blooming garden». 1922. Author Z. Kobiletskaya
The new porcelain at the State Porcelain Factory in Petrograd became one of the forms of agitation and mass art. On plates, dishes, cups were painted the same slogans and the same subjects that were drawn on posters, festive panels. The common source of these phrases was a list of 28 slogans, presented by a special commission and approved by Lenin. Participation in its drafting was accepted by the People's Commissar of Education A. Lunacharsky, who appeared in July 1918 with information about the contest for the best inscriptions - «short, bright, deep ... capable of sparking a thought or a hot revolutionary feeling in anyone’s soul». The phrase from the New Testament «If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat» began to sound like this: «He who does not work shall not eat». The most important topics used in porcelain were the class struggle and a new revolutionary morality, the union of labor and education. Porcelain declares new ideals.
Plate «He who does not work shall not eat». 1922. Authors: M. Adamovich, N. Altman
The porcelain manufactory in Petrograd became the birthplace of this new porcelain. The fate of the former Imperial Plant was not determined immediately. After the October Revolution, the porcelain factory was transferred to the People's Commissariat for Education. In early 1918 by the initiative of A. Lunacharsky P. Vaulin was appointed as commissioner of the factory. He invited the ceramist K. Keller and the artist S. Chekhonin.
The Imperial Porcelain Factory, previously served the needs of the royal court, was nationalized and renamed as the State Porcelain Factory.
Obligatory signing of all the works was introduced in 1918 by order of the commissioner P. Vaulin. Even more significant than the signature had a mark. For any collector and researcher of porcelain, the question of stamps is a matter of great importance. The products of the former Imperial factory were marked with original marks with the initials of the reigning emperor. After the February Revolution during two months, only the year «1917» was put. Then a stamp appeared in the form of a two-headed eagle, enclosed in a circle, under which was put the year- «1917». Its author was I. Bilibin. The project of a new Soviet brand appeared in the summer of 1918. It was made by the artist A. Karev and represented the state emblem, complemented by a fragment of gears as a symbol of industrial projects. At first, the old imperial brand was not painted over,a new one placed next to it. Then, on all products the marks «A III» and «N II» were painted over, usually with the form of a circle, an oval or a diamond. Subsequently, when there were export orders, the brands stopped painting over.
To receive new artistic material the factory invited famous artists to make sketches for painting on porcelain. The projects were presented by I. Alekseev, N. Altman, V. Belkin, Z. Boguslavskaya, V. Kozlinsky, V. Konashevich, P. Kuznetsov, V. Lebedev and others. These were artists of the «left» ideas, seeking a renewal of life. Number of products were made according to their sketches. Some of these masters continued to work for the factory.
In 1918 the sculptor V. Kuznetsov made a porcelain bust of K. Marx and bust of K. Liebknecht, the sculptor N. Danko created the bust of the Russian enlightener Novikov and the bas-relief "Decembrists" - these works continued «the plan of monumental propaganda».
Relief "Decembrists" with the inscription "1825, December 14". Project by N. Danko. 1919
Bust of Karl Marx, 1918
Author V. Kuznetsov.
Agitational porcelain was the only type of agitational art to export abroad. Auctions in Western Europe brought the country the currency and new orders. The exhibitions was held in many cities: Berlin, Paris, Venice, London, Lyon, Stockholm, etc. «This porcelain has bypassed all the capitals of Europe», - recalled Elena Danko.
Period from 1918 to 1923 in the activity of the factory is usually called the Chekhonin’s period. S. Chekhonin, a great master, graphic artist, stage designer, connoisseur and master of book miniatures, became a recognized leader and the creator of a new trend in the porcelain art.
Chekhonin was an excellent artist, alien to any dogmatism. Artists were able to work productive and the factory became a place of coexistence of a variety of styles and directions. Chekhonin's reputation attracted many artists who came to work at the manufactory and became members of the artistic team. For several years, there were in the production sketches made by graphics and painters of different directions: K. Petrov-Vodkin, P. Kuznetsov, A. Samokhvalov, V. Konashevich, V. Lebedev, V. Kandinsky, N. Altman, etc.
Plate "The Earth to Working People". 1919 Author N. Altman.
Dish "Wedding". 1923
Author K. Petrov-Vodkin.
Plate "A Woman with a Goat". 1923. Author A. Samokhvalov.
Propaganda plates became the most common kind of porcelain of the first years after the October Revolution. In Chekhonin’s porcelain were created several types of propaganda plates. The earliest were plates with the slogans «Who is not with us, he is against us», «The struggle will give birth to heroes», «The aim of science is to serve people». The blank bottom of plates, reminds that the first porcelain with slogans was intended for use in everyday life.
Latter type of propaganda plates is associated with the development of the Soviet heraldry and emblematics. The earliest work of this direction is the composition «Black Emblem», first performed by S.V. Chekhonin to the first anniversary of the October Revolution. The emblem of the Soviet republic - a sickle and a hammer - is executed with gold on a black background and is surrounded by a wide wreath of flowers and fruits.
Plate "The struggle will give birth to heroes". 1918. S. Chekhonin
Plate "Who is not with us, he is against us". 1921. S. Chekhonin.
Plate "Blue coat of arms". 1918. S. Chekhonin.
Plate "Blue Coat" is made in the traditions of folk art, in a picturesque manner, where the emblem of the republic is depicted among mottled meadow flowers. The culture of classicism and Empire is in the strict order of many heraldic compositions. The influence of avant-garde trends is evident in the compositions "Red Ribbon" and "Cubistic composition with a Hammer".
Plate "Cubistic composition with a Hammer". 1919. S. Chekhonin.
With time, the circle of authors and number of propaganda works significantly expand. Portraits became one of the important subjects for the plates. "At the suggestion of the Museum of the Revolution," the same newspaper reported in April 1920, "the State Porcelain Factory produces a series of dishes with images dedicated to the events of March 1, 1881. Portraits of Zhelyabov, Perovskaya, and Kibalchich will appear on the plates. Then, porcelain with portraits of the Decembrists, the Schlüsselburg prisoners etc. will be issued. The themes relating to the October revolution are also being supplemented».
In course of time, agitational plots are combined with traditional motifs. This refers to the work of Z. Kobyletskaya, an experienced porcelain master, who performed many agitational motifs in combination with flower compositions.
Plate "RSFSR". 1922. Z. Kobiletskaya.
Plate "May 1, 1921 in Petrograd" The author A.Shchekotikhina-Potockaya
With the widening of the subject of images, everyday urban sketches and genre scenes becomes the center of some compositions. Z. Shchekotikhina, a disciple of Nicholas Roerich and Maurice Denis, was the brightest artist in the factory studio. Scenes of the life of the revolutionary city are presented in some works by M. Lebedeva. The center of the composition "Telephonist" is the romanticized image of a Red Army soldier with a telephone, he towers over the city and is connected to it by a network of wires with the slogan "Peace to mankind working on the ruins of the past". Expressive and emotional compositions in the "Fire" and "Firewood" are filled with the maintenance of severe everyday life of the post-revolutionary years.
Dish "Telephonist". 1920. M. Lebedeva.
An important place in agitational porcelain was occupied by Lenin's theme. The first portrait of Lenin in porcelain was made in 1919 by A. Golenkina. "Chekhonin advised us to look more often at newspapers, and look for slogans there. Once I thought about portrait of V. Lenin. I considered myself as a portraitist. I was set up in a revolutionary way ... And then I took up the portrait on porcelain. Image of Lenin was large, in the size of the bottom of the plate, on the board was an inscription: "The authority can not be given, it is taken with weapons in hands». This was the first portrait of Lenin in porcelain. Director of the factory P. Friken was very glad to see it and took it to Moscow".
A tribute to Lenin's theme was given by S. Chekhonin. In 1920, he executed a graphic portrait of Lenin, which was then reproduced on dishes and plates.
The bas-relief portrait of Lenin in several variants by N. Danko was well-known. Danko also designed an inkwell with a bust of V. Lenin.
Portrait of V. Lenin. 1920s. Author N. Danko.
Performing historical and everyday types, N. Danko relied in her work on the traditions of Russian genre plastics. The main theme of her work was the people of the street. "Partisans on a campaign", "Sailor", "Sailor with a banner", "Worker", "Woman embroidering a red banner" will forever remain monuments of its epoch. In her works the image of an ordinary person, who took part in revolutionary changes. Her chess "Red and White» was an event in the art life of the factory. Chess pieces are solved in the form "white" and "red" armies with semi-allegorical, semi-real content: red king - worker-hammer, red queen - peasant woman with sickle and sheaf, red pawn - reaper, the white king is a death knight, white pawns are slaves in chains.
A sailor of the cruiser "Aurora" with a banner. The author N. Danko. 1921
Chess "Red and White". The author N. Danko. Model 1922
The picture of porcelain of this time would be incomplete without the work of artists who did not appeal to agitation. For example, the dish "Wedding", made according to the project of the greatest master of XX century, K. Petrov-Vodkin. Z. Kobyletskaya's "Grad Kitezh» imbued with nostalgia for the ideal arrangement of the world. The series "Months of the Year" represents the world where people live in harmony with nature. The theater's theme, traditional for porcelain, is still of increasing importance. Chekhonin made a plate "Tsarevich Maximilian» on the drawing made by V. Tatlin. Also this subject was embodied in small plastic works by N. Danko, D. Ivanov, Ya. Troupiansky, O. Glebova-Sudeikina.
Plate "Harlequin". 1921. Author S. Chekhonin
The world of Russian fairy tales, traditional genre scenes of folk life: weddings, festivities, dances, tea drinking - are widely represented in the works of A. Shchekotihina. The service "Snow Maiden", a tray "Angel with the Baby", create a vivid picture of her work in the post-revolutionary years. The exact characterization of the creative manner of Shchekotikhina was given in 1924 by E. Gollerbach: "Brilliant, sharp colors, patterns, bends, distortion of perspective characterize the painting by Shchekotikhina. .... All Schekotikhina's painting is built on a non-objective play of a smear, which it sharply differs from the usual manner ".
Service "Snow Maiden". 1922. A. Shchekotikhina-Potockaya
Danko along with the statuettes made a genre sculpture and a beautiful "toilet trifle": pipes for smoking, perfume bottles, stoppers - all of them are made with subtle humor.
Smoking pipe, handle for umbrella. The author N. Danko. 1920s.
By the end of the twenties serious changes are taking place at the State Porcelain Factory. The creative collective of the famous factory disintegrated. In 1928 Chekhonin went abroad.
One of the most common types of painting in the early thirties was schematic compositions with industrial motifs, including the silhouettes of factory buildings and pipes, cog wheels, tower cranes and tractors. For example, "Service No. 5", made by a young author L. Protopopova.
In the red-brown service "Metal" by M. Moh given a kind of industrial miniatures - deliberately sketched figures of casting workers.
"Service No. 5", Author L. Protopopova.
Service "Metal" by M. Moh. 1930.
The revolutionary and petit-bourgeois types of the twenties are replaced by new heroes: the worker and peasant, the sentry, the hammer worker, the reaper, and so on.
Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, porcelain served as the artistic representation of the Soviet political system. They participated in foreign exhibitions and receptions in the Soviet embassies, were given to participants in party conferences. In these years, the interest in the works of the State Porcelain Factory was firmly maintained. Contemporaries wrote: «… the works of the factory rise to exceptional heights, amaze with their artistry and will be recognized as the best things of our epoch in the world art market".
In the 1980-1990s, when the country's political and public life was undergoing major changes, many exhibitions were held in Russia and abroad, representing art of this time, including early Soviet porcelain. The largest and most significant of them (after the exhibitions "Moscow-Paris", 1979 and "Art in production" in Oxford and London, 1984, 1985) - "Great Utopia", shown in 1992-1993. In Germany, the Netherlands, the USA and Russia. In this largest exhibition took part more than a hundred Russian, Western European and American museums, exhibited items from twenty private collections. Interest in agitation porcelain art, a new phenomenon in world culture, is constantly growing and increasingly attracting the attention of art historians, collectors, antique dealers.