Gardner Factory

The history of porcelain production in Russia began with the foundation of the Imperial Porcelain Factory in St Petersburg in 1744. The Imperial Porcelain Factory was the third factory in Europe to produce hard porcelain, after the Königlich-Polnische und Kurfürstlich-Sächsische Porzellan-Manufaktur in Meissen in 1710 and the Kaiserlich privilegierte Porcellain Fabrique in Vienna in 1718.

The Imperial Porcelain Factory manufactured porcelain solely for the Russian court, obliging even the aristocracy to order services and works of decorative porcelain from Meissen. A further two decades had to pass before the first private factory was founded in Russia. Following a series of unsuccessful attempts by Russian merchants, an English banker called Francis Gardner opened a manufactory.

Although often backed by large financial capital, many of the unsuccessful Russian entrepreneurs had been unable to find knowledgeable masters of porcelain production. The name of the expert who helped Francis Gardner is still not precisely known. Archive materials mention an arcanist – a workman who knows the secret of porcelain making – called Johann Miller.

Gardner himself went to great effort to learn the secrets of the trade. He travelled around the Russian Empire in search of high-grade materials employed in porcelain production – kaolin and quartz. On 24 February 1766, he was given official permission by the College of Manufacturing to open a porcelain factory. This date marks the beginning of the history of the Gardner Factory, which was located in a small village called Verbilki in the Dmitrov district of Moscow Province.

Even in the eighteenth century, the Gardner Factory was already competing with the Imperial Porcelain Factory in terms of the quality of its production and artistic standards. When a whole series of private porcelain factories sprung up across Russia in the nineteenth century, the Gardner Factory still set the standard for other manufactories.

Francis Gardner began by studying the work of leading European enterprises. Realising that he was best producing works which had already proved their commercial viability on the European market, he sent his eldest son to Western Europe to collect leading German and French specimens. A well-organised production, high-quality materials and masters capable of reproducing the originals were required in order to reproduce these works in Russia. Archive documents note the presence of a “multitude of Russian apprentices, sent without payment to the factory by their noblemen” in the 1770s.

The Gardner painters were trained by a German specialist called Johannes Kestner, who was specially invited to the manufactory in the first half of the 1770s. As the principal artist at the Gardner Factory, Kestner was awarded the most important commissions. The most famous work signed by Kestner is a small service of five objects (1775), which depict events from the Russo-Turkish War (1768–74). Although this intimate set of objects cannot be compared to the enormous services of the Imperial Porcelain Factory, this was the first work of Russian porcelain in which the painted design addressed a political theme.

Johannes Kestner is also believed to have painted the design on a service monogrammed EW (1770s). The forms and decoration of the objects gravitate towards French Rococo, which influenced many works of porcelain in the eighteenth century. The painted design is largely composed of purple paint and gilt. The light and artistic drawing betrays the hand of an outstanding master of porcelain decoration.

Cup servers for cooling glasses were based on French analogues. Precious works were decorated with scènes galantes in the style of François Boucher. The curves in the festoons were outlined with gilt. The Rococo style continued to be employed in Gardner porcelain throughout the second half of the eighteenth century, before interacting with Neoclassical elements.

The Gardner Factory also manufactured porcelain for everyday use. Tea services, soup bowls, dishes, plates, jugs, teapots, dessert cups and other items of tableware were commonly decorated with bouquets of flowers.

By the mid-1770s, the Gardner Factory was already attracting the attention of the imperial court. The decision to present Johannes Kestner’s service with allegories on the Russo-Turkish War to Catherine the Great possibly helped to win the empress’s favour. In 1777, the Gardner Factory was commissioned to make three large “order services” – the Order of St George Service, the Order of St Andrew Service and the Order of St Alexander Nevsky Service. Slightly later, the manufactory was also asked to produce an Order of St Vladimir Service.

Each service consisted of up to one-and-a-half thousand objects of different intentions, dimensions and forms. The Imperial Porcelain Factory, in comparison, only began work on such large-scale palace services in the 1780s. The Gardner Factory managed to complete the commission on time, creating four magnificent services used until the revolution at the annual banquets held in honour of the knights of the leading Russian orders.

Contacts with the imperial court did not end with the completion of work on the order services. In 1782, Catherine the Great commissioned Scottish architect Charles Cameron to design a palace in Pavlovsk as a suburban residence for her son and heir Paul. The furniture, lamps, decorative vases, silverware and crockery for the new palace were ordered from the leading Russian and West European manufactories, while the Gardner Factory contributed the Moscow or Own Service.

The architecture of the palace and its location in a park defined the intimate notes and colour scheme of the Moscow Service. The Neoclassical painted designs were dominated by tones of green and turquoise. The dual monogram PM – Pavel and Maria – and pink-purple ribbons intertwined with floral garlands were painted inside oval medallions.

Court commissions increased the authority of the Gardner Factory, attracting wealthy customers. Between 1782 and 1785, the manufactory was asked to create large services for Count Zakhar Chernyshev (mayor of Moscow) and Count Ivan Bezborodko (younger brother of the state chancellor and foreign diplomat Count Alexander Bezborodko).

The majority of private orders were commissions for personal cups bearing the owner’s name. Monograms and family crests or crowns were included in the decorative scheme, often accompanied by inscriptions giving the owner’s name. The materials employed, the complexity of the decor and the painter awarded the work all largely depended on the wealth of the customer. Modest personal cups were decorated in a simple manner – a monogram beneath a crown or wreath, surrounded by two purple branches tied at the bottom by a ribbon.

One of the first reports submitted to the College of Manufacturing describes the work of the Gardner Factory. The list of output included porcelain figures, which the manufactory continued to produce throughout the course of its history. The Gardner sculptors began by copying models of German factories. Russian replicas like Boar Hunting (1790s) were very similar to the originals. Some attributes were deliberately altered to make the foreign models more comprehensible to the Russian customer. Barrels or baskets of apples or mushrooms, for example, were introduced into the Girl with a Flower statuette.

The Gardner Factory quickly reacted to changing fashions, explaining the success of its produce. Figured vessels – a tradition dating back to ancient times – came into vogue in the 1780s. The Gardner Factory produced mugs in the form of the heads of Turkish men and women, exploiting popular interest in this theme following the victory in the Russo-Turkish War in 1774. Another group of figured vessels was Toby jugs – English drinking mugs usually in the shape of a stout man wearing a large three-cornered hat. The Gardner Factory produced large quantities of Toby jugs between the 1780s and 1830s.

The work of the factory sculptors was not confined to the production of statuettes or figured vessels. One of the most interesting features of Gardner porcelain is the plastic details – tops of lids, figured stands of vessels, half-opened buds, the squirrel holding a nut on a cream cup from the Order of St George Service, an urn trickling water on the lid of a teapot, moulded ringed wreaths on lacy baskets or bucrania and laurel garlands on pudding cups.

A new chapter in the history of the Gardner Factory began in the early nineteenth century. The victory over Napoleon in the Patriotic War (1812) evoked a burst of national self-consciousness, leading to new interest in the life of the common people. This tendency was reflected in all forms of art. Prints were the main sources of inspiration for the Gardner masters, who based their leading sculptural series on the engravings from the Magic Lantern series (1817–18). The statuettes of craftsmen, hawkers, servants and peasants often included such minute details as jugs on the yokes of dairymaids, small items belonging to old clothes dealers and teapots in the hands of sbeeten sellers.

The most important decorative element of the Gardner figurines was their paintwork. Sarafans, military uniforms and peasant’s overcoats were often painted blue and green, without any attempt to convey the natural texture of the fabric. Gilt was sometimes used on the details of the clothes or object.

The proportions of the porcelain figures were dictated by the aesthetics of High Neoclassicism. The sculptural versions were more elongated and proportional than their graphic prototypes. The figurines from the Magic Lantern series were extremely popular and reproduced well into the 1830s. Later works were attached to rocaille stands for support.

Much of the sculptural output of the Gardner Factory was copied by the small peasant factories of Gzhel, a group of about thirty villages located not far from Moscow. The Gardner Factory also copied the works of other manufactories. National subjects and images were particularly popular. Such works as Ice Skaters (Allegory of Winter) and Woman Carrying Water were based on models manufactured at the Imperial Porcelain Factory.

Woman Carrying Water was originally designed by Stepan Pimenov, professor of the Imperial Academy of Arts and principal designer of the Imperial Porcelain Factory. Dressed in a sarafan reminiscent of an ancient tunic, the figurine was copied in two different versions – one wearing a blue sarafan and one wearing a dark-red sarafan. Corresponding to the heroines in the paintings of Alexei Venetsianov, this image of a Russian peasant woman provided the inspiration for a whole series of statuettes manufactured at the Gardner Factory. The Gardner version of Woman Carrying Water retains the original stance and the classical folds of the original work from the Imperial Porcelain Factory. The incline of the head and the positions of the hands were altered, while the yoke was replaced by other peasant attributes.

The Imperial Porcelain Factory was also famed for its unique vases. Although the Gardner Factory did not attempt to compete in this particular realm of decorative porcelain, it still contributed a large amphora-shaped vase depicting the Bolshoi Theatre to the First Manufacturing Exhibition in St Petersburg in 1829. The Empire form and the lion’s heads on the handles recall a vase created by Andrei Voronikhin for the Imperial Porcelain Factory. Like many other works of porcelain from this period, the body of the vase is gilded and the miniature paintings are included in rectangular frames. The Bolshoi Theatre vase caught the attention of visitors to the exhibition, confirming the high quality of the produce of the Gardner Factory.

Gilt played an important role in the decoration of works of porcelain in the first third of the nineteenth century. The ornamental designs and the frames around the miniature paintings were painted gold, which was also used to bring out individual details of the form or to coat the entire surface. The most popular elements of Empire decor were palmettes, acanthus leaves, rosettes, weapons and lyres.

The coloured backgrounds – blue and green – rank among the greatest achievements in works of porcelain produced in the first third of the nineteenth century. Cobalt coatings were particularly handsome. The cobalt paint was generally applied before the porcelain was covered in glaze. Great skill was required in order to achieve the same intensity of tone across the entire surface of the work.

The Gardner masters had an expert knowledge of the different techniques of porcelain decoration. Besides underglaze and overglaze designs, they also employed transfer prints, coloured lustres and relief compositions. Gilt was painted on mastic patterns in the middle of the nineteenth century. The subjects of the designs were extremely diverse. Portraits of contemporaries, celebrities, heroes of the Patriotic War, children and types encountered in books, journals and fashion magazines were particularly popular. Landscapes and architectural views of St Petersburg, Moscow and Paris were often reproduced on decorative plates and souvenir cups. The works of Old Masters were also copied onto porcelain.

The Gardner Factory also manufactured porcelain with designs on military subjects. Unlike the military plates of the Imperial Porcelain Factory, which bore images from illustrated publications on Russian army uniforms, the Gardner compositions depicted Cossacks drawn from life, based on engravings of drawings made by French artists working in Russia in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Genre designs included romanticised scenes of the life of the Russian peasantry and images of the representatives of different nations. Mythological subjects were popular during the Neoclassical period.

Neoclassicism began to give way to historicism in Russia in the 1830s, producing a surge of new forms and subjects inspired by the art of the past. Gardner porcelain reflected the interest in the Gothic Revival style typical of the Romantic period. Gothic motifs were encountered in the ornamentation of objects. A whole series of vessels – flasks, vases, perfume pans and decorative table compositions – reproduced the forms of Gothic chapels and turrets.

Rococo was the historical style best suited to porcelain. While the Second Rococo of the nineteenth century retained the external attributes of the original movement – plastically complex volumes, whimsically curving silhouettes and C- and S-shaped volutes – it lacked the former elegance and lightness of the eighteenth-century style.

The Gardner Factory also manufactured porcelain in the Chinoiserie style, employing the motifs and forms of oriental china. The Gardner Factory was famed for the high quality of its handsome white hafts, transparent white glazes and multi-coloured tones.

The Gardner Factory continued to receive commissions from the imperial court in the nineteenth century. In the 1860s, it was asked to recreate the lost objects from a banquet service made at the Imperial Porcelain Factory. By the late 1880s, however, the manufactory was no longer profitable and the factory was sold to Matvei Kuznetsov in 1892.

During the Soviet period, the factory was nationalised and renamed after the nearby town of Dmitrov. The Dmitrov Porcelain Factory produced both mass-produced items and unique high-quality works, winning a gold medal at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne in Paris (1937) and a silver medal at Expo ‘58 in Brussels (1958). After the fall of Communism, the original name of Gardner was returned to the manufactory.

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