Russian Artistic Movements 19th Century Imperial Russian Jewellery 19th–20th Centuries

Imperial Russian Jewellery 19th–20th Centuries

The Russian jewellery industry developed in the nineteenth century, when precious objects made to special order encountered opposition from merchandise accessible to all classes of society. The pioneer in this trade was a company called Sazikov. The history of the firm dates from the late eighteenth century, when Pavel Sazikov opened a store on Silver Row in Moscow. Pavel’s son Ignaty inherited the jewellery business, opening a factory in Moscow in 1836 and St Petersburg in 1842.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Sazikov’s only rival was the Moscow industrialist Ivan Gubkin. Both firms were enormous concerns employing large workforces – eighty at Sazikov and a hundred at Gubkin in 1863. The two companies ensured the high quality of their jewellery by using the system of the division of labour, first introduced in Russia by Ignaty Sazikov, following a trip abroad to study the experience of foreign businesses.

Sazikov and Gubkin attached great importance to the artistic design of their products, employing in-house artists and freelance designers. Their workshops were furnished with various forms of modern machinery. Rollers for laminating silver were introduced in the 1830s and 1840s. The first steam engine was installed at Ignaty Sazikov’s factory in St Petersburg. The rose engine was imported from France in 1843.

A large part of Sazikov’s produce was silver utensils designed in the eclectic style popular in the mid-nineteenth century. This artistic movement employed the forms and decorative motifs of different historical styles. Contemporaries welcomed eclecticism as something intelligent, progressive and new, replacing the tedious and repetitive motifs of Neoclassicism. The Empire style thrived in works of Russian silverware right up until the mid-nineteenth century. In the 1840s, Empire elements began to combine with Rococo motifs, leading to the golden age of the Second Rococo in the 1850s and 1860s.

During this period, such other forms of applied art as ceramics and glass were designed in the Biedermeier, Gothic, Etruscan and Chinoiserie styles. The dominant movement in Russian silverware, however, was the Second Rococo. Crockery and table silverware were decorated with lines of laminated ornamentation. Small cast details in the form of fruit, flowers and birds adorned lids and handles. The decor combined well with the round, plastic forms of objects imitating eighteenth-century works.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the distinctions between the concepts of art and industry began to disappear. As one contemporary noted: “Jewellers have raised their trade to such heights that it is now impossible to draw a line between art and industry.” When Ignaty Sazikov won a gold medal at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 for his silver vase depicting Dmitry Donskoi at the Battle of Kulikovo, he was judged to have combined “the art of a master and the craft of a manufacturer.”

Ignaty Sazikov was particularly famous for his large sculptural works of silverware. The only surviving object is the Knight on Patrol table decoration from the London Service in the Winter Palace in St Petersburg (1852–56). Initially created by English firms in 1852, the London Service was later supplemented by pieces commissioned from such leading Russian firms as Nicholls & Plincke, Carl Fabergé and Ivan Morozov. The service was made for the future Tsar Alexander II and is decorated with the initials of the tsarevich and his wife, Maria Alexandrovna. In 1856, at the request of Nicholls & Plincke, Samuel Arndt manufactured an enormous stand for the London Service in the Second Rococo style.

Ignaty Sazikov’s sculpture of a Russian knight dismounting his horse authentically conveys seventeenth-century armour and various other decorative details. When working on the sculpture, he was assisted by Fyodor Solntsev, a pioneer of the national-historical movement in Russian art in the nineteenth century. An artist, academician and leading expert on Old Russian art, Solntsev provided artistic consultations on the history of Russian armour and weaponry. The shining mass of precious metal, the majestic volumes of the three-stone group and the theme of a warrior defending his native soil evoke an air of epic monumentality. This sculpture is an excellent example of the Neo-Russian style pursued by Sazikov in nineteenth-century jewellery.

In the mid-nineteenth century, manual embossing and engraving were increasingly combined with mechanical means of working silver. Ornamental strips of standard lamination and stamped decorative straps were particularly popular. Mechanical means of producing silverware helped to lower the costs of products, which gradually became accessible to larger sections of the population. The role of machinery during this period, however, should not be overestimated. Most work continued to be done by hand and the main reason for the cheaper prices was the greater efficiency of production thanks to the division of labour.

Specialists appeared in every sphere of silverware, including masters of crockery, spoons and icon covers. Embossers were regarded as fully-fledged artists, capable of working with great speed and skill. The businesses founded in the first half of the nineteenth century – the Sazikov and Gubkin factories and the workshops of Adolf Sper and Carl Adolf Seipel – gradually fell into decline. In 1887, Sazikov was taken over by Ivan Khlebnikov. Several Sazikov masters opened their own small workshops and accepted orders from shops selling silverware.

Ivan Khlebnikov enjoys an important place in the history of the Russian jewellery industry. Although the official foundation date is generally considered to be 1871, some sources list 1865 and 1866. Like Pavel Sazikov, Ivan Khlebnikov originally owned an outlet on Silver Row in Moscow. In the 1880s, when the small stores developed into jewellery shops with elegant displays and shop windows, Khlebnikov opened a shop on Moscow’s “street of diamonds” – Kuznetsky Most, where all the city’s leading jewellers had outlets.

The Khlebnikov factory on Shvivaya Gorka initially employed one hundred people and had an annual turnover of 56,000 roubles. In 1879, Khlebnikov opened another shop on Nevsky Prospekt in St Petersburg. The business expanded and by the early 1880s was employing three hundred masters with different specialities and seventy-five apprentices. The factory even had its own schools of design and sculpture. Contemporaries noted the extremely high artistic standards of the firm’s gold, silver and diamond jewellery.

One of the most popular forms of Khlebnikov produce in the last quarter of the nineteenth century was the “napkin” – silverware imitating the textures of such other materials as cloth, bast, bark or wood. Western customers had never seen anything to match this bold invention. Russian art historian Vladimir Stasov wrote: “Many of these works had foreigners in a state of utter amazement.”

Visitors to foreign exhibitions of Khlebnikov’s produce failed to understand how fabrics could possibly have found their way into a collection of silverware. Teapots, sugar bowls, caskets and truffle dishes were covered with what appeared to be linen towels and napkins – silverware with patterned edges sometimes decorated with enamels in imitation of coloured embroidery – damask tablecloths and woollen shawls with fluffy fringes. Khlebnikov also made ashtrays in the form of Kuban fur hats, salt cellars in the shape of beer kegs or biscuit barrels and ink pots designed to look like wells or log houses.

Genre sculptural casting depicting national-historical and peasant scenes was popular in the 1870s and 1880s. Neo-Russian silverware employed different historical motifs, facets and details. Works were decorated with the texts of popular sayings and sometimes even historical documents written in ancient script.

There was an upsurge of nationalistic tendencies during the reign of Tsar Alexander III. Alexander’s support of national principles and distrust of foreigners was eagerly received by large sections of the population. The result was the appearance of many counterfeit “seventeenth-century” documents and works of applied art on this theme.

The numerous Moscow jewellery firms and workshops produced a large number of objects in the National Romantic style. Large kovshs, tots, bratinas and cups in the historical style were awarded as prizes or presents on festive occasions.

Views of Moscow are often encountered on works of Russian applied art in the second half of the nineteenth century. The picturesque silhouette, old churches and ancient palaces of the former capital were symbols of everything that was truly Russian. Vasily Semyonov was particularly famed for his niello engravings of famous sights in Moscow. His factory specialised in small works of niello silverware made with great technical skill and mastery.

Pavel Ovchinnikov produced works of niello silverware on similar themes. Although born in serfdom, Ovchinnikov eventually became the owner of Russia’s largest firm specialising in virtually every form and technique of gold, silverware and jewellery. He even opened a school at his Moscow factory, where apprentices could study drawing, modelling and jewellery techniques alongside the other academic subjects. Ovchinnikov was the first Russian manufacturer to understand the importance of training not only the directors of his factories, but also the workers.

Pavel Ovchinnikov made an important contribution to the development of enamel art in Russia. The masters of his firm enjoyed an excellent command of such diverse techniques as champlevé enamel, enamel on filigree, enamel varnish in the oriental style and cloisonné enamel (which Ovchinnikov was the first to revive in Europe). The company also widely employed window or stained-glass enamel, when transparent, multi-coloured enamel was applied to the ajour carcass of the object, shining like medieval stained-glass windows.

There was a marked increase in the production of enamel-decorated objects at the turn of the century, linked to the growing interest in Old Russian applied art, particularly the richly ornamented works of the seventeenth century. The most popular decorative technique was enamel on filigree, when twisted fine wire was soldered onto the surface of the object and the resulting cells were filled with multi-coloured enamel. Georgy Samoshin of Moscow was renowned for working in this technique.

The period from the 1860s to the 1880s witnessed a brief revival of the filigree technique in Moscow and St Petersburg and its traditional development in the provinces. Silver flower bowls, sweet stands, cigar cases, trunks and caskets were finely and subtly decorated. Patterns of large and small silver wire volutes were supplemented by filigree burdocks and granular drops.

One particularly interesting realm of filigree produce was souvenirs and toys in the form of miniature carriages. Adorned with semi-precious stones and coloured glass, the carriages were richly decorated with whimsical patterns and authentic details. Silver filigree automobiles paid tribute to the technical advances of the early twentieth century.

The history of Russian fin-de-siècle jewellery is synonymous with the name of the great Carl Fabergé. The history of the company begins in 1842, when Gustav Fabergé, a merchant from the town of Pärnu in Estonia, opened a jewellery shop in the Admiralty District of St Petersburg. The firm grew in fame and popularity after it was inherited by Gustav’s son, Peter Carl Fabergé. Carl Fabergé trained under his father, before taking over from him in 1882.

Under Carl Fabergé, the company became the largest jewellery firm in Russia, employing a large staff of designers and craftsmen and modern technical equipment. The head office, shop and main jewellery workshops were located in Carl’s own house at 24 Bolshaya Morskaya Street – one of the most fashionable parts of St Petersburg. By the turn of the century, Fabergé was the world’s leading manufacturer and dealer in works of jewellery, silverware and other goods made from precious metals and stones. The company opened branches in Moscow (1887), Odessa (1900), London (1903) and Kiev (1905).

Carl Fabergé became the official purveyor to the Russian court in 1885. In 1890, he was awarded hereditary honorary citizenship and the prestigious title of official consultant or valuator to His Imperial Majesty. Fabergé won many prizes at the international exhibitions of art and industry in Nuremberg, Stockholm and Copenhagen. Juries noted the firm’s combination of “high artistry and scrupulous, punctilious craftsmanship.” Carl Fabergé and another jeweller from St Petersburg, Friedrich Christian Kochly, were invited to sit on the jury at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, when Carl was awarded the highest French decoration – the Légion d’honneur.

Carl Fabergé was assisted by his two eldest sons, Eugène and Agathon, who owned an equal share of the business. Despite being the world’s most famous jewellers, the firm continued to uphold the family principle. This concerned not only the directors, but also the masters. Carl’s third son Alexander headed the Moscow branch, while the youngest son Nicholas worked in the London branch from 1906. When Fabergé became a private limited company in 1916, the owner remarked that it still remained “a family business.”

All the leading jewellers in St Petersburg and Moscow collaborated with Fabergé. The greatest of them all was a peasant from Karelia called Mikhail Perkhin. Until 1903, all the imperial Easter eggs were made at Perkhin’s workshop. Mikhail Perkhin was succeeded by his assistant, Henrik Immanuel Wigström, who made all the other Easter eggs.

The main workshop specialising in the production of decorative jewellery was headed by a Swede, August Wilhelm Holmström, who was later succeeded by his son Albert. August’s eldest daughter, Hilma Alina, worked as an artist at the St Petersburg branch. His second daughter, Fanny Florentina, married Knut Oskar Pihl, who headed the jewellery workshop in Moscow. The firm’s leading silversmith was Julius Rappoport, a Lithuanian Jew who converted to Lutheranism.

The workshops of two Swedish Finns, Stefan Väkevä and Anders Nevalainen, specialised in silverware. Erik August Kollin, Wilhelm Reimer, August Frederik Hollming, Gabriel Nykänen (Niukkanen), Anders Mickelsson and Philip Theodor Ringe created small works of gold, silverware and decorative jewellery.

The wide selection of Fabergé produce ranged from world-famous masterpieces to refined household ornaments, trinkets and table silverware. The most famous items were the unique series of works commissioned by the Romanov family, recording events in Russian life on the eve of the revolution – an extremely important period in the history of the nation.

The Fabergé Easter eggs were masterpieces of craftsmanship, representing the collective labour of the company’s designers, jewellers, enamellers and carvers. These precious objects not only demonstrate the unparalleled mastery and talent of their creators. They are also witnesses of a past age of luxury and splendour, reflecting many important events in Russian history.

At the turn of the century, the paschal theme acquired a special significance in Russian applied art. There was a whole industry devoted to the production of Easter eggs from precious metals, porcelain, glass, wood and imitation stones.

The Easter theme reached its culmination in the masterpieces of jewellery commissioned by the last two emperors of Russia – Tsar Alexander III and Tsar Nicholas II. Fabergé made the first imperial Easter egg in 1885, which Alexander III presented to his wife, Empress Maria Fyodorovna. The tsar was so impressed by the unique craftsmanship that he decided to make it a tradition. Every Easter, Carl Fabergé presented the emperor with an Easter egg, enthralling the Imperial family with each new subject and unsurpassed jewellery work.

When Alexander III died in 1894, he was succeeded by his son, Nicholas II. Fabergé was now obliged to make two Easter eggs each year – one for the tsar’s mother, Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna, and one for his wife, Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna. The firm created a total of fifty Easter eggs for the imperial family (parts of a further egg, begun by Fabergé for Easter 1917 but never completed, were recently discovered at the Alexander Fersman Museum of Mineralogy in Moscow).

When creating his famous eggs, Carl Fabergé was inspired by the great styles of the past – the splendour of Rococo, the pomp of Neoclassicism and the solemnity of Empire. The eclectic firm only employed the Art Nouveau style when this was expressly required for an Easter present.

Besides unique gifts and souvenirs, Fabergé also engaged in the mass produce of decorative jewellery, accessories, silver crockery and utensils. Such works combined a high level of artistic design with great technical mastery. Utilitarian objects adorned and aestheticised daily life, transforming the habitats of ordinary people. Like the other fin-de-siècle artists, Fabergé aspired to turn “everyday life into art and art into everyday life.”

Modern equipment, highly-trained masters, talented designers and the use of raw materials mined in Russia allowed Carl Fabergé and other celebrated Russian jewellers to create competitive works of the highest standards. All over the world, people aspired to possess elegant objects bearing the hallmarks of Fabergé, Carl Edvard Bolin and Ivan Khlebnikov, including many famous and titled customers.

Nikolai Nemirov-Kolodkin was particularly acclaimed for the high quality of its silverware. This company was the official purveyors to the court of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna, sister of Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna and wife of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, governor of Moscow. At the turn of the century, Nemirov-Kolodkin produced a wide range of goods in the Art Nouveau style.

Art Nouveau was extremely popular in the booming city of Moscow, where the main customers of jewellery firms were merchants, industrialists and financial magnates. It was said that “everything modern came from Moscow or was, one way or another, connected to Moscow.” Although a Baltic version of Art Nouveau developed in St Petersburg, the staid and aristocratic capital retained its traditional loyalty to the “high” historical styles – Rococo, Neoclassicism and Empire.

Striving for a natural union of form and ornamentation, the designers and masters of the Art Nouveau period developed a new type of decor. Floral motifs were extremely popular and carried symbolical meaning. Products were often decorated with thistles – symbols of evil. Poppies represented dreams and oblivion. Exotic orchids and wild flowers carried erotic connotations.

When creating decorative jewellery with floral motifs, the Moscow masters often employed light-green chrysolites and bright-red rubies, conveying the deep tones of the leaves and petals. Ivan Raspopov designed a pair of gold earrings in the form of tender blossoming shoots scattered with chrysolites and rubies and decorated with opal guilloche enamel. Moscow jewellers often combined rubies, sapphires and emeralds in the same work, creating a multi-coloured and elegant object with a unique national flavour.

The decorative jewellery of St Petersburg was more austere and dominated by refined graphic lines. Preference was given to such elements of classical ornamentation as hanging garlands, small and elegant ribbons and trelliage netting. This reflected the revival of interest in the Neoclassical style in Russia in the 1910s, in parallel and in contrast to Art Nouveau.

The popularity of the Russian Neoclassical style in the early twentieth century led to a surge of interest in cut-glass crystal in silver settings. Russian firms made many large and monumental objects from diamond-faceted lead glass set in silver. These works were decorated with ancient motifs – garlands, medallions, Ionic orders and cast pearls. Moscow artels – co-operatives of masters that sprung up in the early twentieth century, competing with the large firms and factories – were particularly famous for such produce.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, art critics complained that Russia was unable to “dominate or even compete with the other states, particularly France, the legislator of fashion and taste.” Half a century later, the Russian jewellery industry had not only caught up with Europe, but had even overtaken the rest of the continent. At the turn of the century, Russian masters enjoyed an unrivalled command of every technique employed in gold and silverware. This unique fusion of the national creative spirit and contemporary culture helped to create some of the greatest masterpieces of Russian and world jewellery.

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