пятница, 22 января 2010 г.
Kuznetsov's "Porcelain Empire"
Almost every Russian family keeps some “family tableware” left by their parents at the back of a cupboard: a cup, a saucer, a couple of chipped plates, which are all astoundingly durable and have beautifully painted flowers, fruits and pretty girls on them. On the back you can see the maker, a small double-headed eagle with the inscription “M.S. Kuznetsov Partnership Factory.” That is Kuznetsov porcelain. Back in 1832, the merchant Terenty Kuznetsov, who knew the secrets of porcelain making, decided to start a business of his own and built a small factory with six burning forges on wasteland in Dulyovo located a short distance from Moscow. Dulyovo porcelain was known for its noble whiteness combined with gilding and bright painting. The painting was done by hand by simple female workers who were all called Agafya for some unknown reason, which is why their products came to be known as “agashkas.”
Things went well: the enterprise developed, output increased, and one generation of Kuznetsovs took over after another. Terenty, the founder, was an ordinary peasant whose resourcefulness and hard work helped him make his way in the world. He could hardly have imagined that several years later his descendants would challenge the Imperial Porcelain Factory founded on the personal instructions of Empress Yelizaveta Petrovna.
After the abolition of serfdom in Russia in the second half of the 19th century, the national porcelain industry began developing along with other industries during the rapid development of capitalism. The Imperial Porcelain Factory, which made Easter and Christmas souvenirs for the court and palace tableware, was unable to meet the growing demands of the-then “new Russians” – merchants, entrepreneurs, functionaries, wealthy city dwellers, and rural residents. It was the Kuznetsov factories (and not only the Dulyovo shops) that began satisfying the requirements of those social groups. Part of the manufacturing facilities were built by the family, others were purchased from less successful owners. Later on, the Kuznetsovs became even bigger after “swallowing” their main competitor, the Gardner factory, Russia’s first-ever privately owned enterprise founded back in 1766 (today’s Dmitrovsky Porcelain Factory in Verbilki). In 1889, the “M.S. Kuznetsov Partnership for the Manufacture of Porcelain and Pottery Goods” was established. It was called a “porcelain empire” because of practically having a monopoly on Russia’s national porcelain industry. It put out more than half of all Russian-made porcelain articles by 1895.
All the factories owned by the Kuznetsov family (located not only in the Moscow and Vladimir provinces but in Riga, Volkhov and other cities as well), had modern equipment and highly skilled workers and artists. When cheap foreign machine-made products began competing with the Kuznetsov porcelain, the Partnership immediately mechanized their manufacturing units, began using decal transfer paper and stencils, and introduced a new product-figurines. The traditional painting by hand remained, as earlier, their specialty, however. The Partnership gave grants to their students at the Stroganov School and the school sponsored by the Society for the Encouragement of Artists. Thus, the Kuznetssov factories happily combined machine-done painting with traditional hand-made bright “agashkas.”
Kuznetsov porcelain was both “European” and “Oriental” at the same time and took into consideration the whole diapason of consumers’ preferences. The product range was just immense. Some 150 varieties of dinner, tea and coffee sets, nearly 370 types of “separate” cups, and many different teapots, butter dishes, fruit bowls, sugar bowls, ashtrays, candlesticks, money boxes, vases, oven tiles, special tableware for pubs, and so on were made. Quite a few products were exported, so the company was known worldwide. The residents in Central Asia and Turkey highly valued “Oriental” Kuznetsov tableware, preferring it to other labels. In some regions of East China the Dulyovo articles were considered even more “Chinese” than the local products. The year 1900 saw the final triumph of the Kuznetsovs: their participation in the World Paris Exhibition brought them the Grand Prix, while the articles by the Imperial Factory went entirely unnoticed. Thereupon, the Partnership factories were granted the title of purveyors of the Imperial court and their products were allowed to be stamped with the Russian State Emblem.
In 1918, the Kuznetsov factories were nationalized. Unlike the former Imperial Factory that underwent a series of painful breakups and renovations, they (being mass production facilities) only went through a short period of doing “production art” during that craze and then returned to their traditional folk-art designs.
Today, the main heir and successor of the Kuznetsov traditions remains the Dulyovo factory. This year, it will have been in existence for 177 years. The exhibition show rooms of the Fund for Folk Art Handicrafts of the Russian Federation were the venue of a large display of more than a thousand items representing all stages of the factory’s history – from simple “agashkas” and exquisite 19th-century masterpieces to present-day items. Among them were the so-called “spare” copies for unique complete sets. They were shown for the first time. The “spares” (to replace broken or defective articles, and if all goes well, they are kept at the factory museum) are for the 1200-item “Golden Autumn” service given to U.S. President F.D. Roosevelt (it is kept at the White House) and the “Fairytale” service given to PRC Chairman Mao Zedong. Also on display were examples of the tableware for Russia’s president, the so-called “presidential orders”: the only decoration is gold edging and a small double-headed eagle, the State Emblem of Russia.
Photos by Alexander Grigoryev.