Yusupov Porcelain: Echoes of the Past

Porcelain from the Yusupov collections at Arkhangelskoye Estate

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The porcelain factory that once belonged to the prominent Russian patron and collector of the arts Prince Nikolai Yusupov, who also owned the Arkhangelskoye Estate, turned 190 in 2008. The impressive exhibition now accommodated in the estate’s museum complex features over 500 items from 11 museums across Russia and two private collections. The porcelain and earthenware pieces produced at the Yusupov factory in Arkhangelskoye that are so greatly treasured by connoisseurs and collectors and considered a great rarity have been mustered in huge numbers, representing complete series and complemented by newly found works.

Yusupov porcelain sets and separate items stand out with their intricate gold painted ornaments, graceful polychrome miniatures, and rich high-quality gilding. Many pieces were made as special orders and gifts. Plates, tea and coffee set pieces were beautifully decorated with portraits, landscapes, and miniature replicas of great painting masterpieces from the estate’s collection, not to mention graphics and book illustrations.

The magnificent collection pieces were created by peasant artists who were educated and trained by professional painters in Moscow and St. Petersburg. With an expertise in a broad field of arts, they were not only able to copy classic paintings in oil, but also produce their own paintings, draw illustrations for books in the Prince’s library, maintain the paintings in Yusupov’s Moscow-based gallery and, if necessary, restore canvases and design the interior of the Arkhangelskoye estate buildings.

Prince Nikolai Yusupov, Actual Privy Councilor, Senator and member of the State Council, was a very prominent figure. A patron of arts and a collector, a man of great erudition, refined taste and artistic flair, a rich nobleman at the court of Catherine the Great, he spent nearly twenty years abroad. On his trips, the Prince acquired books, sculptures, paintings and decorative art items. Between 1792 and 1802, while in state service, Yusupov managed the Imperial Porcelain and Glassware Factories, as well as a tapestry enterpise. Later on, after moving to Moscow, he resolved to set up his own porcelain factory.

In 1818, the porcelain enterprise in the Arkhangelskoye Estate acted as an art workshop for porcelain painting run by 3 painters and a few apprentices. By 1827 — the year when the factory was actually launched — the number rose to nearly 40. In 1822, Nikolai Yusupov, who was quite familiar with French porcelain production, invited French painter August Philipp Lambert (d. 1835) from the Sevres Porcelain Factory to the workshop. Lambert was excellent at porcelain painting and also well-versed in the production of porcelain and earthenware. While under his leadership, the number of masters doubled and began to include girls, the range of subjects for porcelain paintings extended, pieces started being marked on the bottom, technology was continuously being refined and, most importantly, the idea of setting up a real factory came to fruition, with state-of-the-art equipment installed at the factory immediately after it was built.

The new enterprise manufactured sets, separate items and whole series of porcelain ware. Precious tableware with paintings of high artistic value were kept in imperial palaces and the palaces of great princes in St. Petersburg, Gatchina, Pavlovsk, and they were featured in the collections of noble families, including the Golitsyns, Vielgorskys, Vyazemskys, Sheremetevs and Potyomkins. Thanks to the genius of Yusupov’s masters, true masterpieces of art were produced at the porcelain factory, and other noblemen were eager and willing to apprentice their serfs to the proficient painters of the workshop. The exhibition features an eight-piece children’s set that once belonged to the Great Prince Alexander Nikolayevich (1824): it is decorated with a stylized gold ornament, polychrome bunches of flowers, a gilded coat of arms of Russia and the name monogram AN against a pale turquoise background. The two-piece Arakcheyev tea set (1823) presented to Count Alexei Arakcheyev (the then Chairman of the Military Affairs Department of the State Council) depicts the views of the Guzino village. Landscapes with polychrome scenes from the count’s estate were painted on three-dimensional pieces; panoramic pictures cover the tray and the saucers. The set’s dainty details are thickly coated with gilt. You can get a good impression of Yusupov’s collection of paintings from the set of plates manufactured in the workshop’s early years. Miniature replicas reproduce the details seen in canvases by French, Flemish and Dutch artists from the estate owner’s gallery. One of their typical design techniques for the center of the plate, which took after Vienna craftsmen and was used especially often in Arkhangelskoye until 1822, involved encircling a miniature painting with a gold or silver oval, and decorating the border with intricate floral polychrome pictures of bunches of both wild and garden flowers, leaves and grass.

After the patron and mastermind of the porcelain enterprise Nikolai Yusupov died, his successors disbanded first the painting workshop, and then the factory itself. Certain sets from the family and other collections were handed over to various museums throughout Russia in the Soviet era, while others were sold. The largest collections have been amassed by the Arkhangelskoye Estate State Museum with over 400 pieces, the Russian Museum with over 100 pieces, State Museum of Ceramics and Kuskovo Estate of the 18th Century with over 80 pieces, and the State Hermitage Museum with 39 items. The exposition was gathered and prepared in collaboration with the State Historical Museum, Pavlovsk State Museum and Reserve, Peterhof State Museum and Reserve, All-Russian Decorative Applied and Folk Arts Museum, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Ostankino Estate Museum, Zaraysk Kremlin Historical, Architectural, Arts and Archeological Museum, Russian State Archive of Ancient Documents, and the owners of private collections from Moscow and St. Petersburg.

With the combined effort of all the museums mentioned and the Vrubel Omsk Museum of Fine Arts, a scientific catalogue was compiled specifically for the exhibition. For the first time ever, the united collection was arranged in chronological order, and the introduction contains new information on the enterprise’s history and the specific design techniques used by the Arkhangelskoye craftsmen. Most pieces featured in the catalogue are new not only to the public, but also to experts in the area.

Moscow Life
17 November, 2009