A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY:
Wedgwood in Russia
Empress Catherine II commissioned the Green Frog Service from Josiah Wedgwood in 1773
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Triangular tray from the Green Frog Service by Wedgwood. The service was commissioned by Catherine II in 1773 and delivered to Russia in 1774. From 1777 it was kept at the
Empress Catherine II commissioned the Green Frog Service from Josiah Wedgwood in 1773 through Alexander Baxter, the Russian consul in England. Work on the commission was completed in the summer of 1774.
The service was intended for Catherine's wayside palace at a spot called Kekerekeksinen, which means "frog marsh" in Finnish. Hence the original name, Kekerekeksinen Palace, and the original, amusing emblem - a green frog in a heraldic shield, placed upon each item in the commissioned service.
The set was made for 50 persons and included dinner (680 pieces) and dessert (264 pieces) services, totalling 944 items. Each object in the service was, in keeping with the commission, decorated with a view or views of old castles, abbeys, country estates, suburban mansions, urban and rural landscapes, and majestic natural scenes. In all there were 1,222 views, with not a single repetition, forming a unique panorama of Great Britain. Wedgwood's partner, Thomas Bentley, compiled a handwritten catalogue for Catherine II containing the titles of all the views. The numbers given to the views in Bentley's catalogue are written in dark brown ink on the back of each item.
The majority of items in the service duplicate the so-called "royal shape" that got its name from the fact that Wedgwood used this design to make a service for King George III. But the models for some items - compotiers, cream bowls and ice-cream dishes - were created specially for the Green Frog Service. This modified version of the "royal shape" was given the name "Catherine shape". The dinner service part of the set was embellished with a border of oak sprigs, while the dessert service had a border of ivy leaves. The items in the service were shaped and fired at the Etruria factory in Staffordshire, then sent to the Chelsea Decorating Studios in what was then a suburb of London to be painted. The service was made in a type of pottery new for its time, standardized by Wedgwood through the improvement of traditional English cream-coloured earthenware. In 1766 Wedgwood had given this material the name "Queen's ware" in honour of Queen Charlotte, whose patronage he enjoyed.
When the service was nearing completion, the bulk of it was put on display at Portland House, Greek Street in London, so as to show it to the English public before it was dispatched to Russia. The exhibition, which opened on 1 June 1774, was honoured with a visit from Queen Charlotte. The service reached Russia in September that same year. At the present time the Hermitage collection includes some 770 items from the famous Green Frog Service.
In 1777 the service was delivered to the Kekerekeksinen Palace, built by Yury Velten. a Grenouillere, as Catherine called the palace (translating the Finnish name, meaning "frog marsh" into French), functioned as a stopping-place for the imperial court on the road from the capital to the summer residence of Tsarskoye Selo. On 24 June 1780 the new masonry palace was renamed to mark the anniversary of the Russian naval victory over the Turks at Chesme Bay in the Aegean. That same day saw the consecration ceremony of the church that was built nearby to the design of the same architect in 1777-1780. The Chesme Palace and Church were the earliest Neo-Gothic constructions in the environs of St Petersburg.
Church of Saint John the Baptist at Chesme Palace
After Catherine's death in 1796 the Chesme Palace was deserted. The service was forgotten, left in the three sideboards where it had been kept in the Empress's lifetime. In 1799 Emperor Paul I gave orders for the palace to be given over to the Knights of Malta (of the Order of St John of Jerusalem) for use as a hospital to be financed by the order. These plans were not implemented, however, as a special commission found the building entirely unsuited to house a medical institution. In 1812, under Alexander I, the round hall on the ground floor was converted into a church, and it was here that the Emperor's body rested for a time on the way from Taganrog in the south, where he died in 1825, to his burial-place in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg.
Watercolour of the Chesme Palace
Its new home was to be the English Palace, constructed within the English Park at Peterhof in the late 18th century, a time when many palaces and mansions were being constructed in the environs of St Petersburg. Interest in English culture was enormous at that time and in 1799, the noted English gardener James Meader was invited to create landscape parks at Peterhof. The actual palace building, designed by Giacomo Quarenghi for Catherine II, was austere and impressive. Throughout the 19th century it was used for various purposes, including living accommodation for the diplomatic corps. The palace was also a favourite place to hold tea parties. In the 1860s some of its rooms were given to the board of the Peterhof Veterans Home and from 1885 to 1917 the building accommodated the court choir. In 1885, during major restoration work at the palace, an inventory was made of its contents. The greater part of the lists then compiled was an inventory of the Green Frog Service.
The English Palace at Peterhof
A Sentimental Journey - Wedgwood In Russiaruns until March 31st, 2013 at the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.
Source & Copyright: The State Hermitage Museum and Royal Russia