its titanic struggle the thunderous revolution should have
broken ... it seems . . . such a fragile and, what is more,
foreign value such as porcelain . . . But it didn't happen"
wrote the Commissar for Public Education, Anatoli Lunatsharski,
some years after the October Revolution. It fell to him, along
with the first "red" director, Pyotr Friken, and
the artistic director, Sergei Chekhonin, to play a decisive
role in the fate of the by now state-owned Porcelain Factory.
After the February Revolution, the Porcelain Factory, which
in earlier days had been subsidized by the Cabinet of His
Imperial Majesty, was placed under the ministry for trade
and industry, which however showed not the slightest interest
in it. The plea by the employees for help in the promotion
of the production of decorative porcelain, which was facing
ruin, was left unanswered. As a result of the constant mobilization
of workers and also due to lack of raw materials, even the
production of technical porcelain practically ceased.
In March 1918, Narkompos (People's Commissariat for Public
Education) took over the State Porcelain Factory and supplied
it with money and fuel. The employees received orders not
only to preserve the best traditions of Russian decorative
porcelain, but to turn the former Imperial Factory into a
"ceramics test laboratory of note for the whole Republic",
where "agitation porcelain in the highest sense of this
word" would be made, "revolutionary in content,
perfect in its form and flawless in technical execution".
A ceramics school was established, retraining courses instituted,
and a subsidiary of the decorating shop took up its work in
the art school that had formerly belonged to Baron Stieglitz.
After a long interruption porcelain was again made from native
raw materials and the ceramic colors were also home produced.
Pyotr Friken was the director of the factory. A graduate of
the polytechnic institute, he had, since 1915, been responsible
for the production of optical glass, in the development of
which the chemist Nikolai Katshalov took part. The latter
became a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of
the USSR. Friken had welcomed the fall of the tsarist regime,
and after 1917 he unreservedly supported the Soviet Government.
At the recommendation of the revolutionary trade union committee
the workers elected him director of the factory. His talents
and his energy kept production up even during the most adverse
The most important and at the same time most difficult task
was how to change the style of decorative porcelain in such
a manner as to be designed for the whole nation.
In the unprecedented upsurge of agitatory mass art of the
first post-revolutionary period there ounded, in the words
of Alexandre Block, the "music of the revolution".
Porcelain became an important instrument in the spread of
revolutionary propaganda and turned into a document "which
has preserved for us the atmosphere of the time in a perfect
The artistic policy of the factory formed part of Lenin's
programme of monumental propaganda, which put art at the service
of the people according to precisely formulated ideological
Plates, dishes and cups were furnished with the same maxims,
aphorisms and sayings that could be seen on posters and wall
paintings on squares and streets. Porcelain broke the confines
of palatial interiors and began to speak with the voice of
the revolution. The motifs for decoration now were provided
by peasants in heavy military boots, encircled by telephone
wires, Baltic sailors, marching purposefully across the land,
confident of victory; red army soldiers beating the tsar's
ermine cloak with the butts of their rifles - all those heroes
whom revolution had called onto the stage of history. One
plaque, decorated with all the newspapers published in Petrograd
is historically truthful and artistically expressive... And
just as on the posters, designed by Vladimir Mayakovski for
the ROSTA-windows (propaganda posters for the Russian Telegraph
Agency) the porcelain paintings, reinforced by agitation prose,
increased the comprehensibility of the new ideas for the mass
of the people, in their conciseness and topicality.
Within a short time the factory executed a series of large
commissions: the porcelain for the agit-train "October
Revolution", 150 plates and bowls with revolutionary
topics for the delegates of the 8th Soviet Congress, a series
of porcelain for the Congress of the Peoples of the East,
china for auction in favor of the starving in the Volga Region
and everyday crockery for public canteens.
In May 1920 Maxim Gorki visited the Porcelain Factory. The
author was enthusiastic about the new Soviet porcelain. In
view of the strong interest in the revolution expressed by
the West, he suggested that the porcelain should be exhibited
at fairs abroad. The collection he selected was shown at the
international fair in Riga. There followed Helsinki, Berlin,
Stockholm and Reval. "Wherever there is talk in Russia
or abroad about successes in the field of applied arts, the
first mentioned is the USSR's GFZ", Lunatsharski wrote
enthusiastically in his congratulatory address to the Factory's
collective on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of its
membership of Narkompos. "At all exhibitions in which
our factory has taken part, its exhibits were always remarkable
and took their place in the very first ranks." On the
orders of the head of state, Lenin, decorative porcelain was
to be from now on "exclusively for export". At the
time, propaganda porcelain became almost the only export of
the Republic's manufactures.
low production, this porcelain was much appreciated by the
wider public, thanks to press notices and items being displayed
in the windows of its shop on the Nevski-Prospect. In the
early 1920s an exhibition of "Russian Porcelain from
Elizabeth to our Days" was opened at the factory. In
the visitor's book, kept for important guests of the factory
- a huge folio tome, leather-bound with gold tooling , which
had already been started in the mid-19th century - Maxim Gorki
and Alexander Benois left their autograph as well as Vladimir
Mayakovski and Sergei Yesenin, Anna Akhmatova and Lydia Seyfullina,
Kazimir Malevich, some well-known actors and other prominent
The creation of post-revolutionary porcelain is mainly connected
with the name of Sergei hekhonin, who was appointed director
of the artistic side of production. He had already been well
known as a book-designer, as a master of miniature enamel
decoration and as the creator of large ceramic wall plaques.
His aesthetics made him a member of the younger generation
of "World of Art". Contemporaries called him "Master
of the Soviet Empire style". He had introduced to porcelain
the subject of the new Soviet political organization of the
state and had based this propagandist project on the idea
of a Russian empire and the rebellious spirit of the aesthetics
of Futurism. With formidable skill he glorified the symbolism
of the Soviet state and also created decorations, which were
delicate, both in their coloring and graphic design. Several
pieces were created after sketches by Chekhonin, which carried
maxims and initials, with polychrome and gilt decorations.
The first of these was the representational bowl "RSFSR"
framed in an artistic wreath of flower garlands.
many interests and his profound knowledge of the culture of
the past had prompted him to engage highly trained porcelain
masters and painters belonging to various trends in art. Vasili
Kuznetsov, Natalia Danko and Rudolf Wilde, Mikhail Adamovich,
Sinaida Kobyletskaya, Maria Lebedeva, Natan Altman and Mstilav
Dobushinski, Vladimir Tallin and Kusma Petrov-Vodkin, Pavel
Kuznetsov and Boris Kustodiev, Alexander Matveyev, Vladimir
Andreyev and others.
In 1918, at the behest of Chekhnonin, the painter Alexandra
Shchekotikhina-Pototskaya joined the factory. She had received
her training as an artist in the Imperial Society for the
Promotion of the Arts and completed it at the Ranson Academy
in Paris. As a pupil of Nikolai Rerich and Ivan Bilibin, Stshekotikhina
had already made a name for herself as a stage designer. The
main theme of her work was Russia. For many years Stshekotikhina
was held to represent a colorful, strong, spontaneous style
of painting. In porcelain she produced a fairy-tale, folklorists,
theatrically sentimental picture of Russia, not unlike the
paintings of Kustodiev. Brought up in a patriarchal orthodox
family, she, in fact, gave a special place in her work to
the deeply tragic picture of a past Russia, rigid in its silent
expectation. In this she borrowed from the sculptural elements
in Old Russian painting.
The busts of Marx and Engels and the figure of the "Red
Army Soldier" by Kuznetsov were followed by a series
of sculptures, small masterpieces of the propagandist porcelain
by the artist Danko. The artist expressed the conflict between
the two ideologies in the form of well thought out, exquisite
chess figures. The characters of revolutionary Petrograd are
expressed by the figure of a woman embroidering a red flag;
in the enthusiasm of a female worker holding a speech; in
the sculptures of "Sailor with Flag", "Militia
woman", "Partisan", "Soothsayer"
and others, while the statuette of her friend Anna Akhmatova
is a symbol of majestic sublimity and gentle femininity.
With the exception of sculptures, almost the entire output
of propaganda porcelain was based on redecorating existing
flat ware. The old marks on china from the imperial "pantries"
were thoroughly over painted in order to place the new, Soviet
marks next to them. The only new developments were some beaker
shapes. In 1923 Chekhonin created the service "Narkompos".
Later on, tea, coffee and table services were made from his
sketches for the embassy in Berlin. Their form was influenced
by f his predilection for the Russian empire style, while
the decorations depicted scenes from Pushkin's "Ruslan
the search for forms, which corresponded to the new era, the
founder of the Suprematist movement, Kazimir Malevich, and
his pupils also turned to porcelain, to express the "principle
of utilitarian perfection". For their decorations they
used geometric compositions with combinations of patches of
color, dynamic in its proportions and lines. Kandinski also
made several sketches for porcelains. The Suprematists' forays
into porcelain decoration tended to be extremely formalistic,
but years later these were to provide valuable ideas for the
Leningrad School of Porcelain.
The spectacular success of the "Russian Seasons"
of Sergei Diaghilev's ballet productions awakened in Europe
a great interest in Russian ballet and in Russian art generally.
Since the Porcelain Factory mainly supplied the European market,
it also turned principally to theatrical subjects and increased
For the World Exhibition in Paris of 1925, the State Porcelain
Factory selected around 300 pieces from the post-revolutionary
years. It was a resounding success: It received the Great
Gold Medal. Gold and silver medals were also awarded to Shche-kotikhina,
Kobyletskaya, Wilde, Suyetin, Chekhonin, Matveyev, Danko,
Ivanov and Kuznetsov. At the request of west European porcelain
collectors, the exhibits were shown twice more at sales exhibitions
the success was repeated at the Milan Industrial Fair.
The 200th anniversary of the Russian Academy of Science was
celebrated in Petersburg. Among the prominent guests were
Prime Minister Kalinin, the People's Commissar Lunatshar ski
and president of the Academy Karpinski. For the occasion Chekhonin
painted a view of the Academy building on a commemorative
At that time it was decided to name the Porcelain Factory
after the first member of the Academy, Mikhail Lomonosov.
He had risen from humble origins and had made his name in
many fields of research. Not only the production of decorative
porcelain was increased, but also that of technical and chemical
porcelain as well as glass. The State Porcelain Factory remained
the sole ceramics works in the country, supplying many branches
of industry within the Soviet Republic with its products.
This was the reason the Factory was no longer under the supervision
of the People's Commissariat for Public Education but was
placed in the "Zentrefarfortrest" (Central Porcelain
The propagandist porcelain has entered the history of Russian
ceramics as a shining and unique example. To this day it is
the subject of interested research, heated debates and great