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The Vinogradov Period (1744-1762)

Vecessaire, 1752, D.Y. VinogradovOn February 1, 1744, while on diplomatic business in Stockholm, Empress Elizabeth's chamberlain, Baron Nikolai Korf, signed a contract with a certain Christoph Hunger in which the latter undertook "to establish in St. Petersburg a manufactory for the production of pure porcelain such as made in Saxony". As soon as the newly engaged foreigner arrived in Russia, Empress Elizabeth ordered the head of her Imperial Cabinet, Baron Ivan Cherkasov, to organize and oversee the future porcelain production. He was aware that attempts to manufacture china had been made in the earthenware factory of the court supplier, Afanasiy Grebenshchikov, and that the brothers Andrei and Alexei Kursin were experimenting at Tsarskoe Selo, using information purchased from the master of the Peking factory during the visit of a trading caravan under Gerasim Lebratovski. The latter had been obsessed with the idea of uncovering the "Chinese" secret. The baron was in no way prepared to forgo this lucrative business, especially as the empress herself had manifested a personal interest.

In St. Petersburg, porcelain master Hunger was given strong moral and material support as well as a free hand. Soon, however, he aroused suspicion because of his frequently unfounded claims, his arrogance and his truculent character. The administrator of the state-owned Nevski brickworks, where the porcelain factory was to be established, Osip Tresin (Giuseppe Trezzini, nephew and son-in-law of the first St. Petersburg architect, Domenico Trezzini), wrote to Baron Tcherkasov: "His (Hunger's) talk sounds quite promising, but whether fruit will come from him in future God only knows, and as can be heard from some people he has been in Hispania, in Venice, in Vienna and then in Sweden, but was never fruitful, and whether that is true or not the future will tell."

It turned out that Hunger knew too little to be able to initiate production. The "fruit" of his activities in the factory before his suspension in 1748 amounted to "only half a dozen cups and these had neither the color nor the shape of porzelin: they were black and crooked".

Baron Cherkasov was now obliged to look abroad for another expert in porcelain making or to entrust the "work of porzelin" to Dmitri Vinogradov, who, in 1744, had been assigned to the factory at the personal ukase of the empress to work as Hunger's apprentice.

Dmitri Vinogradov was the son of a priest in Susdal. Like his older brother, Dmitri had been sent by his father to the Slav-Greek-Latin Academy, the oldest theological school in Russia, which stood in the grounds of the St. Saviour monastery. He had what was considered at the time extensive knowledge in history, geography, philosophy, politics, mathematics, rhetoric, logic and Latin. Exceptional natural gifts, youthful vitality and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge enabled Vinogradov to complete three classes in one year. At the directive of the Senate, the twelve best scholars were sent for further schooling to the capital. After another three years the Secret Cabinet of Ministers endorsed the candidature of three graduates from the Academy of Sciences for further training abroad. Chosen again were Dmitri Vinogradov, Mikhail Lomonosov and Gustav U. Reiser, the son of a mining councilor.

They studied at the respected University of Marburg under Professor Christian Wolf. Their subjects were "chemical science, mining, natural history, physics, geometry, mechanics, hydraulics and hydrotechnics". After that they looked for lodgings in the mining centre of Freiberg and continued their training under the professor of mining physics Johann Henkel. After a training period abroad of more than five years, Henkel praised his pupil Vinogradov. But the highest praise Vinogradov received came on his return to St. Petersburg after being examined by the president of the college of mining, Vikentiy Reiser, who reported: "... among all the foreign mining engineers hired from abroad for wages and food, I know not one who surpasses Vinogradov in all aspects of the science of mining and many are not even equal to him."

Already under Christoph Hunger the young mining engineer had undertaken independent analyses of raw materials and sought the composition of the porcelain paste. Baron Cherkasov, knowing this and considering Vinogradov's knowledge promising, now entrusted him with the manufacture of porcelain.

In contrast to his predecessors, Vinogradov started from the scientific premise that "the work of porzelin has chemistry as its base and its most important pathfinder". He submitted all his tests to thorough evaluation, entering the formulae for his recipe into a special record book in strict chronological order. At the behest of the careful minister of state, however, he encoded his entries. Vinogradov was not permitted to disclose the exact purpose of his experiments even to his closest assistant, Nikita Voilov, who had been working in the factory since 1745.

Between 1746 and 1748 all experiments were aimed at achieving pieces, which, after firing, would not be rough but would be reasonably white, thin shelled and lustrous. At the same time Vinogradov set out to prepare porcelain paint for decoration. In February 1750 he entered into his record book: "Onto glazed cup of paste Nr. 2 enamelled the colors cherry, green and blue in the kiln, also added gold. They came out quite well, especially the green one is lovely." Barely half a year later, on the empress's birthday, Baron Cherkasov was able to present her with magnificent porcelain snuffboxes, which had been made in her own porcelain factory.

These snuff boxes were so enchanting that the entire court wished to acquired them for their use, often decorated with personal initials. They were especially popular since snuff had become the fashion at the court of Empress Elizabeth. Particularly coveted were rectangular boxes in the shape of a sealed, addressed letter, which had been approved personally by the empress. "The recently begun porzelin workings have, by God's grace, reached such a degree of reliability", wrote Baron Cherkasov in a cabinet ukase of 1752, "that there is without doubt every hope that we shall see it in all its perfection in the not too distant future".

The better the porcelain became, the more the orders flowed in. The ceaseless hard work, the difficult working conditions, the Baron's incessant criticisms and the lack of any sense of personal freedom increasingly so oppressed Vinogradov that he could no longer bear it and he turned to drink. Cherkasov devised various forms of punishment, which further degraded the mining engineer. After one renewed denunciation the noble minister issued a personal order to the factory: "Should he, Vinogradov, not demonstrate sufficient vigilance out of his own sense of duty, he must be held under guard near the kiln for the entire time of firing, even if it entails his sleeping there." Even this remained without effect. Later Vinogradov was put in chains and was thus forced to finish his "Detailed description of pure porcelain and how the same is made at St. Petersburg" which he had already begun at the orders of the baron in 1752. This was the result of 13 years of unceasing work for the good of his country. The scholar's monograph as preserved is incomplete but many of the principles contained in it are still valid for porcelain production today.

In the preface to his work the scholar lists three main motives which prompted him to embark "on such an important, or rather bold, undertaking". The first reason was because of "his employment", the second: "So that I and those who come after me may find out exactly from this description in which way the works in the porzelin trade were executed ... and need not search again by the sweat of their brow for something that has already been sought and found under great difficulty and been established by reliable tests". The third reason was "mainly that crooks and confidence tricksters will not be able to cheat us as easily in future".

In order to secure the future for the porcelain factory, Vinogradov looked for capable people and saw to their training. From 1746 onwards the white ware turner Filipp Fyodorov and the modeller Pyotr Leontyev worked in the factory. They had been sent by Afanasiy Grebenshchikov. The mining engineer immediately attached the young worker Miron Ushakov to them for training. Ushakov, together with other serfs, had been taken over from the brickworks. The "stucco masters" Yakov Ilyin and Vasili Vereshchagin were employed as modellers. A three-year contract was signed with the French sculptor Jean Baptiste Vistarini, who had to produce the sketched designs and the models. For joining and turning work Pyotr Sakharov was employed. The factory's first porcelain painters in 1749 came from Moscow -Ivan Tchornyi with his sons, serfs of Count Pyotr Sheremetyev. After the death of Ivan Tchornyi his second son Alexander took over his post, working together with Andrei. In order "to learn to paint with enamel colors" the Academy of Arts in 1753 delegated Pimen Tupizyn, Fyodor Alexeyev and Lev Terski. In addition to adults, Vinogradov insisted that youngsters should also be employed in the factory. They were taught to read and write and at the same time were trained in porcelain manufacture.

The employees' lot was not an enviable one: hard working conditions went hand in hand with corporal punishment for the least transgression. Dmitri Vinogradov, who himself, in effect, was only a serf, tried more than once to protect the workers from the supervisors' whims and insisted tenaciously on an increase of wages and food rations.

His strength, however, was visibly diminishing. The Latin lines entered between formulae and recipes in his record book must be regarded as a cry of despair:

"My spirit is oppressed by the load of work done
Youth was short, early on I became an old man."

Mentally worn out and physically emaciated, Vinogradov was no longer able to bear his burden: he died on August 25, 1758 aged 38. He was probably buried in the Preobashenski cemetery near the factory. Unfortunately neither the grave of the creator of Russian porcelain nor the graveyard are still in existence.

After Vinogradov's death his assistant Nikita Voinov took over responsibility for production in the porcelain factory. Empress Elizabeth was succeeded on the throne by Peter III (1761-1762). During his short reign the factory was placed under the aegis of the Senate and then back again under that of the Cabinet. And "Councillor and Professor Mikhailo Lomonosov", who had been appointed administrator by imperial ukase, was dismissed before he could take up his assignment. The factory continued to work according to the rules and methods introduced by Vinogradov.

Russian porcelain was in no way inferior to that of Saxony, and the paste made of native raw material came close to that of China. Apart from the many snuff boxes, tea, coffee and chocolate cups with saucers were produced, as well as tea and coffee pots, milk jugs, slop bowls, beakers, boxes, sweetmeat dishes, liqueur "glasses", salt cellars, walking stick tops, handles for knives and forks, punch spoons, buttons for caftans and camisoles, pipes, Easter eggs and many other small items since the kilns built by Vinogradov were not suitable for anything larger.

From 1756 onwards, however, when he managed to build a large kiln, plates, dishes, trays, candelabra, wine and glass coolers were produced. This is also the period of the first table service, which belonged to Empress Elizabeth personally and was thus called "Sobstvennyi" ("Own"). The example of this service clearly shows the progress porcelain manufacture made under Vinogradov. The service is of simple elegance. The plates with osier-moulded well have a wavy-shaped border. Each woven band of the osier pattern is accentuated by a small flower petal. Most impressive however are the sculpted flower garlands on the large pieces, each of which is of unique design. Only in Russia was china decorated in this manner. The porcelain colors were purple and gold. The pieces owe their massive thickness not to imperfections of the manufacture, but to Baron Cherkasov's idea that "thicker meant better".

During the early 1750s we also find the first reports about the production of "porcelain dolls" - figures of people and animals. At first they bore little relation to porcelain sculptures: in their clumsiness they were rather reminiscent of the wood and clay toys usual in Russia. The figure from the writing set "Bear" in the factory museum and the blackamoor group in the Hermitage collection are of this kind. With increasing experience the pieces became better sculpted and the decor more perfect. The series of Oriental people in national costume and the Oriental chess figures belong to the 1760s.

In copying the Meissen figures the Russian modellers did not slavishly follow the originals, but brought their own ideas and perceptions into play.

Progress can also be clearly seen in the evolution of porcelain painting from the initially simple monochrome drawings to refined miniatures. It is remarkable in this context that the colors and gilding, which at first covered entire surfaces in order to hide deficiencies in the material were later, abandoned in order to emphasize the quality of the porcelain itself. In order to gild the individual pieces Baron Cherkasov, along with his commission, sent gold coins from the imperial treasury, which Vinogradov had to turn into gold paint.

The tastes of aristocratic society in porcelain in the middle of the 18th century tended towards the affected and elaborates Rococo - visible in its most extreme form in the pieces produced by Meissen. Although the Vinogradov porcelain was influenced by west European art, it developed in the direction of greater naturalness and simplicity and retained the charm of Russian folk art. A clearly expressed artistic direction was hardly to be expected in this early phase. Only a few pieces of the Vinogradov period have survived and are today of enormous historical value.

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