Francis Gardner, an English timber merchant, settled in Russia in 1746 and, after twenty years in the timber trade, founded, on March 7, 1766, Russia’s first privately owned porcelain factory near the village of Verbilki, the Dmitrov uezd, Moscow gubernia.
One other initiator of porcelain production in Russia, a marvel for the period, was Afanassy Grebenschikov, himself a porcelain factory owner from Moscow and a connoisseur in porcelain know-how, who helped Gardner choose a vantage site on which to build a factory: indeed, the timber wealths of the Verbilki area provided, for the long years ahead, the fuel in commercial quantities, while a variety of clays near Dmitrov, and of potteries, a traditional handicraft, in the town itself supplied raw materials and skilled master-potters.
When the factory began production, its earlier items were patterned after the Meissen porcelain, common in Russia in the eighteenth century and bore crossed swords, the Meissen trademark. However, the Verbilki masters often broke faith with the foreign styles in porcelain and tinted this manufacture with specifically Russian taste and artistic tradition, thus giving it a peculiarly national colour.
The fulfillment by the factory in 1780—1785 of the orders of the tsar’s court for large dinner-sets, signified the full mastery of the techniques of porcelain production, which brought it fame and recognition among the collectors and lovers of porcelain pottery. So much so, that the trademark “G”, the initial letter of the name “Gardner”, boldly made an appearance on the porcelain pieces produced in the village of Verbilki.
In the early nineteenth century, the Gardner factory was shifted to the production of sculptures in the national Russian style, for which it gained a wide renown and which continued into the late nineteenth century. Artistically superb, the nineteenth-century Verbilki porcelain counts among the pick of decorative applied arts. The take-over of the factory in 1892 by Matvei Kuznetsov, a monopoly porcelain manufacturer in Russia, was another milestone since Kuznetsov, although he continued with Gardner’s trademark, was keen on mass-producing cheap porcelain to conquer the home and foreign porcelain markets and compete successfully with his tenacious rivals. Under Kuznetsov the Verbilki produce gained in the technical standard but lost its artistic qualities, with decor confined, in the main, to mechanic painting techniques. When, after the 1917 October Revolution, the factory was nationalized, and given the name of the Dmitrov Porcelain Plant, it kept for a while in the mainstream of the pre-revolutionary forms and its decor was constricted to floral motifs. In 1938 an art laboratory was organized at the plant to enhance the artistic worth of the produce, and sculpture production was launched, in which the contribution of Sergei Orlov was fairly significant. It continued undisturbed until the Great Patriotic War when the production of art pieces came to halt.
In the post-war years, with production wholly mechanized and updated, the Dmitrov Plant developed into an advanced industrial enterprise, and in 1966, the year of its 200th anniversary, the plant reached a rate of 30,000,000 pieces of porcelain per annum. An emphasis was placed on a higher quality of the produce: the art laboratory enrolled skilled painters and sculptors with a long standing in the field. As a result, the output grew apace, and now all new samples are considered and approved by the Artistic Council.
Tea- and coffee-sets make the plant’s speciality, along with a variety of fresh forms, well-suited to our age. New decor of porcelain pottery is executed by Soviet artists in the best Russian national traditions.
The Dmitrov porcelain is displayed at many home and foreign exhibitions where it is invariably highly appreciated and the artists conferred prizes and diplomas.
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