In Russian

Applies And Decorative Arts at the Gatchina Palace

The Gatchina Palace, a remarkable monument of Russian culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, never failed to impress the visitor with the striking contrast between its severely simple outer appearance and the exquisitely furnished interiors. The palace was built between 1766 and 1781 to a design of Antonio Rinaldi as a hunting castle for Count Grigory Orlov, a favourite of Catherine II. In 1783 the palace passed into the possession of Grand Duke Pavel Petrovich who 13 years later ascended the Russian throne. Since then and until the Revolution the palace was a summer residence of Russian emperors where for a century and a half the art collections of the House of Romanov were building up.

Throughout the nineteenth and early in the twentieth centuries most of the state rooms and private suites of Paul I in the main building were preserved as they were in the eighteenth century. Retaining until 1941 their original decor and furnishings of considerable historical interest were interiors of the Arsenal Block, a side section with state apartments on the first floor, private rooms of Nicholas I and Alexander II on the ground floor, and suites of Alexander III in the mezzanine.

"None other of the palace-museums in the environs of Leningrad had similar sets of interiors preserving genuine eighteenth and nineteenth century furnishings with all household objects," wrote Vladimir Makarov, the first Gatchina museum curator appointed by Anatoly Lunacharsky in June 1918.

Conspicuous among the diverse works of art at the palace was a collection of porcelain initiated with the "Hunting service", a gift of the Empress Catherine II to Count Grigory Orlov. Information available on the creation of the service is quite scarce. It is known that the service was manufactured at the Imperial Porcelain Factory from the model of a Meissen set and was subsequently supplemented by other owners. According to archive records for 1871 the service consisted of over 2000 pieces decorated with different painted hunting scenes. Of particular interest among the numerous surviving items of the set is the centrepiece comprising bay arbours, pedestals, little columns and vases, candelabra, etc. The collection of the Imperial Porcelain Factory pieces at the Gatchina Palace was quite ample. One of the first research workers of the museum T. Terpilovskaya writes that it provided abundant material for studying all the stages in the history of Russian porcelain, from the time of the Empress Elizabeth, when the secret of porcelain paste was discovered by Dmitry Vinogradov, till the beginning of the twentieth century.

On festal days (Christmas, Easter, birthdays) the Imperial Porcelain Factory would present the imperial family with the best of their works: vases, services, etc. The gifts included a set with painted views of the palace and park of Gatchina: a romantic panorama of the palace as seen from the Landing Terrace is depicted on the sugar-basin, and a cup is embellished with a picture of the Priorate Palace designed by the architect Nicolas Lvov late in the eighteenth century and built of the unconventional material, viz. compressed earth.

The Gatchina Palace had a most renowned collection of Oriental art objects. Starting in the eighteenth century, the monarchs and court aristocracy of Europe, Russia included, were collecting works of art from China and Japan. The collection of Chinese articles acquired by Count Grigory Orlov from the heirs of Wilim Briis, an associate of Peter I, contained some fine specimens of porcelain.

The oriental collection at the Gatchina Palace was considerably enlarged in the nineteenth century when three galleries were completed in the Arsenal Block. Harmonizing perfectly with the bunches of thin Gothic columns, fanciful capitals, open-work arches and coloured glass producing an illusion of medieval stained-glass panels, the creations of Oriental craftsmen with their endless diversity of shapes, sizes and shades of colour added a festive touch to the architecture of the galleries. "Entering the gallery, wrote the prominent Russian sinologist Vasily Vasiliev, not only an ignorant person will be startled by the unusual sight, novel forms and new tints. The effect in that case is a certainty. But even one familiar with such collections cannot but marvel at the great number of objects. It is safe to say that the collection has no analogies either in Europe or even in the East".

The collection of Oriental objects of art was replenished mainly with specimens from private possessions. Thus, Alexander II had the Chinese curios presented to him by Vasily Naryshkin brought to the Gatchina Palace. The gift included various lacquered objects: chests, screens, small tables, what-nots, cabinets, tiny commodes and coffers, boxes and caskets of different shapes and sizes, as well as ivories executed in relief and aperture (open-work) techniques. The technique of aperture carving originated in the East, Chinese carvers attaining in that art unsurpassed craftsmanship. As regards the excellence of work and the elegance of pattern their creations can be compared to the finest lace.

Chinese and Japanese porcelain of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries accounted for the greater part of the Oriental collection. Eighteenth century eastern china is characterized by a profusion of patterns and ingenuity in selecting forms and subjects of painting, these features permitting it to be easily and organically incorporated in any environment. Particularly valued by the connoisseurs was Chinese porcelain painted in gold over a blue ground. The hue of the ground is adequately defined by the French terms "bleu poudre" ("blue powder"), "bleu souffle" ("blue souffle") and "bleu lapis-lazuli" ("blue lapis lazuli").

The personal tastes of the palace's second owner, Paul I and his wife Maria Fiodorovna, influenced the appearance of newly created interiors. Commissioned by Paul I the architect Vincenzo Brenna remodelled Antonio Rinaldi's exquisitely cosy interiors into a sumptuously resplendent imperial residence. Added to the decor of the Gatchina Palace at that time were a great many marbles (sculptures, decorative vases) and bronzes (clocks and candlesticks, including works of such prominent French masters as Pierre Gouthiere whose creations were remarkable for exquisite design and faultless workmanship). Conspicuous in the setting of French bronzework was a small ormolu table of Russian make with the top of Urals jasper. The mineral received the name "landscape stone" because fragments of it ingeniously combined by pattern and tint produce fantastic landscapes.

Many works of art were brought to the Gatchina Palace as a result of the trip of Grand Duke Paul and his wife to Europe. Among them were Gobelins tapestries of "The Cardinal Points" series and the "Don Quixote" tapestry presented to Grand Duke Paul by Louis XVI. Created in Paris in the second half of the eighteenth century, these magnificent works of hand-weaving art have retained to this day their original brilliance of colour.

While in France the Grand Duke and his wife visited the Sevres porcelain factory where they were given presents and made purchases of china. The factory was famous for its figurines in biscuit, i. e. unglazed porcelain. The articles made at Sevres from models by the eminent sculptors Etienne-Maurice Falconet, Jean-Baptiste Pegalle and others were renowned for the noble elegance, consummate form, delicate shades of colour and satin-like surface. The colour scheme of Sevres porcelain, with its combination of the celebrated royal blue (bleu de Roi) of a heavy but transparent tone, turquoise green (bleu du del) and gold, creates a distinctive decorative effect.

The Gatchina collection comprised specimens from all leading European porcelain-making centres, including the Royal Factory at Meissen, the first to be founded in Europe (first decade of the 18th century). The numerous pieces from Meissen represent the important stages in the history of the factory: the painting period, initiated by the subtle colourist Johann-Georg Herold ("strewn flowers", the characteristic pattern of the period, were imitated at other factories), and the sculptural period, associated with the prodigiously gifted sculptor Johann-Joahim Kendler who revealed the plastic qualities of porcelain (the Gatchina collection includes a number of sculptural groups executed from models by Johann-Joahim Kendler). In addition, there are typical Meissen household wares shaped as birds and fruits.

An important part of the art collections of the Gatchina Palace was furniture. "The furniture was noted for the elegance of form and the delicacy of inlaid work", wrote Vladimir Makarov.

The state rooms and private apartments were embellished with numerous card-tables, bureaux and other pieces of furniture from the workshops of such distinguished cabinet-makers as David Roentgen and Heinrich Gambs. Noteworthy among the furniture of Russian make is the bureau produced by the serf cabinet-maker Matvey Veretennikov, a perfect example of superb marquetry technique and refined taste in selecting valuable kinds of wood.

On display in the Tower Chamber of Alexander III were unique French embroideries (late 17th early 18th centuries) that added a gay touch of colour to the decorative scheme of the room. To our day they have retained the strikingly rich intensity of tone. The intricate embroidery patterns cleverly integrate versatile scenes in the spirit of Louis XIV into the vegetable ornament.

The destiny of the Gatchina collections is intimately linked with that of the country's art treasures. In the 1920s many of the best works were transferred to the State Fund (thus, the "Hunting service" alone was diminished by over 1000 pieces). During the War of 19411945 thousands of exhibits of supreme artistic value were lost, including 3000 specimens of Oriental provenance. Thanks to the selfless endeavour of the museum's staff over 15000 works of art were saved in those grim years. For an undeservedly long time the Gatchina Palace could not accommodate anew the rescued masterpieces. It was only in 1985 that the museum was reopened to the public. Among the major tasks of the museum staff at present is reconstitution of the unique collections, their replenishment and restoration to the original places.

R. Samsonova

Applies And Decorative Arts:

Soup tureen of the "Hunting service". Imperial Porcelain Factory. Second half of 18th century.
Detail of the "Hunting service" ornamentation. Imperial Porcelain Factory, Second half of 18th century.
Cup with a view of the Priorate Palace at Gatchina. Imperial Porcelain Factory. Mid-19th century.
Lacquered casket. China. 18th century.
Vase. Porcelain. China. 18th century.
Candlestick. Bronze, marble. France. 18th century.
Tripod table. Gilded bronze. Russia. 18th century.
Gobelins tapestry "Africa" of "The Cardinal Points" series. France. 18th century.
Gobelins tapestry "Asia" of "The Cardinal Points" series.France. 18th century.
Bust of Paul I. Biscuit Sevres. 18th century.
Tea-pot. Porcelain. Meissen. 18th century.
Butter-dish. Porcelain. Meissen. 18th century.
Marquetry bureau. Russia. 18th century.
Decorative panel (a detail). Embroidery. France. Late 17th early 18th centuries.
© R. Samsonova
Historical magazine Catchina Over the Centuries
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