Soviet Propaganda Porcelain: Inside the Imperial Porcelain Factory
While we were in St. Petersburg, we went on a private tour of the Imperial Porcelain Factory, and got to see some Soviet propaganda porcelain for the first time. I didn’t know such a thing even existed – I always thought propaganda was largely “limited” to media. That is, posters, movies, radio and TV. But really, nothing says “this moment brought to you by…” quite like polishing off a bowl of soup to find Lenin’s face staring back up at you.
It was a surprisingly interesting visit overall – every piece is individually hand-painted, so the “factory” is really more of an outsized artists’ studio. It was established in 1744, and has survived through from Tsarist to Soviet ownership, and most recently, was purchased by a Russian oligarch as a gift to his wife – it’s now one of the few remaining porcelain factories in Europe that still dates back to the earliest days of porcelain manufacturing. It’s a long history, and Wikipedia can tell you far more about it.
Most of the pieces were used for state purposes – at official functions, or abroad at international exhibits – but much of it was designed to be displayed in people’s homes. Really, not all that different from commemorative plates of the royal family, yes? (And possibly a little less tacky.) An article in the Chicago-Tribune, about a 1992 exhibit of propaganda porcelain at the Art Institute of Chicago explains: “The porcelains that stayed in the big cities of Russia probably were not used for eating or drinking but were displayed in the home like commemorative posters. However, after a restructuring of ceramics production in 1927 there was an increase in the number of cheaper standardized items intended for rural markets. A number of new subjects-electrification, industrialization, collectivization-entered the list of themes treated on porcelains in the early 1930s, when pre-Revolutionary designs and subjects that alluded to Western culture were phased out.” And you can read a bit more about it here. And, you can always stock up on eBay.
For the rest of you, don’t worry, I took pictures. (We weren’t really supposed to have our cameras out in this part of the tour, so a lot of these photos were taken on my phone. That, plus the red background on the display cases… calling Soviet designers…)