THE IMPERIAL PORCELAIN FACTORY AND OLD MASTER PAINTINGS
During the reign of Nicholas I, many of the vases produced by the Imperial Porcelain Factory were decorated with copies of Nineteenth-century and Old Master paintings. Consistent with the European predilection for using academic paintings as porcelain design sources, the middle section of the vase was treated by factory artists as a canvas on which to showcase their work after important paintings. The paintings were typically scaled-down, faithful copies of original works in the Imperial Hermitage, the Academy of Arts or from collections in the Imperial palaces in the vicinity of St Petersburg.
Imperial Porcelain Factory artists usually added their names to the vase paintings and the present pair is signed by P. Shchetinin. Shchetinin (b. 1806) worked at the Imperial Porcelain Factory in the second third of the nineteenth century and specialised in painting landscapes and figures. He frequently reproduced known canvases on porcelain and also painted plates with military scenes in the late 1820s and 1830s (T.V. Kudriavtseva, Russian Imperial Porcelain, St Petersburg, 2003, p. 261).
The reserves of the present vases have been painted by Shchetinin after pictures in the manner of Jacob Philippe Hackert (1737-1807). Hackert was a German painter, who worked primarily in Italy where he gained a reputation as one of the most distinguished landscape artists of the day. Inspired by the works of Poussin and celebrated by Goethe, Hackert's work in Rome won him the position of court painter to King Ferdinand IV of Naples in 1786. The artist also won commissions from Louis XVI of France and Empress Catherine II. Between 1771 and 1773, Empress Catherine II commissioned twelve large paintings by Hackert to cover the walls of the Chesma Hall at Peterhof. Pavel Petrovich also took interest in Hackert's works and acquired canvases from him when he travelled to Rome in 1782 for three weeks, under the name of Earl Severny. A number of etchings and paintings exhibiting similarly composed views with Italian mountains and pastoral figures by Hackert are held in the collection of the State Hermitage Museum.
While Shchetinin's detailed painting in the manner of Hackert on the present vases commands attention, it is arguably the simulated lapis ground framing the reserves that truly distinguishes the pair.
RARE WORKS BY THE IMPERIAL PORCELAIN FACTORY
The present pair of vases relates to a small number of works created by the Imperial Porcelain Factory, which are painted to imitate hardstones. The factory artist's use of gold and cobalt blue paint to simulate the mineral characteristics of lapis relates them to a pair of similar vases in the collection of the State Hermitage, painted to simulate malachite and of the same form with gilt-laurel borders and female masks on the handles. The vignettes on the Hermitage pair depict soldiers of the Palace Grenadiers Company in rooms of the Winter Palace, one painted with the Throne Room of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna and the other with the Gallery of 1812. Interestingly the pair dates to 1830, three years preceding the present pair (N.B. von Wolf (ed. V.V. Znamenov), Imperatorskii farforovyi zavod, 1744-1904, St Petersburg, 2008, illustrated p. 304). A related pair of campana form vases painted to simulate malachite with scenes of Grenadiers in the Winter Palace was sold Sotheby's, London, 28 November 2006, lot 226. The pair also dates to 1830 and was presented by Emperor Nicholas I to Casimir Louis Victurnien Rochechouart, Duke de Montemart, who served as the French Ambassador to Russia from 1828 to 1830 and 1830 to 1833. A further vase of campana form but with a differing everted lip, dating to 1829 and similarly painted, is held in the collection of Kuskovo Palace, Moscow (N.B. von Wolf (ed. V.V. Znamenov), op. cit., St Petersburg, 2008, illustrated p. 302). Smaller works, such as plates painted to simulate malachite are known (please see Christie's, London, 29 November 2010, lots 255 and 356); but works imitating lapis, such as the present pair of vases, appear to be incredibly rare.
NICHOLAS I AND THE IMPERIAL PORCELAIN FACTORY
Emperor Nicholas I (1796-1855), a great patron of the Russian arts, commissioned and awarded a remarkable number of vases by the Imperial Porcelain Factory during his reign. Under his patronage, the production of the factory reached its apogee and works from this period are the finest examples of palace and presentation vases produced. Impressive pairs of vases were usually specific commissions, and thus reflected the Emperor's personal preferences in their design and decoration. Finely painted vases with detailed and distinctive decoration, such as those painted to simulate malachite and the present lot, were usually specific commissions and reflected the Emperor's personal preferences. These impressive pairs of vases were often important presentation pieces, given to heads of foreign royal families and to foreign diplomats, as recognition for exceptional service.