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. Works of such grandeur were mainly executed for presentation, and thus reflected the Emperor's personal preferences in their design and decoration. These vases were often presented directly to the Imperial family on special occasions, such as Christmas and Easter, and were used to adorn the vast palaces, private mansions and exhibition pavilions built during the period. Vases of this grandeur were also commissioned by the Emperor as important presentation gifts to heads of foreign royal families and to foreign diplomats, as recognition for exceptional service.
ALBERT GRAF VON POURTALES
These vases are offered by the descendants of Albert Graf von Pourtalès (1812-1861), a Prussian Diplomat. Albert Graf von Pourtalès began his diplomatic career by serving in London, Naples and Constantinople until 1844. He then served as a counselor at the Ministry in Berlin and helped form escape plans for Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, during the March Revolution of 1848. Following the Revolutions of 1848, Albert Graf von Pourtalès again served as Ambassador to Constantinople from 1850-1851 and as Ambassador to France in 1859. It is possible that Albert Graf von Pourtalès acquired the present vases during his time in diplomatic service.
The vases have remained in the family and, in 1922, can be traced to Hans-Albrecht, Graf von Harrach zu Rohrau und Thannhausen (1873-1963), the grandson of Albert Graf von Pourtalès. After selling the Pourtalès castle in Oberhofen, Switzerland, Hans-Albrecht offered the furnishings at auction in Lucerne on 20 July 1922. The vases were included in the sale, but appear to have been added to the catalogue in pencil after publication and remained unsold. The pair thus stayed in the family and were inherited by the present owner.
THE IMPERIAL PORCELAIN FACTORY, THE HERMITAGE 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 Old Master paintings. Consistent with the European tradition of 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. The names of both the original artist and factory artist were usually added to the vase paintings.
The remarkably detailed and colourful paintings on the present vases are signed by the Imperial Porcelain Factory artists V. Yelashevsky and Aleksandr Nesterov. Both vases were painted in 1840, after canvases by the seventeenth-century Dutch painter, Paulus Moreelse (1571-1638) and the eighteenth-century Spanish court painter, Alonso Miguel de Tovar [Tobar]. Seemingly in dialogue with one another, the choice of paintings on the pair demonstrates great colouristic and compositional sensitivity.
The vase by Yelashevsky is decorated after Tovar’s detailed genre scene, Boy Blowing Soap Bubbles, circa 1700-1710. The painting was acquired by the Hermitage in 1814 from the collection of William Coesvelt, Amsterdam, and remains in the collection to this day (L.L. Kagane, Spanish Painting at the Hermitage, XV-beginning XX centuries, History of the Collection, Seville, 2005, p. 502, no. 207; P.F. Gubchevskii, The State Hermitage, West-European Painting, Album of Reproductions, vol. I, Moscow, 1957, p. 344, no. 235; V.F. Levinson-Lessing, A.E. Krol, Yu.A. Rusakov, The State Hermitage, Department of Western European Art, Catalogue of Paintings, vol. I, Leningrad-Moscow, 1958, p. 225, no. 869.)
Yelashevsky was active in the second third of the 19th century and specialised in historical painting. From 1793 to 1801 he supervised the Imperial Porcelain Factory, the Gatchina Porcelain Factory and the Kazan Faience Factory. As head of the painting workshop of the Imperial Porcelain Factory, he concentrated on important ornamental scenes, such as the painting after Tovar on the present vase (T.V. Kudriavtseva, Russian Imperial Porcelain, St Petersburg, 2003, p. 265).
The painting on the second vase is after Moreelse’s allegorical scene, Portrait of a Young Woman, as Granida, circa 1635. The painting was acquired by Empress Catherine II, forming the foundation of the State Hermitage Museum, and remains in the collection to this day (A. Somov, Imperial Hermitage. Catalogue of the painting gallery. [Imperatorskii Ermitazh. Katalog kartinnoi galerei.], St Petersburg, 1902, vol. II, pp. 302-303, no. 745).
Aleksandr Nesterov was active at the Imperial Porcelain Factory in the second third of the 19th century. He was appointed master painter in 1834 and worked at the factory until 1859. Nesterov was one of the leading figural artists during the reign of Emperor Nicholas I and particularly distinguished himself through his reproductions of pictures on vases. He is attributed as being one of the first factory painters to use the 'dab’ and 'stipple’ technique, seen to great effect on the present vase (T.V. Kudriavtseva, Russian Imperial Porcelain, St Petersburg, 2003, p. 258).
A Pair of Impressive Two-Handled Porcelain Vases by the Imperial Porcelain Factory, painted by Nesterov in 1839 were sold Christie's, London, 29 November 2010, lot 40. Another pair of Palace vases by the Imperial Porcelain Factory, including a Dutch genre scene signed ‘V.Yelashevsky’ and dated 1842, were sold Sotheby’s, London, 6 July 2010, lot 21.