In early-18th century Europe, porcelain was “a rare luxury item.” Tsar Peter the Great imported costly porcelain items from Western Europe for his personal use, and dreamed of establishing porcelain production in his own land of Russia–a dream finally realized during the reign of his daughter, Empress Elizabeth. Today, porcelain from the Imperial Porcelain Factory established by this family is the best known, but in the same period, private Russian enterprises were also turning out work of equal beauty and quality. One such is the Popov Factory, the manufacturer of this beautiful bucolic figurine–a piece that is a far cry from royal plate, but to some of us, far more moving.
The Popov Factory was founded in 1804 in Gorbunovo, a village in the Moscow Province, and came into the hands of a Moscow merchant named Alexei Popov in 1811. Under Popov, the factory developed its own characteristic features–which can be seen to their best effect in this charming sculpture–a bright color palette, careful treatment of details, and rich polychrome painting. This loving attention to detail is visible in the closeup (above) of the ground alone–the loamy earth dotted with varying yellow and green grass while the moss creeping up the base of the log home is raised and painted a darker green. Even the toenails of the mild-eyed lamb are carefully marked by deft black strokes.
The sculpture’s charm seems completed by the fanciful flowering tree leaning into the house but once the figurine is turned, you’re rewarded with a view of the peasant’s wife leaning inquiringly out of the back door (below). While there is a long tradition of idealized peasant figurines in Russian porcelain, many are stand-alone figures. It is rare to see a figurine of an intimate and active domestic scene such as this. This sculpture was fired between 1860-1870 at the height of the factory’s creative powers. After Popov died, the “technical and artistic standards declined, and in 1875 the factory closed.” According to The State Hermitage of Russian porcelain, the Popov factory works were “created in the best traditions of European porcelain, [and] occupy an honourable place in the history of Russian ceramics.” For further inquiries on this figurine, please contact RDM Fine Art.