“Hidden Treasures of the Romanov Dynasty”— Dr. Ekaterina Khmelnitskaya, Curator of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, will speak this Thursday, May 10, 2012 at the Sonoma County Museum
There’s something endlessly fascinating about antique tableware, especially intricately painted porcelain. A zeal for the best, combined with the nearly limitless resources of Imperial Russia, fueled a craze for porcelain in Peter the Great who first saw this luxury item in 1718 when he visited the Dresden Court at Saxony. The formula for the internationally coveted ”white gold” though proved illusive and it took Russian chemists several years to get it right. It was Peter’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna (1709-1762), who ascended to the crown in 1741 and established the most glittering court in Russian history, who founded the Russian Imperial Porcelain Factory in 1744 in the town of Oranienbaum (Lomonosov) and ordered it to produce porcelain wares exclusively for the Romanov family. She promptly began to test the factory’s creative capacity with orders for royal items of porcelain that grew more lavish and refined as time passed. During her rule, porcelain never left her palaces and attracted less attention from its practical use as by its rarity, its aura of inaccessibility and the mystique of its creation. The Imperial Porcelain Factory produced tableware exclusively for the Imperial Romanov family for nearly 200 years, reaching its zenith under the “Golden Age” of Catherine II (the Great) (1762-1796), whose hunger for exquisitely painted porcelain was insatiable. Dr. Ekaterina Khmelnitskaya, Curator of Porcelain at the Hermitage Museum, one of Russia’s foremost authorities on porcelain, will speak on the founding of the Imperial Porcelain Factory and select rare pieces from the exhibition The Tsars’ Cabinet: Two Hundred Years of Russian Decorative Arts Under the Romanovs, currently on view at the Sonoma County Museum through May 27, 2012. Her talk “Hidden Treasures of the Romanov Dynasty” will be presented on Thursday, May 10, 2012, from 6-7:30 p.m. at the musem.
About the speaker: Dr. Ekaterina (Tina) Khmelnitskaya is a curator of the Russian Porcelain and Ceramics collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. She spent the first two months of 2012 as a Fulbright Scholar at the Library of Congress and has continued her Fulbright studies as a Visiting Scholar at Stanford’s Center on Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies.
A 2001 graduate of St. Petersburg State University, she defended her doctoral dissertation in 2007 on the styles of the interiors of the palace of the Romanov Grand Duke Vladimir. Since 2001, she has worked at the State Hermitage Museum, and since 2003 she has been a curator of Russian porcelain. She has received research support for work in Germany from the German Chancellor Fellowship and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and from the Max-Planck-Institut for research in Italy—Florence in 2010 and Rome in 2011.
Dr. Khmelnitskaya is the author of more than 40 scholarly publications, including guidebooks as well as scholarly articles and books on the porcelain collection of the State Hermitage Museum. She participated in organizing over twenty Hermitage exhibitions, including exhibitions in Japan, Germany, and Scotland as well as Russia. She was in charge of two porcelain exhibitions: “Under the Imperial Monogram: Porcelain from the collection of the State Hermitage Museum” (with Irina Bagdasarova) at the Kremlin in Moscow, 2007; and “Heraldry on Russian Porcelain” (with Irina Bagdasarova) at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg in 2008.
Khmelnitskaya’s current research devoted to the Russian sculptors who were affiliated with the work of the Imperial Porcelain Factory and who immigrated after 1917 and continued their work in Europe and elsewhere.
The Tsars’ Cabinet exhibition: Porcelain of Royalty, each piece an artwork: The Sonoma County Museum is marking the bicentennial of Fort Ross with the splendid exhibition, The Tsars’ Cabinet: Two Hundred Years of Russian Decorative Arts Under the Romanovs, on view through May 27, 2012. Most of the porcelain comes from the relatively new private collection of Kathleen Durdin an east coast collector, who gifted a portion of her collection to the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary. The Tzar’s Cabinet is a travelling exhibition organized by the Washington, D.C.-based International Arts & Artists in cooperation with the Muscarelle Museum of Art. The historic Sonoma County Museum is its third stop and only Northern California venue. The show, which takes up the first and second floors of the museum, presents a rich portrait of the Russian Romanovs through the ornate plates they dined on and other luxury objects they either owned or gave as royal gifts. Just two years away from the 400th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty, this comes as a festive pre-celebration of their rich role in Russian history.
The exhibition is laid out chronologically, starting with early examples of gifted porcelain and attempts to produce porcelain in Russia which culminated in the 1756 dessert service created for Elizabeth—Majesty’s Own Service (Sobstvennyi)—a lovely spiraling basket weave design initiated in small pink flowers connected by a molded gold gilt trellis rope on hard paste porcelain.
One of the most interesting sections is devoted to Catherine II (the Great) (1762-1796), who had a great appetite for fine art and luxury items from all over the world and had the political savvy to use them to enhance her fame and claim to the throne. She lavished attention on developing the Russian porcelain industry so that it could supply her with services for personal and state use. The scholarship on the wall and cabinet texts at the Sonoma County Museum paints a fascinating picture of this young, enigmatic and enterprising woman who ruled Russia for 34 years, championing the ideas of the Enlightenments throughout her reign. She had a passion for collecting, which did not stop with porcelain— with the help of sophisticated advisors, Catherine assembled the core of today’s State Hermitage Museum.
Jennifer Bethke, Curator of Art for the Sonoma County Museum commented on Catherine’s shrewd use of porcelain in a walk-through lecture she gave to museum guests in March, “Catherine, of course is known for her love of beautiful objects, but she used porcelain as a palette to honor those loyal to her, to call attention to her accomplishments and to her progressive beliefs. She was especially fond of the neoclassical style and commissioned the “Arabesque Service” with design elements from the newly-discovered cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. She had herself inserted in each piece as a goddess in classical dress on a pedestal with allegorical figures at her sides depicting Crimea and Georgia, calling out her own wisdom and sovereignty and Russia’s strength under her rule. And it was no coincidence that her banquet tables had figurines of exotic Russian peoples—Cossacks and Tartars—these served as talking points about her vast territories.”
One of Catherine’s more famous and endearing services was a commission completed for her by the Sevres Factory in France, and inspired by her love of cameos—the Cameo Service. This service is represented by a cup in the exhbition. The complete service was for 60 and consisted of 700 pieces executed in a stunning turquoise with scrolling gold gilding, delicate garlands of flowers, and decorated with representations of cameos on themes from Greek and Roman history and mythology. Catherine’s cypher EII was put on the center of each plate n the service. The E stands for Ekaterina as Catherine was called in Russia. The service exemplifies the most elaborate techniques in porcelain manufacture and design at the time. In some of the pieces, cameos were inserted into the porcelain and secured by gilt-copper filets. Some of the cameo medallions were applied with a transfer decal process that Sevres did not use again unto the 19th century. The service was made of soft-paste porcelain, the secret of which was known only to the fabricators and painters of Sevres. Why Catherine, certainly the richest woman in Europe at the time, took 13 years to pay for it is a question I hope Dr. Khmelnitskaya will address in her lecture.
(Robert Massie’s new book Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman is highly recommended as a companion read—suspenseful and full of rich period detail. Click here to listen to Massie interviewed by Charlie Rose about his new book.)
The exhibition continues with sections addressing how porcelain embodied Russian nationalism under Alexander I and Nicholas I and shows several regal examples of services drawing upon Russian culture for inspiration. One of the most attractive pieces in this section is a teapot, circa 1833, from the Gothic Service commissioned by Nicholas I, a great champion of porcelain who elaborately gifted his sons and daughter with porcelain services for dowries and weddings and began the practice of commissioning additions of many of the earlier major services he fancied whether Russian or foreign. The teapot’s sides and lid are decorated in red, blue, green and black to resemble a Gothic stained glass window. The handle is designed as a neoclassical woman emerging from a leafy cornucopia and the lid filial has a helmeted female warrior. Both are finished in matte gold gilding. The Gothic Service itself was used often during imperial parties and ceremonial banquets up until the beginning of the 20th century.
Several items, obtained locally from Andrew Romanoff, the grandnephew of the last Tsar Nicholas II, have been added to the exhibition and include a calling-card case and family photographs. Romanoff’s grandmother and parents escaped to England and were offered asylum at Windsor Castle, where Andrew grew up. Now 89 and an artist, he lives in Inverness with his wife, Inez Storer, who has a companion exhibition of her artworks, “Inez Storer: Recent Works,” in the museum’s first floor.
Russian Porcelain at auction: On May 28, 2012, Christies, London, will auction several pieces of Russian porcelain, including two important dinner plates from the Raphael Service from the period of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, estimated to fetch from £12,000 – £18,000 ($19,416-$29,124) each. Several plates in this pattern are currently on display at the Sonoma County Museum. The detail is breathtaking—the centre of each plate is decorated with a classical figure painted en grisaille on a red ground in a hexagonal frame, on white ground, surrounded by a border of classical-style friezes with three red ground roundels, cream ground interjections and six stylized panels, at intervals, within gilt banding, the panels with raised beading, decorated with monochrome mythical figures, gilt rim and foot, marked under base with gilt crowned monogram of Alexander III.
Details: “Hidden Treasures of the Romanov Dynasty” will be presented on Thursday, May 10, 2012, from 6-7:30 p.m. at Santa Rosa’s Glaser Center at 547 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa. Tickets are $8 SCM members and $10 non-members and are available for advance purchase online here and will be available at the door of the Glaser Center beginning at 5:30 pm on May 10, 2012. Note seating is limited and advance purchase is highly recommended.
The Sonoma County Museum’s new Outdoor Sculpture Garden, its latest in a series of planned upgrades, was dedicated last Sunday at festive reception for donors and museum members. The community is invited to embrace the new space by having lunch there on Thursdays through September when entrance to the garden will be free. The new garden is located in a previously empty third of an acre lot at A & 7th Streets in Santa Rosa, next to the Sonoma County Museum (SCM) and features 10 works by 7 North Bay artists– Carroll Barnes, Roger Berry, Edwin Hamilton, Bruce Johnson, Ned Kahn, Pat Lenz and Hugh Livingston.
The project cost roughly $200,000 and the garden was designed by San Rafael architect Fred Warneke. The grounds themselves were landscaped by JLP Landscape Contracting of Santa Rosa with native trees, shrubs and grasses supplementing the magnolia and redwood trees already there and a back iron fence with a trellis gate entry surrounds the area. The artworks are on long-term loan to the museum from the artists with the exception of the sound installation by Hugh Livingston, which was commissioned, and Cazadero sculptor Bruce Johnson’s enormous wood and copper “Sequoia” (2,000), which the museum owns. “Sequoia,” is a split open old growth sequoia tree whose interior was milled out with a chain saw and lined in copper and is meant to be walked through. The 16 foot tall piece required an upgrade in its retrofitting before it could be relocated from its east site on the museum to the new garden locale on the west. (Click here to see a SCM photo album devoted to “Sequoia’s” move.)
Sunday’s celebration was also a fundraiser to support the museum’s Collection Initiative, a long range program developed by Diane Evans, the museum’s executive director and Eric Stanley, its history curator, to manage the museum’s collection which encompasses some 20,000 artworks and historical pieces. Currently, the vast majority of this collection is in storage due to lack of space.
In April, 2011, the museum was awarded a $300, 000 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) five-year Challenge Grant, designated for its Collection Initiative. This was quite an honor as just two of these challenge grants were awarded in all of California for 2010. According to Evans, the grant requires SCM to raise $900,000 over the next five years in matching funds. The grant and matching dollars together will total $1.2 million, which will be designated toward an endowment for the support of staffing to care for and manage the museum’s extensive collections, as well as funds to ensure safe long-term collections storage. The museum must raise $60,000 by July 31, 2011 to meet the grant’s first stage. Evans reported Sunday that the museum had raised about $20,000 so far. All of the funding raised must be allocated to the Collections Initiative and cannot support other museum programs or campaigns.
Meanwhile, the museum’s expansion plans are on track for occupying space in the former AT&T building after its remodel is completed next year. Contemporary artworks will be displayed in that new space and the present locale, the historic old post office building, will then be devoted to the museum’s vast collection of historical objects. Highlights of the SCM’s collection include the Song Wong Bourbeau Collection of some 200 photographs and artifacts which represents the rich history and culture of Santa Rosa’s Chinatown, and the Tom Golden Collection of artworks by Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
Those visiting the new outdoor sculpture garden this month will have the chance to see Hugh Livingston tweaking his 16 channel sound installation which uses sound bites captured from the Russian River. The piece has the most conceptual angle among the ten and also corners the market for humor– it looks and sounds like city water infrastructure on steroids. In fact, many guests at Sunday’s reception didn’t even realize it was art, which is fine with Livingston who likes making a “subtle point”. Livingston explained that it was “too noisy” with all the landscaping and irrigation set-up going on to actually hear what he was doing, so he will be adjusting his 16 gurgling green ports over the coming weeks.
Lunchtime: Every Thursday, from June 30 through September 29, 2011, from 11:30am – 1:30pm, Ultracrepes mobile family-operated food truck will be on site selling gourmet savory and dessert crepes made with natural ingredients for $5 to $7, along with a variety of refreshments. Visitors are encouraged to sit and eat and linger in the garden, taking in the works which have been loaned to the museum on a long-term basis by the artists.
Upcoming activities in the garden:
June 30: Claire Gustavson Art Class
July 7: Jessica Jarvis and partner (Jazz duo/acoustic jazz guitar and singer)
July 14: Katie Godec (singer)
July 21: Claire Gustavson Art Class
Details: Admission is FREE for Lunchtime in the Garden; regular museum admission applies to visit current exhibitions. The Sonoma County Museum is located at 425 7th Street, Santa Rosa, CA 95401. Museum Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 11am-5pm. Information: 707.579 .1500
Directions: Sonoma County Museum is just steps away from Downtown Santa Rosa and Historic Railroad Square. From Highway 101 Heading North, take the 3rd St/Downtown Exit from Hwy 101, turn right at 3rd Street and then left at B Street. Travel 3/4 mile and turn left at 7th Street. The museum is on your right.