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Latest Articles - Luxury

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Russian Gzhel: Magic in Blue

Sunday, 02 August 2009

Russian GzhelGzhel is a district of 27 villages known as Gzhel clump. It is not far from Moscow (about 60 km). Gzhel is known all over the world for its white-burning clay and wonderful white-and-blue pottery. Gzhel clays have always been a source of wealth for local inhabitants. Different types of clay have been mined here from the middle of XVII century. In 1770, by the edict of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich («the Quiet» royal was an expert in tableware) Gzhel volost was attributed to the Pharmaceutic Order to manufacture medical glass.


The quality of Gzhel clays was highly esteemed not only by the Tsar but by Lomonosov who wrote: «There is hardly a land on the earth so clean and non-polluted, called by chemists a virgin land, as the clay for pottery making, as our Gzhel land; I have never seen a clay which would be as white as it is» - these words sound like a romantic ode.

But famous painted «blue» Gzhel pottery known worldwide emerged not at once. First, Gzhel manufactured usual earthenware or majolica, called ‘black', then the masters began making glazed pottery (the glaze conferred transparency and airiness to it).

Light gray clay was found in 1802, since that time Gzhel started to manufacture half-faience pottery.

Approximately at that time the white faience mass was found in the village of Volodino, and in 1804 а first porcelain factory in Gzhel started working. The beginning was unassuming as only two people worked on the factory, the owner himself (Pavel Kulikov who learned the technique of porcelain making from the masters of Otto's plant in the village of Perovo) and one hired worker.

Pavel Kulikov wished to keep «the porcelain know-how» secret, but it was revealed. The tradition says that the pot makers Khrapunov and Gusyatnikov using the methods of industrial spying or, simply breaking and entering, copied the design of the biscuit furnace and ran away with the specimens of clay. As a result, another two porcelain factories were founded in Gzhel.

These factories produced not only porcelain ware but different toys and painted them in various colors - purple, yellow, blue, brown. As the masters were out of folk midst, the motives of painting were the same, and the decorative toys were in folk style and national folk tradition, reflecting themes of folk culture.

Gzhel ceramics always images life, and this is Russian life. Even if it is a classic Indian elephant, is always has a typical Russian color. Among the Gzhel masterpieces there are girls with shoulder-yoke and buckets, domestic and household genre-pieces (for example, typical Russian woman sitting at the table, and a kitten trying to jump upon her knees - an affecting and touching thing). Fairy-tale characters inspiring the masters of Gzhel are almost all Russian: a wolf and a lamb, a vulture, a raven carrying water of life and water of death, Ivan-tsarevich (prince) and many others. The painting is seemingly simple but the masters succeed in making their characters instantly recognizable.

An exclusively blue painting became a trademark of Gzhel only in the early XIX century. But the contemporary masters of Gzhel hold up the old traditions. In the world of unification, automation and cybernation every item of Gzhel is painted manually.

Gzhel style is instantly recognizable; it is never confused with anything else. Ornaments and flowers of deep and light blue, keeping the genius of ancient Russia - this is all Gzhel. The painting is made with cobalt paint diluted in water. When the item is in work it seems to be «plain blue» but after burning various tints appear and the blue color alone reflects the diversity of color palette of the world.

The art of Gzhel is taught from the cradle. Children learn the elements of it in the day nursery, then at school, and afterwards in the Gzhel Art College. Some take courses in Moscow, and a newly-qualified master is ready to start working. So, needless to say that all Gzhel masters are very skilful and gifted painters and artists.


Modern Gzhel is not limited to pottery, decorative figurines and toys. Talented masters produce vases, chimneys, chandeliers - every porcelain piece one can imagine. There is quite a range of various items. Gzhel products are a big run in the world.

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