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Decorative Minimalism. “The Thaw” in Soviet Porcelain

The diverse selection of pieces presented in the Recess of the Eastern Gallery of the Winter Palace tells about the era in the 1950s and ’60s that is customarily referred to as the “Thaw”. The display contains more than 160 works in porcelain – table services, vases and examples of small-scale plastic art – that produce a unique, striking impression of their time, as well as works by present-day artists of the Imperial Porcelain Factory created specially for the exhibition.

The exhibition includes Vladimir Semionov’s vase Crystal (1956) that won a Grand Prix at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels and became a sort of symbol of the “Contemporary Style”, a sign of the times and of the changes in applied art. Its wave-like organic shape was perceived as a complete innovation among the ranks of classic vase shapes, while the choice for this object of the colour black, not characteristic of porcelain, produced an unusual decorative effect.

  The decorative painting of the period is characterized by stylized, conventionalized compositions that seek to convey a “general impression” of what is depicted. Among the main themes that inspired porcelain artists were floral motifs, landscapes and new housing construction. An important feature of “Thaw”-era porcelain became the desire to show the beauty and emphasize the high quality of the material itself, which led to the popularity in the 1960s of unpainted white porcelain that began to be perceived as a finished product.

Depictions of flowers – one of the most traditional motifs in porcelain art – underwent a transformation during the “Thaw” in full accordance with the requirements of the “Contemporary Style”. Artists presented simplified, stylized images of blooms, turning them into a self-sufficient motif and abandoning the types of composition and elaborate floral ornaments that were classic for the decoration of porcelain. One of the most striking examples of the creative rethinking of plant motifs in the spirit of decorative minimalism is Larisa Grigoryeva’s Snowdrop service (1960).

Landscape in the “Contemporary Style” was very popular among the artists of this time. Winter scenes are one of the key themes in the early works of Vladimir Gorodetsky (the vase paintings Winter’s Day and Snow (both 1962)). Larisa Grigoryeva’s porcelain service Winter (1964) presents some fascinatingly beautiful images. The theme of a Leningrad spring is given poetical treatment in the Nina Slavina’s painting of the Spring Shadows service (1959).