How teapots were used to spread Russian propaganda

”Everything really changes in the beginning of the 30s when artists themselves come under real pressure because there is no independent artistry any more,” explains Scheijen. ”If you are not part of a union, you can be seen as a parasite and be sent to a camp… If you would not completely conform, then you had a big problem.” Art had lost its verve. “You see how a great artistic culture dies because of the pressure,” says Scheijen. ”When you go to the depositories of museums for the late 30s, it’s really depressing.”

Forced famine, mass incarceration and summary executions had left the utopian vision of 1917 in tatters. Socialism had failed and revolutionary art had done nothing to better the lives of the poor. For Boelens, the survival of these highly prized porcelain pieces and the fact that they are now enjoyed by so many is nevertheless testimony to the importance and success of their art. “We appreciate these pieces so much,” she says. ”The positive thing about this exhibition is we gave them, after all these years, a voice.”

“It was a unique phenomenon and so the fact that it happened gives us something to celebrate,” agrees Scheijen. ”Imagine if the Wedgewood factory employed Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky and all the great modernists at the same time and let them do whatever they wanted? That’s an amazing thing, and it only happened there.”

The Hermitage Museum’s book Russian Avant-Garde – Revolution in the Arts is available for international order.

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