Russian Art and Taste
Art and taste in Russia can only be emigrants, say those for whom Russia and Siberia, Muscovite or Cossack are still synonymous; but they will be obliged to change their opinion when they enter the enclosure where the magnificent witnesses of the artistic civilisation of this empire, which is believed to be backward and impenetrable to progress, because it is far from the home of industrial enlightenment, are established.
Let us stop in front of the shop window of Mr. Sasikoff, the Imperial Court's money manager, who has his workshops in St. Petersburg and Moskou. We will not accuse him of having copied or overmoulded France, because he could only find in Russia this beautiful model of a fir tree covered with snow, at the foot of which one of the most important military episodes in Russian history takes place, the death of Demittri Donskoï, giving up his soul, like the knight without fear or reproach, into the hands of his comrades in arms.
The event takes place after the battle of Kulikoff, in 1380, Gregorian style. It is impossible to criticise the composition of the drawing or the execution of this group, which is as rich as it is original and skilfully modelled. The expression of the physiognomies and the finish of the chiselling would be the envy of our greatest masters, who have nevertheless become so skilful in this genre over the last thirty years. Mr. Auron himself would have nothing to criticize about the anatomy of the horse which figures in the middle of this truly imperial piece, itself destined to be placed at the centre of the table of the Tsar, of a boyar or of a rich Russian merchant, such as Mr. Goutchkoff, for example, who is rich to the tune of 150 million. Candles planted in profusion, the top of which is crowned by a basket of flowers and fruits that harmonize better than one would think with the barren but picturesque tree that bears it.
The whole of this beautiful middle piece is a complete emblem of the country that produced it; war, frimats, fertility, fine arts. Three other smaller subjects, truly Russian, which came out of Mr. Sasikoff's sketchbook, are strikingly true to the local context.
They are a Muscovite hunter picking up a hare he has just killed and a bear dancing with his mahout, whom he seems ready to smother with tenderness; Let us not forget the young peasant girl reflecting in a well, the subject of which is taken from a popular ballad of Pouschine, nor the cubs playing in the branches of a birch tree, nor the cups and drinking horns, in the bizantine-Russian style, which seems destined to become the foundation of the artistic church of the North, of which M. Sasikoff, a student of the University of Paris, is the author. Sasikoff, a pupil of the Imperial School, will be counted among the first fathers, if God lends him life; for, distressing to say, dead the founder of an artistic house, dead the house.
The sons do not always inherit the talents of the father, by inheriting his money; we have sad proof of this at the Exposition itself, by the absence of one of the most illustrious houses in Paris, whose taste disappeared with its founder; for taste is a personal property or faculty; an instinct, so to speak, that is individual and very rare. It is necessary to repeat this often to Parisian writers, who take taste for a local plant of which the Rue Vivienne is the nursery. They seem to be unaware of the peregrinations of taste, which, having left many traces of its stay in India, has long inhabited Greece, then Rome, then Bizance, from where it passed with the Moors to the Spaniards, who brought it to Naples; from Naples it reached Florence to come to France with the Italian artists that Francis I had the good idea of attracting to his court.
If taste seems to have become definitively established in France, if a school of aesthetics has been founded there, if Paris has become the metropolis of fine arts and fashion for half a century, to what do we owe it?
These gentlemen do not worry much about it; they answer you: "Taste is in the air, in the light, in the wine, in the climate, in the French spirit. It is a natural plant in the soil, at last! Alas!
They do not know that this plant is endowed with the greatest locomobility, since it is the plant of the feet, and that it would be enough to attract a hundred professors of taste out of France to disorganise its brilliant school by the same means which served to found it.
Let England, Germany or Russia give the creators of taste the ownership of their works while France, in turmoil, abolishes or suffocates it, and you will see artists desert en masse an inhospitable territory that will no longer feed them, to go and shelter their brushes and chisels abroad, under the aegis of the laws that will best protect the ownership of their works.
This does not suffer any objection.
France has so far been the only country that has protected this property while other countries have left it open to the free plundering of counterfeiters.
France should therefore assure the men of taste and genius of the whole world of their home. We can say this in praise of France; for the hospitality shown to the arts is a virtue worthy of universal sympathy; and this is what has happened; you can assure yourself of the truth of this last assertion by reviewing the rich pleiad of factory designers of Paris, Lyons, and Mulhouse; you will find there almost as many Polish, Swiss, German, Italian, and even English names as there are French.
Why did these artists abandon their homeland, if it is not because their homeland did not protect them; for, it is all very well to say that only happy people have a homeland; all the rest are cosmopolitans. Now, France alone still defends the products of genius against the skimmers of art who are called overmoulders, overcasters, overcalcers, overstampers, a race of hornets that swarm in Prussia, Switzerland and Belgium.
For whom would the original artists work in countries given over to counterfeiting? What manufacturer would agree to pay for their work when he can plunder the literary, artistic and scientific masterpieces of France without charge, violating the law of nations and re-establishing the right of bargain for their benefit?
Russia has understood that this theft is fatal to her subjects; Austria understands it, and already rival schools are rising up which are not to be despised; England has taken a small step by selling a two or three year property to the draughtsmen and modellers of the factory, which was enough to give the British School a first impulse which will not be stopped, if the government consents to become a little more generous towards them.
No, no, never!" cry the exclusive flatterers of French taste. Our best artists, attracted by enormous salaries, have lost their talent after two or three years in provincial factories, and have had to come to Paris to refresh themselves.
This may be, and will be, as long as they have not formed a national school, as long as a few pupils are not numerous enough to constitute centres, centres, artistic corporations; but it is no less probable that a time will come when the struggle for free exchange between several schools will begin: But it is no less probable that a time will come when the struggle for free exchange between several schools will begin; no less estimable, but less similar than this French School, which today invades the whole earth and which we have, not the misfortune, but the disappointment of meeting in the salons of the pasha of Egypt as well as those of the king of Sweden, in the palace of Potsdam and in the castle of the Cossack Hetmann, at Abder Rhaman's and at Soulouque's; in Bombay and in Archangel; in Ispahan and in Lahore.
Not even the Khan of Tartary has his salon decorated with a large chandelier by Denière, candelabras by Thomire, armchairs of tartan and a piano by Erard, which the Emperor of Russia has given him as a gift, together with the wooden palace next to which he continues to bivouac, because it is his taste, under a camel's hair tent, in the shadow of the great Chinese wall.
You will agree that these encounters of faces from Paris to Peking, from Japan to Rome, depoticize the Orient, as much as the frock coat.
However graceful Turkish uniformity may be, it ends up being displeasing; admiration is a feeling that only asks to end.
Every country must have its own special taste, its own stamp, like its own flag.
Find it bad if you like, but don't forget that tastes and colours cannot be disputed.
It is enough that everyone finds something to satisfy himself.
The rich will be able to have, before long, different flats, decorated with the masterpieces of each school, when there are croies everywhere; and there will be croies when they want to give the ownership of their works to the artists who give them these pleasures. The statesman who reads these lines and does not understand them cannot be a man of taste; we vow him, for life, to the thirty thousand bronzes of the empire.
john and bolin, jewellers of the court of Saint Petersburg.
What can the barbarians of the North, as they were called in the colleges of the empire, bring us in the way of jewellery? a diadem; it will no doubt be a stove cut into points and gilded with distemper? - But no; for the workman is asking 120,000 francs, and it is very cheap, as they say, for 1,800 diamonds of the finest water and weighing 260 karats, add to this 1,770 roses and 41 opals, the main one of which is unrivalled for its brilliant colours; it is, in terms of art, a harlequin. - This is not all, there is still a river of 67 rubies weighing more than 60 karats, of an irreproachable purity; and what is not always easy to find in this kind of gem, unless one addresses oneself to Messrs. Goudin and Ebelmen, who flatter themselves that they will do better than nature. the day when they will have made a fire as violent as that of the volcanic laboratory of the great chemist whom you all know, at least by name.
The ladies cannot detach themselves from the case of Messrs. John and Bolin, which remains surrounded by larks, like the Ko-i-nor, so that we had great difficulty in counting the facets which magnetize them and which dazzled us ourselves to the point of not being able to distinguish the setting.
We had to be told that there was none and that each stone was mounted on a claw, a Russian process which does not allow for filling and which our jewellers will not bother to use; they will say that the lady who wears this tiara, like the Goddess of the Dew, who sows pearls in her path, will enamel her way with rubies and diamonds.
What our good housewives hear, they will stick to the abundant settings, which make of a pinhead a diamond as big as a hazelnut.
So why do without diamonds when we are about to make them?
Our learned academics are very advanced, for they have already succeeded in changing a large diamond into a small piece of first-rate coke; all that remains is to do the opposite operation. An alchemist among our friends, for there are still alchemists, tried to make a large diamond out of small ones; he filled a very thick platinum tube with diamond powder. After having expelled the air with a forge fire, he closed it hermetically, and then let an electric current of two hundred couples pass through it to give the diamond a hot sweat, in the hope that the dust would weld itself together under the effect of a vigorous and sudden pressure; but the unfortunate battery of Deleuil was too powerful; it melted the platinum envelope and dispersed the diamond powder. This did not discourage him, and he set about collecting enough tungsten to make a tube more refractory than platinum. So much for the dry way; so much for the wet way; if one does not succeed he is sure of the other; he will compress until the carbonic acid gas liquefies in a Tollorier apparatus, in which he will place sodium and potassium, which mixed with this liquid, will seize all the oxygen from the carbonic acid. This will leave him with only liquid carbon, which he will chrystallize in an icebox, after which he will have, he says, a diamond as big as a fist or a geode lined with other crystals, of which he showed us many samples at the Exhibition.
In either case, he will be very satisfied with the success.
It is only the question of time that embarrasses him, he does not want to wait a hundred years; nor does Mr. John, to whom he has offered the free exchange of his tiara for his invention. He does not even want to give his bracelet, braided by a Russian artist, in gold bands, half a centimetre thick and an inch wide, surmounted by a crown of brilliants and two large pearls, one of which is of 13 carats and of such a miraculous orient that it seduced the alchemist's wife. But its value being 8,750 fr. the alchemist fell back on a Sevigne made up only of two pearls of 13 and 15 carats rolling on the finger or under another bracelet made of turquoise and diamonds of exquisite workmanship which the alchemist deeply despises, well assured, he said, that before long he would bring all these prices down to zero. Proficiat!" replied M. Liolin; "for they know Latin in Russia as well as in Paris; which proves that fashions, known as the most absurd novelties, are the ones that propagate the most.
Candelabra of Felix Chopin. - Chopin was a member of the Russian aristocracy and the imperial court. He paid his debt well by composing a candelabra six metres high in the style of Louis XV and planted in a vast basket of flowers. We publish the engraving of this truly imperial piece, remarkable in its whole and its details and so original by the accomplishment of the china vases, with the gilded bronze flowers which embrace them. These vases, serving as Carcel lamps, were introduced into France by M. A. Hubert, inventor of liquid hydrogen, one of the 20 or 30 arbiters of taste and fashion in the industrial arts; M. Chopin has understood this and we congratulate him. 11 has found, by borrowing a model from Clodion, the means of making art out of geometry; it is a real invention, for nothing is less picturesque than a cube or a sphere; but M. Clodion has overcome this obstacle by having Chopin poetise the episode of the first balloon, in his clock in the style of Louis XV, under whose reign this great invention was born.
On a happily modelled cloud, children and winged genies who seem to come out of the actual Thomire house, form very playful groups busy lighting fires under the hot-air balloon which Zephir and Renown, two muscular companions, have already seized; Zephir, who is big enough to be called Boreas, facilitates the ascent with the winged genies. These children of the air jostle around the aerostat on which Renommée leans with one hand, holding her trumpet with the other, announcing to the world this great news, the useful results of which have unfortunately so far deceived the hopes it had raised at its origin. Mr. Petin may well cry out to us for patience! Come and see my three large balloons; we will go, but aerial navigation will not date from the day when balloons will have been abolished and the Archimedean screw driven with speed by an engine which is both very powerful and very light.
If instead of attaching horses and oxen to his balloon, which can only take him where the wind will take him, M. Poitevin were to attach a regiment of geese or wild swans, his experiments would be of greater interest without taking him much further; for the balloon offers too little resistance and too much surface area to the wind to stand up to the lightest zephyr.
The balloon of today can provide motives for emblems, pleasant tales, even subjects for fables, but they will never be useful except to the cashier of the Hippodrome.
It is not imagined, in our prejudiced countries, that the polar empire, to which politics has hitherto only given the famished proportions of a continental ogre, can peacefully make something of its claws; that is why the exhibition of the products of Russian industry in the palace of the London Exhibition has profoundly astonished, not only the representatives of the various exhibiting nations, but also the common traveller, who did not expect this artistic manifestation of the barbarians of the North.
The Cossack offering his assistance to the industrial work of the peoples, here is a phenomenon which exceeds all forecasts, and certainly, the fact is likely to give shade to many people, because it is still a fear which threatens to go away; however, the fear is a mine whose exploitation provides, in our country, dividends such as the special companies are not at all disposed to see it disappear.
Considering above all the elegance of the bronzes produced in Russian workshops, which rival our most skilful craftsmen, one wondered, and this question, which attests to the ignorance of those who asked it, is far more disobliging to them than to the people about whom it was formulated, how Russia could have managed to give herself such a graceful countenance in the midst of the civilisation of the world. There are even those who, putting their prejudices in the place of facts and stubbornly seeing objects only through preconceived systems, deny any merit to Russian products, for the tacit but real reason that they are Russian products.
We confess that the introduction of Russia into the universal concert by the door of industry is a very considerable event, and one which is likely to astonish those who see only the superficial side of things; but for those who look at the substance, and who do not allow their judgment to be influenced by distorted matters, the Russians have the same reasons for being industrial as the Americans, to whose genius they adhere, precisely because they are placed in a diametrically opposed political situation. We have some reason to know that political debates throw individuals out of the industrial sphere, and ruin nations by stopping consumption, which, by its halt, necessarily paralyses productive action; but in Russia there is no discussion of government, and in this the Russians enjoy the same advantages as the Americans, who no longer discuss it.
In the second place, the Russians are as indifferent to palace revolutions as are the Americans to changes in office staff; and, on the Neva as on the Hudson, a popular movement is and remains purely local, not involving social responsibility in any way, and consequently leaving the whole of the rest of the empire in complete repose.
Thus removed from the discussions of state, Russia finds herself, like America, with industry as her centre of activity, and there is no doubt that her navy, her railways, her trade, in a word, would already have taken on a great development, if revolutionary Europe had not, for the last sixty years, kept her on the run.
If Russia had been placed in the geographical conditions of the United States, if, we may say, she had been separated by a maritime barrier from the focus of revolutions, she would probably today cover all the markets of the world with her productions, for she combines the suppleness of Chinese genius with the phlegmatic tenacity of the Anglo-Saxon races.
It is believed and said that the Russian is not fit for art because he is kept in a state of servitude.
In the first place, the Russian is not held in a state of servitude, he holds himself to it, which is quite different.
Secondly, it does not seem to us to be proven that the state of dependence is contrary to art; poverty, on the contrary, which is the fundamental tarnish of all dependence, since the poor man belongs to the first one who wants to provide him with food, poverty usually gives the reason for the most ingenious inventions; and this can be explained marvellously: art is properly nothing more than the perception of the ideal. For the comfortably established man, for the man who moves in luxury and magnificence, for the rich man who belongs to himself and depends on no one, the ideal has left the region of dreams to become a reality, it has been realised; the person who sees it, who feels it, who palpates it, is exempt from imagining it; this man is no longer, can no longer be an artist or an inventor, he is a consumer.
But, by an inverse effect of the same reason, he who lives in extreme discomfort, in excessive dependence, and yet is desirous of improving his lot, of enlarging his destiny, gathers all his strength in his imagination, and, turning his eyes away from the reality which represents nothingness, he launches himself into the fields of the ideal; It is then that he finds the secret of some invention of public utility or pleasure, he brings this secret to his industry and immediately art is produced; we add that the artist is freed, in other words enriched at the same time. From this we must conclude that from the moment it frees man, art is essentially a commodity of servitude. Ancient art lends singular support to this assertion.
Now, there is servitude and servitude: the French artist, whom his predecessors, abusing the right of the first occupant, denigrate, scorn, jealously and prevent from producing himself in broad daylight, whom the Institute, where the committees force to make visits, to make reverences, to make basenesses, in order to finally close to him the doors of the sanctuary, is not, no doubt, attached to the soil, but is he any less a slave?
The American artist who has neither to spare nor to fear the power of his colleagues, who is exempt from the control of the Institute and the committees, who knows only the true sovereign : the public, but who, in order to reach "this majesty, which is all the more remote because it is more scattered, is obliged to speak, to have people speak, to write, to have people write, to post posters, to pay for newspapers and to wait until ten votes have carried his name to a hundred memoirs, until a hundred have inserted it in a thousand, in order to reach, by means of this arduous ascent, the degree of popularity which should set him free, is not, no doubt, attached to the glebe, but is he any less of a slave?
Travellers have rightly remarked that the industrial class is generally formed of foreigners in Russia; is this enough to deny the Russians any aptitude in this direction? From the fact that the greatest painters and the greatest musicians known were Italian or German, does it follow that France knows nothing in painting or music?
We have a great artistic reputation, the Americans have acquired a great industrial and commercial reputation; but on closer inspection one would probably find that most of our artists did not come from France and that the greatest merchants of the United States were not born in America. The artist, the industrialist, the merchant, are purely and simply the agents of the national genius; they are such because the country in which they operate makes them so; they do not make populations in their own image, they take on, on the contrary, the physiognomy of the people they administer; what does their quality of foreigners prove, therefore? Absolutely nothing, except that it is absurd to make a question of it; a man becomes great in a country only on condition that he has served the idea, the feeling or the instinct of that country; in this way it is the genius of the country that must be seen in the art of the man and not the genius of the man in the art of the country. If, therefore, there are artists and industrialists in Russia, it is because the nation has the instinct for art and the feeling for industry; this instinct and this feeling are truly national, and this consideration makes the nationality of the agent completely illusory.
There are today two industries in great progress in the Russian Empire, two elementary industries whose development must make all the arts flourish in this country; these two industries are: agriculture and mineralogy. The Russian peasant, attached to the soil by the power of a traditional affection, considers himself its owner, totally forgetting, or rather never having learned, that the royalty paid by him to the lord is the negation of his claims; he pays this royalty as he would pay taxes in another country; He accepts, indeed, another lord when the first has alienated the domain, but as he is never torn from the field he cultivates, he does not imagine that this field can belong to anyone else but himself; and this field is indeed his property since he believes it to be so; the best proof we can provide of this mastery of the Russian peasant is this: The best proof we can provide of this mastery of the Russian peasant is this: When it happens that an obsequious lord finds it necessary to sell his estate, that is to say (from the peasants' point of view) to put another lord in his place, the serfs, fearing that the new lord is not worth the old one, buy the latter back by means of a contribution amounting to the sum that was to pay for the transmission of the right of ownership. Richer than the lord they bought, were not the Russian serfs really his masters? But, apart from this singularity which proves that human freedom depends on the way of seeing and does not merit serious discussion, there remains the affection of the Russian peasant for the soil he cultivates, and by this we intend to explain the superiority of the agricultural industry in Russia; he who cultivates well cultivates with taste, and the man who cultivates with the most taste is the one who cultivates his own field: now, the most unquestionable property is that which one believes one has.
As for mineralogy, we doubt if in any country this science has been more deeply studied than in Russia; the first intelligences of the empire have been directed towards this object, which constitutes one of the principal sources of the country's wealth, and which contains in its germ all the industries to which civilised nations owe their illustration.
The Americans, both of the South and of the North, annually see delegates of the Russian Government around their mining excavations, studying the geological circumstances of the various ores, and becoming acquainted with the various practices of exploitation; and it is by means of these special studies that the Russians are now making such fruitful and valuable excavations on the Urals and in the bowels of Siberia.
Well, we believe that a country which joins to the richness of its food resources the luxury of metals, must be a terrible destroyer in time of war, and an outstanding producer in time of peace. But war is, no doubt, at an end, if we judge by this general congress of the peaceful products of human genius; and this is what makes us say that Russia is only waiting for peace to give to the urban arts the development that her agricultural and mineralogical industries have already acquired. Like all governments, the Russian government, hostile to the barbarous and ruinous agitations of jealous, envious and despoiling idleness, is in favour of the legitimate and regular increase of private well-being and of general prosperity by means of art, industry and commerce. But, there is more, before dealing in detail with the Russian Exhibition (which we shall do in the next issue, by supporting our examination of the magnificent drawings which are, at the moment, entrusted to our best engravers), we believe that we must complete the preceding considerations by giving some information on the manufacturing production of Russia; this information is drawn from authentic sources and testifies to the progress of the industrial arts in this immense empire.
Russia possesses a million spinning spindles; more than 400 factories for weaving and printing cotton fabrics. - There are more than 20 million heads of merino wool in the south of Russia.
It exports 25 million francs' worth of woollens; it employs over 600,000 kilograms of silk per year in its factories, of which 400,000 kilograms are imported from the Caucasus and southern Russia.
Its production of metals is 140 million kilograms of iron; 30,000 kilograms of Siberian gold; 16,500 kilograms of silver.
The exploitation of platinum, which used to be on a large scale, has almost ceased since the abolition of the rouble-platinum currency.
Russia's exports, in general, reach the annual figure of 450,000,000 fr. for Europe, and 50 millions for Asia. - The export of its grain often exceeds 80 million francs per year.
Its imports, in general, are a little more considerable.
- It also exports manufactured goods to the value of nearly 40,000,000 fr.
Finally, what may give a more accurate idea of the incessant growth of its manufactures is that, in addition to the enormous quantity of dyeing materials used in the country, it imports more than 28,000,000 fr. - For example, it imports 1 million 250,000 kilogr. of madder from Europe, and 330,000 from Asia. - It exploits at least twice as much in the Caucasus, i.e. nearly 2,500,000 kilogr. - It exports to China one million metres of cloth.
Mr. Goutchkoff, one of the Russian exhibitors, employs 3,500 workers in his worsted and printed wool factories in Moscow - they produce 4,800,000 metres of goods annually.
Mr. Moltchanoff, in his two cotton factories, employs 2,000 workers. The village of Schercmedioff alone, in the government of Wladimir, which is called the Manchester of Russia, has more than 40,000 factory workers. Its production, in goods, amounts to 160,000,000 francs.
The brocades which are admired at the Exhibition, occupy, in the government of Moscow alone, twenty-eight factories producing a value of fifteen millions of francs, and the manufacture of silk accounts for thirty-two millions of francs.
If our readers remember, the capital piece of Russian goldsmithing has already been the subject of an examination in this publication. Jobard spoke, on 26 July last, of this remarkable postaff, representing a fir tree sprinkled with snow, at the foot of which is dying, supported by two men-at-arms and mourned, it may be said, as much by his battle horse as by his faithful squire, a native hero of the 14th century, Dmitri-Donskhoi ; This splendid piece of solid silver, weighing two hundred and thirty pounds and containing 91 per cent pure metal, is of an execution to which only the schools can reproach the style, since it reveals an original and perfectly Russian manner; this, in our opinion, is its main merit; for, from the fact that the author has freed himself from all imitation, it must be inferred that a Russian school has already been formed.
We return to this subject only to have the opportunity of betting on the sudden progress made in the Russian Empire by goldsmithing and the arts it sets in motion. Mr. Ignatius Sazicoff, the author of the postaff in question, has taken an enormous step forward in the establishment of his father, who had spent his life rounding rays and halos around the heads of saints. The luxury of churches is very great in Russia, and until recently it was hardly imagined in that country that the magnificence to which, in the opinion of the ancients, only the blessed were entitled could be turned to the benefit of miserable humans without profanation; In the end, the house recognised that since all men were called, if not chosen, the whole of humanity was in a presumed state of sanctity; hence it resolved to apply to itself during its lifetime the halo which was formerly awarded only after its death; so that the money men do today for the salons what they did formerly only for the chapels. Is this good or bad?
We do not judge; we limit ourselves to stating the fact, in order to explain why contemporary silversmiths, having many more blessed people to adorn than their ancestors, have been forced to enlarge their establishments and to perfect their industry.
Mr. Sazicoff, the father, was able to do his work alone; one can be convinced of this by visiting, either in Moscow or in Petersburg, the churches he illustrated and by considering the tableware that came out of his workshops. Sousoff, to whom Russia owes a commendable work on geology and archaeology, Mr. H. Monighetti, court architect, etc.
For those who have seen and admired the four horses on the Anichcoff bridge in St. Petersburg, the melancholy steed placed behind Prince Demitri under the snowy fir tree bears a well-known drawing; we do not know if this horse is by Baron Clôt, but we can affirm that the person who drew it belongs to the school of the artist whose masterpieces are displayed on the Anichcoff bridge; and we add that this artist, who is as foreign to the Asian genres as to the European styles, was inspired by a boldness so indoctrinating that we do not understand on what data the accusation of eclecticism that some critics have made against him can be founded: It seems to us that Russian artists have studied your various masters only to avoid copying them.
The Russian exhibition has the peculiarity of being divided into two compartments, one of which contains purely imperial objects, i.e. not susceptible of being apprehended by commerce because they represent exorbitant values, and the other of which consists of exchangeable articles, in other words similar to universal products. It is in the first compartment, as one can guess, that the piece of silverware just mentioned is found: there, too, is a series of vases of various shapes and sizes from the same workshops as the tableware, a [Mit in gilded silver decorated with fine chiselling, a cup in the shape of a shell; a conical goblet twisted like a horn ending in a horse's head supported by a bird; Byzantine cups, etc.
A colleague of Mr. Sazicoff, refusing to follow the usurping movement of the century, and remaining devoutly in the goldsmith's art of piety, exhibited two low reliefs in repoussé silver, representing various pious subjects and a descent from the cross.
As for Russian jewellery, which was already mentioned in our penultimate issue, it is represented by Messrs. Kaemmerer and Saefftigen, jewellers to the emperor, who exhibited a ruby necklace, a bouquet of diamonds and turquoises, and a diadem worth 90,000 fr. This "part of Russian industry has for its principal organs Messrs. Jahn and Bolin, whose magnificent diadem, designed for the Crystal Palace, is included in the present issue.
All the objects contained in the imperial compartment are of great magnificence, especially the door and the vases in green jasper or malachite, exhibited by the Demidoff family. It is difficult to estimate the truly extraordinary expense that the composition of such a work must have required.
It is known that malachite, a stone precious enough to have been used to adorn jewels such as brooches and bracelets, is found only in extremely small fragments; it follows that, to obtain blocks ten feet high and five feet wide, that is to say, to execute the door which has been the admiration of visitors to the Exhibition for some days now, fabulous sums of money must have been allocated to this work. This door was made by the same process as the mosaics; it is of a marvellous polish and is enriched with ground gold. The vases are four in number, all of different sizes and shapes; the ground gold has been lavished on them as on the door.
There are also gigantic vases of painted porcelain from Alexandrowski, the Sevres of Russia; sumptuous carpets that can boldly compete with the once unrivalled products of Persia and the Gobelins. The jewellers of Paris were astonished and almost confused by the perfection and delicacy which the Russian artist has achieved in their profession; there is above all a certain black marble box which amazed them; this little jewel, decorated with amethyst bunches and carnelian cherries, is all that can be seen of the most elegant.
All around the door and the malachite vases are scattered without order and with superb prodigality fragments of jasper and gold from the mines of Prince Demidoff; these vain crumbs, thrown here and there by the disdain of opulence, give to the whole picture a character of taunting grandeur which resembles rather the haughty smile which the giant addresses to the pygmies who have taunted him.
All this rich collection, through which trophies of arms stand out, forms a brilliant and royal museum; the objects that one admires are not made for citizens, even less for subjects. One sees, one guesses, one understands, that in no case, nor in any country, can they be delivered to the trade; it belongs to the house of the emperor. The emperor absorbs these manufactured riches, as he applies a bodyguard to himself; it belongs to him, as it belongs to all monarchs, in whom public magnificence is summed up, to have imperial manufactures of porcelain, jasper vases and carpets, without regard to the cost of making them, and with the sole purpose of adorning his palaces.
But how could such establishments be founded, if the emperor did not found them? Who would have founded Sèvres and the Gobelins, if the French monarchy had abandoned the arts to private enterprise? No one would have. And if no one had founded these establishments, it is not precisely the princely porcelains and tapestries that would have been lacking in consumption, since these objects do not reach the market, it is the ordinary porcelains and common tapestries that would have been lacking; it is the improvement of earthenware and terracotta, the improvement of wallpapers, it is, in a word, IMITATION. The second, third and fourth order arts, those modest and secondary arts which adorn, sanitise and comfort the vulgar home, are only a generation of the first order art; It is to imitate superior porcelain that ordinary porcelain was found, it is to imitate ordinary porcelain that earthenware was found; it is also to imitate the tapestries that wallpaper was made; and it is again to imitate the beautiful carpets that the inferior carpets were woven. One would never have thought of cutting crystal, if no one had wanted to pay for the work of the lapidary. Since the popular arts owe their birth only to an aspiration towards a primary or ideal magnificence, it is therefore necessary for public luxury that princely luxury be established as a prior title.
Thus, by a fatal law of human progress, the very vanity of princes has incubated the germ of universal welfare; These establishments, which the monarchies of Europe maintained and still maintain at great expense, to enhance the pomp of their courts, these establishments against which so many fools and so many blind people have cried and cry out, are artists' nests, from which periodically escape the agents thanks to which the family of the worker finds in his modest flat the imitated reproduction of the objects which the banker sumptuously displays in his salon. But there are people who do not want luxury at all; these obviously produce nothing, for if they did, their industry, like all industries, would turn to the profit of luxury, which would put them in contradiction with themselves; but if they produce nothing, they are useless, and, therefore, not wanting luxury, they should begin by suppressing themselves, since, being useless, they are a luxury.
Before Peter the Great, Russia - everyone knows this - was in a state of almost complete barbarism. It is true that enlightenment has advanced rapidly in this country for a hundred and sixty years, and we are forced to admit that if the Russian people have acquired any illustration, it is to the initiation of their emperors that they owe it to you; that they were capable of illustrating themselves, that is not in doubt, since they responded so well to the intelligent call of their teachers; but it seems to us to be proven that they would not have known how to walk on their own.
But it is especially since the reign of Emperor Nicholas that your arts have developed in Russia; if there were no other proof of this fact than the examination we have just made in the privileged compartment of the Russian Exhibition, the truth of our assertion would be demonstrated; but it is, moreover, a common notion in the French artistic world that, in no land of Europe, the artist is welcomed with as much alacrity as in Petersburg; There, therefore, the arts are more powerfully encouraged than anywhere else, and it is therefore there, above all, that their establishments must multiply; and if we add that, for his part, the Emperor is, if not an artist, at least a man who possesses a profound knowledge of art in general and of the practical notions of each art in particular, it will be understood how much this intelligence, provided with the vast means of action conferred on him by the unlimited confidence of the people, can sow ideas and operate things.
The institution to which the superiority of the productions we have just enumerated is due, the one, therefore, that most deserves attention, is the Academy of Fine Arts, placed under the special protection of H. I. the Duke of Leuchtemberg.
The pupils of this academy are recruited from all classes, without distinction; however, the bourgeois and merchants are those who provide it with the most subjects; it is rare for nobles to enter this career, and if one sometimes sees a noble signature on a work of art, one must infer, not that the gentleman has become an artist, but that the artist has been ennobled. Anyone who has studied at the Academy of Fine Arts and won the competition becomes a noble.
The competition takes place every year; all the first prizes are sent abroad, mainly to Italy, at the expense of the government, unless they want to support themselves with their own money, which is sometimes done by those who are in a sufficiently wealthy position; because by living abroad at his own expense, the pupil can stay there for as long as he likes, whereas, in the opposite case, i.e. when he travels at the expense of the government, he is obliged to return when he is called upon by the Emperor. In any case, it is enough that they are students of the Academy of Fine Arts for the government to guarantee them a job.
This academy is the golden goose of Russia; it provides intelligent directors for all the national industries, on which the private establishments are naturally modelled, which occupy fewer foreigners than one might imagine, at least in the directorial heights. The numerous Frenchmen, Englishmen, and Germans, to whom most publicists have attributed the improvement of Russian industries, are not generally in a position to exercise the supremacy which is supposed to be theirs; they are not, in Russia, mere workmen, no doubt, but they are seldom directors as well; they are commonly placed as counter-masters. It is a prejudice to believe that the beautiful works of Russia are due to foreigners: "One of our most skilful jewellers," says M. Arnoux, in one of his letters to the Fatherland, "certified to me that the work on the chain of one of the bracelets exhibited by Messrs. Jahn and Bolin was French. I questioned Mr. Bolin, and I learned from him that it was a Russian workman who had made this bracelet.
Pupils of the Academy of Fine Arts have recently been sent to Rome by the Emperor, to study a new art which has not yet been established in Russia: mosaic art. On the return of these young people, another imperial factory will be founded in Petersburg, that is to say, a new type of public illustration.
Today we have only dealt with the luxurious section of the Russian exhibition; in a later article we will enter the second compartment to examine the exchangeable materials, such as silks, woollen fabrics, etc. But before ending this rapid appreciation of the Imperial Museum, we shall mention a kind of black coat made from the neck skins of a particular species of fox; this fur is of remarkable delicacy; it is so fine and soft, that it would be taken rather for down than for hair. This piece of fur, the property of the Emperor, is valued by H.M. at 3,500 livres (nearly 100,000fr.); but a Mr. Nicolay, a furrier, offers to make a finer one of the same kind for 1,000 livres, and he explains the matter by saying that the fur, so highly prized in Russia and so little used in other countries, is imported to London by the Hudson Company, to be sold to merchants who smuggle it into Russia.
This is a rather conclusive commentary against the protectionist system.
As we leave the splendid sanctuary where the aristocratic magnificence of which we tried to give an idea in our last article sparkles, we feel both the inadequacy of the framework which has been given to us and the poverty of the colours we have used; moreover, the imperfection of the picture will be clearly explained when we have said that Prince Demidoff's contribution alone, consisting of a hundred or so objects amounting together to a value of more than 500,000 fr. and forming a sort of private museum, would already require a whole volume for anyone wishing to give a proper account of it. In connection with this remarkable exhibitor, we must point out an error which crept into our last issue; the famous malachite door which excited the admiration of visitors to such a high degree is 14 and a half feet high and not 10 as was incorrectly stated; as for the series of objects which accompany this monumental piece, a list of them can be found on another page next to the drawing of one of the large vases already mentioned.
The staff of the Russian Fine Arts will no doubt accuse us of many omissions, for the number and value of the artists of this country exceed the time and space we have to devote to them; but as this accusation, which we will share with many others, can in the end only testify to the importance of those who make it, it follows that, flattering for them, it becomes, all in all, rather light for us.
Our omissions will not, however, go so far as to lose sight of Count Tolstoy's delicate work of rare perfection.
A great draughtsman and a first-rate moulder, Count Tolstoy, vice-president of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, applied himself to electroplating and achieved considerable results in this special field. In his part of the Exhibition, we see a beautiful reproduction of the entrance door of the Moscow Cathedral; four colossal portals, 30 feet high, were executed on this model by Count Tolstoy, who also exhibits various bas-reliefs, notably a Virgin and Child Jesus, executed to serve as a pediment to the portal, and a subject from the Odyssey. There is also a beautiful medallion showing Emperor Nicholas in the ancient costume of the Slavic warriors. But the noble artist has not stopped at this genre, in which he nevertheless excels; he shows, moreover, about twenty metal wedges representing military events of 1812, 1813 and 1814, and twelve medals in gutta percha, reproducing warlike scenes from Turkish and Persian history. Mr. Tolstoy has pushed the galvano-plastic art very far, and the establishment of this order, directed by Mr. Duval, in St. Petersburg, under the immediate protection of H.I.H. the Duke of Leuchtemberg, may be partly due to him the secret of its foundation.
But let us pass, without insisting further on the marvellous section of fine arts, into the second compartment of the Russian exhibition, where the principal industrialists of the empire displayed raw materials and manufactured objects of a more affordable value and of a less exceptional use than the capital pieces with which we were first concerned. Following the eccentric confections elaborated under the supreme inspiration either of the emperor or of the opulent nobility annexed to his social constitution, came both the vulgarised art and the natural agents of this vulgarisation.
Let it not be thought, however, that the transition is extremely sensitive; it is still luxury that we are going to see, and the word "vulgarisation" applied to Russian art may well be improper in relation to the meaning commonly given to this expression.
Although they are of a different kind from the articles first observed, those we have before us at present are no less remarkable for their wealth and workmanship. Here, for example, in the carriage department, is a droshki by M. Babounoff which, in spite of its cute exiguity - it is made for one person only - is quoted at 1,500 francs; this vehicle is of great elegance and its relationship with M. Demidoff's furniture is established at first inspection, for everyone guesses that one can only get out of this droshki to go and sit down in the malachite armchair that we have just admired.
See, then, this fine pair of boots by Mr. Miller: the leather used to make them is certainly calfskin, but our kid gloves are neither finer nor softer; this cosy shoe will cost 70 francs without shedding a penny; that is enough to understand that these boots can only perform on the lawns of the stately carpets and in the salons where Count Tolstoy's medallions are attached. There, on the left, surrounded by silky fabrics and goat's hair, is a shawl from Jegoriesvsk, the price of which M. Merlin, the manufacturer, puts at 12,000 francs; obviously this shawl is a cousin of M. Bolin's Sevigne, and these two sumptuous ornaments must one day meet on the same shoulders.
Droshki, boots, and shawl, all of which are of charming taste and perfect finish, fall into the category of aristocratic exceptionalism and cannot, therefore, be called vulgarised art; it is not with these products that Russia can familiarise herself with the peoples of the West; It is not yet bourgeois enough for us, that will come, no doubt, princely art clears the way for popular art; but, for the moment, the rentier of the Marais will not fail to see that if we had remained at the point where the Russians are, he would have been obliged to do without clocks and would still be sitting on rawhide, which would not suit him very well. Let us see what happens on the other side.
Moscow has brought silk and woolen fabrics such as we do not make any finer in our factories in Lyon and Elbeuf; but the high cost of these objects saves us from their competition. However, the fact is of an alarming nature, for if we produce cheaply today, this is due to the progress that manufacturing genius and the improvement of machines have made in our country; however, Russia is moving very fast, as shown by the industrial development that she has made in the last ten years, and the distance that she has to cover to join us in the price of our sheets and silks is already not very long; her competition on this point may therefore not be as far away as we generally imagine. Mr. Taraeff of Shemakha, has exhibited pretty taffeta at less than fifty francs a dress of 11 English yards, that is to say, about 10 metres, and the velvets of Mr. Lokteff, of Moscow, sell for only one franc more than ours per metre, of equal quality. Scarves, like the finest Indian scarves, are priced at 30 francs a dozen. The same observation may be made with regard to ribbons, wholesale plush, and all silk fabrics, both brocaded and plain; the magnificent brocades of Messrs. Sitoff and Kolokolnikoff, of Moscow, retail at 100 francs a metre, and it may be said, without wounding national pride, that the Russians have remained Oriental in this manufacturing speciality; they weave gold and silk in such a way as not to fear competition from the West.
The superior sheets (woolen satin) of M. Tchetvericoff, of Moscow, vary from 15 to 20 francs, but it is generally agreed that they are of great perfection: the raw material is supplied by the flocks of the Count of Nesselrode. Then come those of Messrs. Stumpt, of Warsaw, and Isaieff, of the government of Tshernigoff, which can be compared to Belgian sheets according to connoisseurs, and whose price varies from 8 to 11 francs. For sheets as for silks, the Russians are as close to our qualities as to our prices; moreover, these articles want to be brought to the attention of our own manufacturers, which is why we propose to devote a special article to them.
The same can be said for merino, muslin, cashmere and Indian fabrics. MESSRS. Goutchcoff, Volner and Rochefort, of Moscow, three considerable houses which specialise in diaphanous fabrics of wool and silk and wool, exhibited pieces which our manufacturers must have seen with astonishment; but in this part, the difference in prices is more noticeable than anywhere else; Russian barges are infinitely more expensive than ours; It is true that their wools and silks are said to be superior to ours, which is possible, but this circumstance can have no influence on the cost of the various fabrics, for the excellence of the raw material being a natural fact, and the harvesting of good wool costing no more than the harvesting of bad wool, there is no reason why the basic expense should be greater in Russia than in our regions. It is not, therefore, the quality of the materials that is to blame for the high cost of the product, but rather the means of manufacture; it goes without saying that the perfection of these means, combined with the natural superiority of the merchandise, should one day make Russia very formidable in the type of industry that concerns us. It is on this side that the Russian conquests are to be feared; it is also on this side that we must guard ourselves by giving national work as much development as possible, so as not to be left behind in the field of inventions, improvements and outlets.
The Rochefort company also makes ordinary painted muslins at prices almost equal to ours: as for the indiennes, Mr. Czarevsk, from Moscow, exhibited a very fine collection ranging from ten to thirty cents a metre.
The weaving work, especially that which concerns silk, is carried out for the most part in the homes of Russian workers, as is the practice in Lyons; this is due to the fact that women make up a large part of the staff of workers who deal with these materials; but there are manufacturers who do not supply raw articles outside; they only have their workers work in their establishments, whose delightful cleanliness can be called luxury.
Underneath these ambitious imperial and private factories, which brought their grandiose contingent to the Exhibition, there are in Russia small and modest industries, the study of which would be very curious, if the framework we have to fill did not forbid us to give any details about them. There are such works of wood, bark, silver filigree, glass, leather, etc., as well as weavings, the coarsest of which, the ragotchka, a kind of packing braid, and the finest of which, worn at the Exhibition by Cossack women, would merit the attention of the observer. But it is important for us to reduce these observations. Let us say, however, with regard to Cossack women, that goat's hair, bleached in the sun, has, no less than the shawls made by them with this material, excited the curiosity of the daines to a high degree. One of these shawls, bearing the names of Prascovia, Olga, Maria, Apolinaria and Alexandra, was offered by these five women to Her Majesty the Empress of Russia, who was pleased to send it to the Exhibition.
Russia is famous for its leathers; this article is also in great abundance in the Palais de l'Industrie; there are leathers of all qualities and colours; patent leathers, however, dominate the collection. On the same counter, one sees, arranged in very good order, stockings, shoes, caps, etc., made of felt by Russian peasants; these objects are not the least curious part of the Exhibition. The shoes are, to tell the truth, clogs with a sole two or three inches thick, and being of such strength as to resist the sabre and the bullet, without lacking, however, either suppleness or lightness. These shoes are invaluable for travelling in winter; but this way of making felt is unquestionably applicable to other objects, and this is its chief merit.
Next to it is a table on which are placed bowls, jugs, vases, and helmets of the same material, differing from the first in that it is varnished inside and out; these articles are light, hard, and difficult to break. A water-pot, with its bowl, is quoted at 17 shellings (about 21 francs); it is a little expensive, but the sailors will not look so closely.
The firearms and knives on display are from the imperial manufactures. Tula, the St. Stephen's of Russia, is the oldest; but, apart from sabres and muskets, this establishment still supplies harnesses, iron beds, files, chains, etc. We read somewhere that 2,000 workmen, both French and Belgian and English, had been engaged for Tula. The Zlataoust factory is listed at the Exhibition for twenty-five kinds of bladed weapons: a hussar's sabre, a dragon's sabre, a Cossack's sabre, a cavalry officer's sabre, a Turkish damascus, a hulan spear, a cuirass, etc.
A trophy of sheaves, containing the multiple seeds of the most varied agricultural productions, is elegantly placed in the centre of the counter: it is wheat of all kinds, barley, oats, rye, buckwheat, flax, hemp, peas and beans harvested in the various areas embraced by the empire; all around these sheaves, the seed and flour of these plants are arranged in cups. Samples of the famous Russian hemp in its raw and manufactured state can be seen along the walls.
It is in consideration of these agricultural productions that the opinion we expressed in our first article concerning the development that the Russian landowners have given to the land industry is justified. Count Koucheloff, who lives in the vicinity of St. Petersburg, is one of those who have most perfected what we may call the breeding of cereals; the beautiful results which he exhibits in the corner of the Exhibition which bears his name, constitute the highest praise that can be given to the intelligent care he has taken; this praise is due to him above all, because he has obtained these results in latitudes which are not very favourable.
We would have much to say and much to quote on this chapter of agriculture, on the various qualities of grain, unknown in our countries, which the Russians have successfully introduced into their cultivation, on the arnaout, the sandomirsh, the Himalayan barley, the winter rye, the spring rye, etc.; but, by engaging in this agricultural statistic, we should be able to treat the subject in its entirety, to speak of M. Doudinski's tobacco, Princess Sangoushko's beet sugar, M. Karnovitch's flax, M. Volkhonski's hemp, M. Jusghenson's potatoes, M. Treskoff's turnips, and even M. Treskoff Treskoff's potatoes, Mr. Jusghenson's turnips, and even Mrs. Sorakin's chicory, who, more frankly than the grocers of Paris, exhibits her product with this bold label: Chicory coffee; but this would lead us too far, and we prudently stop at what has been said.
But two materials which would require several pages, and to which we can only devote a few lines, silk and wool, must not be passed over in silence. The greatest quantity, if not the finest quality of wool exhibited by Russia consists of merino wool; there is some from the government of Tauride; there is some from Bessarabia; there is some from Kaltenbrunn; it is said to be superior to Spanish wool and is worth 1 fr. 50 c. a pound. Another kind of wool from the fleece of a sheep called caratchay, and preferable to merino, occupies a considerable place at the Exhibition; but the most distinguished place is acquired by cashmere, the silky hair of the Indian goat.
The whitest cashmere bears the exhibitor's name of Cossack women.
The breeders of silkworms are multiplying with such rapidity in the south of Russia, that this precious material must, before long, become of common use in the empire. The exhibitors are numerous: we shall mention in the first line Messrs. Rebroff, of Stavropol, and Mr. Juditzki, of Moscow. These breeders have brought very fine samples; but one of their colleagues, more modest than them, deserves a more particular mention, for he has undeniable personal merit, since he has cultivated the worm and collected silk in the government of Vorony, in Zadonsk, that is to say, in a latitude so rigorous in relation to his industry, that, presumably, he has had to employ some physical means to acclimatise his insects.
After having irregularly enumerated and very imperfectly described the various elements of the industrial wealth of the Russian empire, it remains for us, at the moment of concluding this article, to speak of the principal source of its opulence: mineralogy. Here again we shall be brief and therefore insufficient.
The mineralogical industry is conducted in Russia by the imperial government and by private individuals.
The principal exploitations of the emperor are the iron and copper mines of Arkangel, Varsiliwsk, Sukhodoisk, and Frolovsk, in the Perm government; the silver mines of Smuvsk, Zirianowsk, Sokolni, Semenovsk, and Ridersk, in Siberia; those of Sviato-Troitsk, Voskressensk, Czarevo-Nicolsk, and Pokrovsk, containing mainly copper; those of Levinsk, Kedrovsk and Nizhne-Turinsk, yielding 42 % of iron. An infinite number of other iron and steel mines in the Viatka, Orenburg, Tomsk and Bessarabia governments are successfully exploited by the crown. As for the individual operations, we shall mention those of Prince Demidoff and those of Messrs. Pashkoff, of Orenburg.
Prince Demidoff collects iron, copper, gold, malachite, platinum, etc. in his mines.
But the richest from the point of view of geologists are those which the government has dug in the Transcaucasian provinces of New Russia.
© Palais de Cristal – Journal Illustré de L’Exposition de 1851