PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR, FRANCE
The same design was employed by Ovchinnikov on a tea service, lacking a samovar, which sold, Sotheby's Zurich, 23 November 1973, lot 60, and the samovar, illustrated, G. Hill, Fabergé and the Russian Master Goldsmiths, 1989, pl. 206, p. 251.
Born into the most humble beginnings, Pavel Akimovich Ovchinnikov (d.1888) is a fine demonstration of the rapid developments in Russian society in the 19th century. A serf of Duke Volkonski, he was apprenticed to his brother’s goldsmithery in Moscow as an able draftsman. In 1853 he made use of his wife's dowry to establish his own workshop and the growth of this business was explosive: by 1870 the factory employed ninety workmasters within tightly-organised workshops and turned over 250,000 roubles annually and by 1881 was larger than any competitor. Validations of the firm’s success came in 1865 when it was made Supplier to the Court of the Tsarevich and in 1882 and 1883, when it won first prize at the All-Russia Exhibition and was granted the Imperial Warrant.
In the first half of the 19th century foreign gold and silver manufacturers faced very little competition from within Russia, Ignatius Sazikov being a rare example. The strong national character of Ovchinnikov's designs was of great appeal domestically and furthermore were produced to the high standards ordinarily only expected of continental workshops. Although working across a wide variety of objects and media, the firm established a reputation for its technically daring enamel work with particular praise given at the 1893 Chicago and 1900 Paris World Fairs, even after the running of the company had been passed to the original founder’s sons.
Russian decorative arts of the late Imperial era owe a significant debt to the extraordinary talents and energy of the self-made Pavel Akimovich. His efforts firmly established a unique Russian aesthetic and threw off the yoke of Western European dominance. His patriotic and moral ideas, espoused through his 1881 publication Some Information about the Organisation of the Workers’ and Trainees Live in Factories and Handicraft Schools, demonstrate an understanding and respect for the working classes of Russia, which was no doubt key to his success. Furthermore, it is certain that Carl Fabergé looked to the sterling example of Ovchinnikov when re-organising the structure and ideology of his father’s business in St Petersburg in 1882.
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