Ahead of the Russian Works of Art, Fabergé & Icons sale on 5 June, Sotheby's specialists tell us more about one of the top lots in the sale.
While the precise origins of this commission, presumably ordered by the government of the Soviet Union, for the Mongolian People’s Republic, are unknown, the first public mention of it appeared in the Lomonosov State Porcelain Factory’s weekly newspaper Lomonosovets on 15 November 1938, when the ‘Factory News’ column included a notice saying that the factory artists Ivan Riznich, Mikhail Mokh, and Grigorii Gorkov were designing four separate schemes for the decoration of vessels for kumys, a strong fermented drink made from milk. This would have been an important diplomatic presentation gift at the time. The Soviet Union’s relationship with Mongolia took on increasing significance in the latter half of the 1930s, given Japan’s encroachment into continental Asia.
When work on the commission began in 1938, Sera ma Yakovleva designed a form exclusively for the project, taking inspiration from Chinese pottery in the collection of the State Hermitage Museum. The massive and sturdy pot was meant not only for holding and serving large quantities of kumys, but also for its lengthy preparation process. Ivan Riznich then designed the decoration, based on regional decorative motifs and the sacred animals of the nomadic peoples of Mongolia. All the animals depicted can produce milk used for making kumys. Red stars are incorporated, symbolising the Soviet liberation and the Socialist future of the Republic.
The original commission was for 400 vessels, but it is not known how many were actually produced and delivered. Only two other kumys vessels from the commission are known to have survived, both in private collections. The present lot can be said to be among the rarest examples of Soviet porcelain.
We are grateful to Natalia Petrova and Dr Karen Kettering for their assistance in researching and cataloguing this lot.
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