How Teapots Were Used to Spread Russian Propaganda

“Actually, everything changes in the early 1930s when artists themselves come under real pressure because there is no longer an independent artistry,” explains Scheijen. “If you don’t join a union, you can be seen as a parasite and sent to a camp… If you didn’t fully conform, you had a big problem.” Art had lost its verve. “You see how a great artistic culture dies because of the pressure,” says Scheijen. “If you go to the depots of museums in the late 1930s, it’s really depressing.”

Forced famine, mass incarceration and summary executions had shattered the utopian vision of 1917. Socialism had failed and revolutionary art had done nothing to improve 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 a testament to the importance and success of their art. “We really appreciate these pieces,” she says. “The positive thing about this exhibition is that we have given them a voice after all these years.”

“It was a unique phenomenon and 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 gave them whatever they wanted? That’s amazing, and it just happened there.”

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

If you’d like to comment on this story or anything else you’ve seen on BBC Culture, head over to our facebook page or send us a message Twitter

And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com newsletter, called The Essential List. A hand-picked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.

Leave a Comment