Porcelain master Alexandra Shchekatikhina-Pototskaya
Russian painter, theater artist, sculptor and porcelain master Alexandra Shchekatikhina-Pototskaya was born into the family of Russian Old Believer merchant Vasily G. Shchekotikhin. Grandfather of the artist, Grigory, was engaged in iconography and portrait miniatures, painted Easter eggs; maternal grandmother was reputed skilful embroiderer. In 1908, after graduating from high school, Alexandra moved to St. Petersburg and entered the School of Drawing of Society for the Encouragement of Arts. In 1910 she received a small silver medal, in 1911 the big medal. In 1910 Alexandra was sent to the Russian North to get acquainted with the monuments of ancient architecture and peasant folk art, and in 1913 to Greece, Italy and France; for several years was engaged in Paris «Academic Ranson».
As an artist, Alexandra was influenced by Nicholas Roerich, fond of art and archeology of ancient Russia. But if Roerich was interested in ancient times, the paintings on his student lay in impressions of the recent past. She helped Roerich in work on the paintings of the church of the Holy Spirit in the estate of Princess M.Tenisheva in Smolensk province and on the design of the ballet by Igor Stravinsky “The Rite of Spring” (1913) for Diaghilev repertory. She also performed costumes for “spring fairy tale” by Ostrovsky “Snow Maiden”, the ballet to music by Mussorgsky “Night on Bald Mountain”, the opera Rubinstein’s “The Demon”, set and costume designs for the opera A.Serov “Rogneda”, the opera by Rimsky-Korsakov “Sadko”. Alexandra made swan costume sketches for the great ballerina Anna Pavlova.
In early 1918, Alexandra was invited to the State Porcelain Factory. Unique phenomenon in the art of 1918-1921 became propaganda porcelain. At the State (formerly Imperial) Porcelain Factory in Petrograd were painted large stocks of products which were decided to use not just as the dishes, but as a means of revolutionary agitation. Among flowers and shepherdesses appeared conscription texts of revolutionary slogans: “Workers of all countries, unite!”, “Land of the workers,” “Who is not with us is against us”. The slogans under the skillful brush of artists turned into a bright decorative ornament. Fine quality raw material gave impetus to the development of art and sculpture. As a result of Soviet propaganda porcelain took a worthy place in the world of art.
Propaganda porcelain was never available to those to whom it was addressed directly. For a simple worker or peasant it was too expensive and out of the factory workshops went to European exhibitions and auctions, and to private collections. Since 1921 all products of Leningrad Porcelain Factory were exclusively for export.
In contrast to the strict and geometrical Sergei Chekhonin, follower of avant-garde sculpture, Alexander Shchekotikhina-Pototskaya implemented folklore thread – bright, festive and simultaneously dramatic images. Scenes of weddings, feasts, dancing and fun are organically combined with figures of sailors, commissioners, Soviet emblems and slogans. Her works reflect current events, passed internal perception of important period, but there is no political accent. She worked on art.
Into the art of porcelain, she has brought a bright, festive and dramatic at the same time, the world of folklore and iconographic images, seen through the eyes of the artist of 1910-1920 ‘s. Images of indigenous inhabitants of Russia, the inhabitants of small villages became protagonists in the most important work of the artist, in the series of papers devoted to the motherland and filled with colorful paintings of weddings and naughty games. Smart kokoshnik and embroidered dress, sparkling beads and pendant earrings, borrowed from Berendei costume sketch for the opera ‘Snow Maiden’ and transferred onto porcelain. Suit in the paintings of the artist is never simple and casual, it is smart and always theatrical. No wonder Alexandra so highly valued authentic folk clothes, that weaved and embroideried patterns, ornament.
Shchekatikhina – Pototskaya grew up in a family of Old Believers, where she perfectly mastered the art of icon painting. As tribute to the beauty of ancient Russian painting originated cup “red face”. Image of ‘face’ took strictly axis object and spelled red-brown tone, dominant in the painting of icons. Threatening look of big eyes directed toward the viewer.
The basis of this theme are impressions from a trip to cities of the Russian North, where she was able to meet with gorgeous patterns – carved wooden icons, spinning wheels, popular prints, paintings of peasant houses, embroidery, costumes. The artist penetrated into the essence of the national artistic traditions and forms.
The world of festive Rus was suddenly changed to Human menacing faces filled with compassion. And in her work no less significant place takes another Russia – deeply tragic. Revolution, famine, destruction, and many other events in the life of Russia, could not affect the work of the young artist. Consequences of an outbreak in 1921 famine in the Volga region was the dish “Suffering Russia” – one of the most powerful works of the artist.
In porcelain painting artist was certainly an innovator. Until now, no one painted it so emotionally, beautifully and colorfully. She has created a unique style with deep national character and ability to embody the beauty of life in such fragile and miniature objects. In 1920, Alexandra loses her husband, a lawyer Nicholas Potocki and remains alone with her son Mstislav. She settled in the House of Art, on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and Embankment, where in the hungry years found refuge many writers and artists.
In 1922 Alexandra wrote a letter to Ivan Bilibin, her former teacher of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts. He lived at that time in Cairo. She told him that recently widowed and lives alone with her son. The letter touched him so that in response to the artist he sent a telegram: “Marry me”. Two days later, she agreed. To accomplish this fantastic plan, Alexandra had achieved a trip to Berlin for the porcelain manufactory, where she went to Ivan Bilibin. By the way , these events are reflected in the novel of O.Forsh “Crazy ship”. Despite the unusual circumstances, marriage has developed successfully.
In the summer of 1924 the family traveled to Syria and Palestine, then in Upper Egypt to Luxor Temple. East won the heart of the artist with rich colors, ornamentation, traditions. ” Alexandra loved the crowd noise, talk, exotic clothes and, of course, a market. Bazaar itself was a feast of colors and intoxication.
Alexandra was so impressed with the East, to the end of her life she loved to dress in eastern style: oriental shawls, turban ornaments. At the vernissage and exhibition she appeared in a dress with a large cut on her back, wearing a turban with a feather or a stone, and on the fingers were large silver rings.
In August 1925 the family moved to Paris, where they settled on the Boulevard Pasteur. Alexandra Shchekatikhina-Pototskaya organically entered the artistic life of France: she was adopted by the Society of Independent Artists, participated in the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Tuileries, performed sketches of murals for the National porcelain manufactory at Sevres developed sketches of textile for model tracksuits, collaborated with Parisian publishers. Rave reviews for her work has been in the French press.
Her works were superbly sold, the art of Ivan Bilibin, her husband was also in demand, so the family could afford to rent a magnificent mansion, organize receptions on Wednesdays, to be in society. It is interesting that Alexandra was in touch with the Leningrad Porcelain Factory. Her works were exhibited in 1925 in the Soviet division of the International Exhibition of arts and fine arts in Paris (awarded a medal) in 1927. Her porcelain was exhibited at the International Exhibition of Art Industry and Decorative Arts in Milan, was repeatedly shown at exhibitions in Leningrad and Moscow.
Perhaps that is why in 1936, when the family of artists decided to return to Russia, they were allowed to work at the same Leningrad Porcelain Factory. By that time, the concept of the production of porcelain has changed, and the master took the fate of ordinary artists. When the war started, couple was offered to be evacuated. Ivan Bilibin refused. Blockade winter 1942 was for 65 -year-old artist was the last. Alexandra got pneumonia, but managed to survive. During the war, she continued to work, referring to the ancient Russian heroic plots and creating porcelain group “Combat of Prince Mstislav retired from Rededi”, vases “Alexander Nevsky” and “Dmitry Donskoy”, many small plastics.