In 1900, a significant event took place, the Paris World Exhibition, in which products from Russia made a splash. Critics and the press were beside themselves describing the pavilion of the Russian Empire, which was the largest at the exhibition and occupied more than 24 thousand square meters. « The Liberte » newspaper wrote: “We are still under the influence of surprise and admiration we experienced in the Russian pavilion. In just a small number of years, Russian industry and trade have received such a development that amazes everyone who has the opportunity to understand the path traveled in such a short time. This progress is so great that it makes one think.”
Russia then received more than one and a half thousand awards, including 212 highest and 370 gold medals. Visitors especially admired the work of Maria Tenisheva’s workshop and the amazing majolica of the Abramtsevo Ceramic Factory.
About Tenisheva’s works they wrote: “What Reskin dreamed of in his ideal, freed from the transience of everyday life, — the renewal of folk art, — Princess Tenisheva has fully implemented.”
Abramtsevo’s majolica was compared with “music in plasticity and color”. The technological talents of Peter Vaulin combined with the creative genius of Mikhail Vrubel turned the ‘utilitarian’ craft into high art and opened up new horizons for architectural sculpture – color and radiance.
We wrote about Abramtsevo and Mikhail Vrubel in our article. And now we want to tell a little about the second creator of Russian majolica’s magic – the ceramist Peter Vaulin.
Peter Vaulin was born in 1870 in Ural into a peasant family. He received a specialized education in pottery. As a young man, a twenty-year-old specialist was invited to the Kostroma Technical School for teaching in workshops.
It should be noted that by this age Vaulin visited many Finnish ceramics factories and was very enthusiastic about what he saw. His creative nature craved research and experimentation with glazes. Therefore, he gladly accepted Mamontov’s proposal to head his workshops in Abramtsevo and become a technologist there.
We can say that this was a very unique case when the desire of the employer fully coincided with the desire of the master and Vaulin was immersed in the study of ceramic materials and experiments.
Vaulin was managing the workshops for more than ten years, and it was during this period that he and Mikhail Vrubel rediscovered the technology of reductive firing, which made it possible to turn glazes into metallized coatings successfully used in Moorish Spain of the 13th-15th centuries, but lost by contemporaries.
Many of the masterpieces of architectural ceramics in Moscow belong to the same period of Vaulin’s creativity: the ceramic facade panels of the Metropol hotel based on Vrubel’s sketches, ceramic facade panels of the Yaroslavskyi station based on Korovin’s sketches, ceramic friezes of the Tretyakov Gallery on Vasnetsov’s sketches, – this is just a small list of the preserved Abramtsevo majolica of Vaulin. And the joint work with Mikhail Vrubel, – the ceramic tiled fireplace Volga’s Meeting with Mikula Selyaninovich, received a gold medal at the same Paris exhibition in 1900.
Abramtsevo majolica practically forms the face of Russian Art Nouveau, adding to it the features of national folk art and creating a new architectural style, Neo-Russian, combining European Art Nouveau, Russian folklore and elements of Byzantine architecture.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Peter Vaulin left for Mirgorod in Ukraine, where he began to teach at the Gogol Art and Industrial School. Vaulin’s passion for ceramics pushed him to experiment all the time. He practically infected his students with this passion. The uniqueness of local clays gave rise to a new trend in traditional Mirgorod ceramics, when colored engobes are applied before glazing.
The craft in Oposhnya still exists and is the largest ceramic center in Ukraine. The National Museum of Ukrainian Pottery is based on ancient exhibits collected by Peter Vaulin while studying local ceramic folklore. Then Vaulin took part in the construction of Poltavian zemstvo (city council), for which he made ceramic facade panels.
Vaulin set his goal to revive Russian majolica wherever possible: “I set myself the task of reviving the Russian majolica with all its inherent beauty of Russian exoticism…”. Which is why he left for St. Petersburg and in 1906 in the village of Kikerino opened art workshops for the production of architectural ceramics under the name of Kikerinsky Plant of Art Ceramics.
It was a joint venture with Osip Geldwein, who was involved in the financial side of production. For the workshop, the building of the Baltic Lilinfeld-Tol Pottery Plant was purchased. The ‘Kikerin’ period of Vaulin’s work includes most of his works in St. Petersburg.
Vaulin invited his most talented students to the workshop. Famous artists worked at his enterprise. If the Moscow period of Vaulin is associated with Vrubel, Serov, Vasnetsov and Korovin, then the St. Petersburg period is primarily Roerich.
It should be noted that Vaulin’s approach to business was fundamentally different from Mamontov’s. Mamontov was primarily a connoisseur and philanthropist, he saw pure art in ceramics, so he was ready to do only what he liked and only according to his design. Vaulin believed that it was necessary to make everything that was ordered beautiful.
Here is what he wrote to Mamontov in 1905: “I don’t know how you look at ceramics and what you think to do, but on my last visit I noticed a Lord in you – you don’t want to make claddings, but want to do what you offer, but I don’t think that is the way to do this; I think that any cladding should be done beautifully. You raised me and you blame yourself for your pupil. This is a common lot. This is how I look at this matter, and this is how I will continue to act.”
As a result, the Geldwein-Vaulin workshop was filled up with orders not only from Russian wealthy customers, but also from foreign ones. The company employed the best ceramists of the time and produced large quantities of ceramic facade panels, tiles for stoves and fireplaces. His workshop created a completely lined with green majolica tiles fireplace in Kochubey’s mansion, many unfortunately unpreserved Northern Art Nouveau fireplaces and stoves in Leonid Andreyev’s house and others.
But, of course, among the most outstanding of Vaulin’s works are his architectural majolica masterpieces in different cities of the country. This is, without a doubt, the tiled cladding of the Cathedral Mosque in St. Petersburg, striking with the richness of the decor and the complexity of the relief of its tiles. In order to create this cladding, Vaulin had to send the artist P.M. Maximov to Turkestan to restore the method of manufacturing medieval carved majolica.
This is a ceramic cladding of the entrance to the library of the Institute of Experimental Medicine, made by the workshop for the international exhibition in Dresden in 1911. These are amazing relief ceramic facade panels on the house of Badayev and the House of the Russia insurance company on Bolshaya Morskaya Street made based on the sketches by Nikolai Roerich. These are marvelous majolica on the building of the Penza branch of the Land Bank. These are the icons of the convent in Perm and the relief insets on the window kokoshniks of the Naval St. Nicholas Cathedral in Kronstadt.
Magnificent are the gold-metallized capitals of the facade of the St. Petersburg provincial credit society, restored by Pallada in 2009. Friezes of the Trading House of the Guard Economic Society, successfully imitating bronze, but also being metallized ceramics.
There are several works in Moscow that were made jointly by Abramtsevo and the Geldwein-Vaulin workshop. This is the house of the primary city schools on Bolshaya Pirogovskaya lined with several panels of images of St. George the Victorious.
The second building is the house of M.N. Miansarova on Bolshaya Sukharevskaya Street fully lined with green majolica with inset relief ceramic facade panels. Miansarova’s house is made in a typical Neo-Russian style and looks like a large green tiled stove.
After the revolution, Peter Vaulin worked for some time as the technical director at the « Gorn » plant, which his workshop turned into after nationalization, was a commissary at the Leningrad Porcelain Factory, and advised on production at the Proletary porcelain factory.
Unlike many ceramists who hide the secrets of their craftsmanship and keep secret the recipe and technology, Peter Vaulin was a very open person, not only recording the results of his experiments, but also publishing them. A huge number of documents and records of glaze recipes remained after him.
Vaulin openly shared his developments with colleagues and repeatedly published materials of his research in the Ceramic Review journal, thus allowing descendants to continue his work and use the achievements of the artist.