11117 AN IMPORTANT PAIR OF MALACHITE VENEERED AMPHORA FORM VASES, POSSIBLY DESIGNED BY I. I. GALBERG AND SIGNED BY M. N. KVASNIKOV Ekaterinburg. 1862. Measurements: Height: 27” (68.5 cm) Diameter: 13” (33 cm)
Veneered entirely with malachite cut across the grain onto a gray stone corpus, with everted lip over a collar, the body below of ovoid shape with repeating concave pattern shoulder and gadrooned base, on conforming concave fluted socle and square plinth. Some minor repairs. Made in three parts.
The underside of each with an inscription in ink using the Cyrillic alphabet:
“Ekaterinburg, M. N. Krasnikov, 1862 March 1st”
М. Н. Квасниковъ
1862 года 1 марта
American art trade
Important American private collection
The present malachite vases are of large scale and unusual ovoid design. An “umbrella motif” of repeating concave flutes adorns the shoulders, while the central body is encircled by boldly conceived gadrooning. The fan motif shaping the foot resonates with the work of Charles Cameron and is a rare and distinctive feature. The overall profile of the vases is beautifully conceived and their most pleasing height to breadth ratio suggests the involvement of an architect in their design.
A pair of magnificent vases of similar mid-19th century date, today in the Georgian (Throne) Hall in the Hermitage Museum (figure 1), share the present vases’ overall form and prominent gadrooning. The famous massive malachite urn, on the Council Staircase of the Hermitage, also shares the bold gadrooning and, furthermore, rests on a similar unusual fan-like foot. Both were designed by the court architect Ivan Ivanovich Galberg (1783-1863), and the similarities to the present design suggest the same author.
Following the death of Giacomo Quarenghi in 1817, having served as an architect under him, Galberg was promoted to the position of court architect, since “he can be most useful for the leadership of various building projects;…and equally for drawings for all workshops, factories and manufactories, that fall under its domain.“1 From this time onwards the creation of decorative art objects became the main focus of Galberg’s career.2
The vibrant green color of Malachite stems from the high levels of copper it contains, and it usually forms in bulbous or stalagmitic shapes, that when sliced, reveal the much prized variegated light and dark banding that adds to its visual appeal. Sources were only initially known in a handful of locations in the Middle East for centuries, however, the discovery of important deposits in the Sverdlovsk Oblast in the Ural Mountains of Russia during the early seventeenth century led to the growth of a sophisticated industry in the area producing fine objects using the material.
Because of the way that the mineral is formed, it is prone to fracturing, and thus no large objects made from solid malachite are known to exist. Instead, pieces are usually mounted in painstakingly wrought veneers, with careful consideration given to the grain of the mineral to achieve the most spectacular aesthetic impact. To achieve this effect would have required supreme mastery of the techniques involved in making such pieces. It is interesting to note that the construction of many recorded vases at the Ekaterinburg imperial works took several years to complete; for example the large malachite urn mentioned above was approved in 1839 and delivered in 1850; the two malachite doors exhibited in the Russian Pavilion at the 1851 Great Exhibition reportedly took thirty men working continuously in shifts, day and night, more than a year to make.
Each of the present vases is inscribed in the Cyrillic alphabet “Ekaterinburg, M.N. Kvasnikov, 1862 March 1st” (figure 2). Numerous vases and important lapidary objects in the Hermitage Museum made for the Russian court are similarly signed, stating the name of this city, the name of the maker, and the year of completion. However, few such signed pieces have ever come to the market.
Ekaterinburg was Russia’s first industrial city, which came into existence in the eighteenth century to serve as a center for Russia’s iron works and to process the newly found mineral riches of the surrounding area. The working of hard stones was one of its main industries, and in its formative stages the city centered around a single state-run factory, founded in 1765.3 Members of the Kvasnikov family were well known for their expertise in working hard stone objects and records of the factory contain no fewer than thirteen mentions of workers with the name from the beginning of the nineteenth century.4 Ilia Prokhorovitch Kvasnikov appears to have set up his own business in 1857, and enjoyed a prestigious career, exhibiting fine objects at exhibitions in Russia such as the 1872 Moscow Technical Exhibition.5 In an 1885 report on the Ural lapidary industry, Kvasnikov was noted as being one of the leading creators of malachite objects in the area at that time.6
The prominent Russian Demidoff family owned a malachite mine in the Ural region, and earlier in the nineteenth century established their own lapidary factory in St Petersburg. The Tsars of Russia became especially enamored of its productions and it was largely thanks to their practice of presenting malachite objects as grandiose diplomatic gifts that ensured the stone became symbolic of prestige and elevated status across Europe. Some examples of these prized gifts survive today, such as the remarkable candelabra at Apsley House in London, presented to the Duke of Wellington by Alexander I, and the enormous urn in the Grand Reception Room at Windsor Castle given to Queen Victoria by Nicholas I in 1839.7 In St Petersburg in the 1830s, Nicholas saw fit to install a Malachite Room for the use of the Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna, complete with pilasters, fireplaces and other ornaments made from the stone. This usage added to malachite’s status as a national treasure of Russia, a position that was further confirmed by its presentation at the world fairs of the nineteenth century. At the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, Russia displayed enormous urns made from malachite and the pair of doors, mentioned above, veneered in the stone (figure 3). The doors in particular were one of the exhibition’s greatest sensations, and were written about widely in the press. The technique and visual appeal of these, as described by Professor David Anstead, a prominent geologist of the time, could equally be applied to the present vases:
“the best and most costly objects exhibited is the pair of doors measuring 14 feet 5 inches high, and 7 feet wide. They are built on a framework of metal, the malachite being veneered in thin slices about a quarter of an inch thick. But the chief peculiarity of the manufacture consists in the ingenious way in which the cut pieces of stone are adapted to each other so as to form a pleasing and appropriate pattern…the magnitude of each piece of malachite is very inconsiderable, any single object being made up of hundreds, or even thousands of pieces cut into a fit shape.”8
It is possible that the important American collector who previously owned these vases encountered them at the first world fair held in the United States, the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, held to mark the centenary of the Declaration of Independence. Despite only running from the 10th May to the 10th November, the fair attracted ten million people, around 20% of the total national population. Productions from Russia were represented by a handful of private firms including the St Petersburg dealership Hoessrich and Woerffel, whose stand attracted much attention:
Messrs. Hoessrich and Woerffel, of St. Petersburg, have an extensive and valuable display of articles in malachite and lapis lazuli. These are of an infinite variety, consisting of cabinets, mantels, tables, statuettes, clocks, caskets, candelabra, and some beautiful jewelry and small articles for personal use. One fine centre-table in gilt and malachite is valued at $2400, and a large mass of malachite in the rough is held at $4800.9
A photograph of the firm’s stand shows malachite veneered vases related in design to the present pieces (figure 4). Many American art collectors of the time made purchases at the fair. Henry Walters, the great collector, philanthropist and founder of the Walters Art Museum in Maryland went on something of a “buying spree” at the fair, including purchases of “hard-stone vases and cups bought from the stand of Hoessrich and Woerffel”.10 The Russian showing at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition appears to have prompted something of a vogue for Russian decorative objects in America. In 1880, William H Vanderbilt bought a magnificent malachite vase, which he installed in his house at 640 Fifth Avenue, and which is now to be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.11
Preston Remington’s description of the Museum’s acquisition in 1945 is relevant to the present vases: “It is very likely that it was in Ekaterinburg that our malachite vase originally took shape. The natural malachite, in stalagmite form, was first cut in cross sections to reveal the beautiful zoning and variations of coloring to fullest advantage. These sections were then embedded, mosaic-like, in cement [….] and the interspaces filled with more cement in which powdered malachite and small fragments of the stone were incorporated for harmonious effect. The surface of the resulting veneer was then ground smooth with emery and polished with tripoli.12
This taste may have been encouraged by the fact, surprising in light of subsequent events, that in the 1860s and 70s Russia was the greatest ally of the United States. In 1862, the year of the manufacture of these vases, the Russian navy was welcomed into the harbors of San Francisco and New York as a gesture of solidarity with the Confederacy, which was in the midst of fighting the American Civil War.
The taste for malachite amongst the wealthiest connoisseurs of the middle of the nineteenth century was undoubtedly also furthered by the Gallery for Old Master paintings in the “New Hermitage,” which housed the first ever museum exhibition of Russian works in malachite (the interior drawing of this gallery was published 1859)(figure 5), as well as the spectacular Malachite Hall in the Winter Palace, work for which began in 1861 (published 1865).
- 1. Kuďumov, A.M. Russkoe Dekorativno-Prikladnoe Iskusstvo V Sobranii Pavlovskogo Dvorca-Muzeja: Russian Decorative Art in the Collection of the Pavlovsk Palace Museum. S.l.: “Chudoznik RSFSR”, 1981. 183.
- Will Lowes, Fabergé Eggs: A Retrospective Encyclopedia, New York 2001, p. 207
- We are enormously grateful to Ludmila Budrina, Curator of Decorative Arts at the Yekaterinburg Museum of Fine Arts, for this information regarding the Kvasnikov family.
- Royal Collection Inventory Number 43957
- The Industry of All Nations: As Exemplified in the Great Exhibition of 1851, London 1852, p. 310
- James Dabney McCabe, The Illustrated History of the Centennial Exhibition: Held in Commemoration of the One Hundreth Anniversary of American Independence, Philadelphia 1876, p. 427
- William R. Johnston, William and Henry Walters, the Reticent Collectors, New York 1999, p. 75
- See Preston Remington, ‘The Story of a Malachite Vase’ in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, February 1945, pp. 142–145.