This large hand-painted circular plate, measuring 13 9/16” in diameter, represents a period of Russian history during Stalin’s regime, where state sponsored porcelain products were used to promote the accomplishments of Russian society and culture and helped to play an important role in the official Party’s Soviet state propaganda campaign. As indicated by the mark stamped on the underside, the plate was manufactured by the Dmitrov State Porcelain Factory, a once imperial and private factory near Moscow that was nationalized after the 1917 Revolution, and later assigned by the state as one of the factories needed to produce functional and economic designs for mass-produced tableware and decorations. Designed by Russian artist Tatiana Mikhailovna Demorei, the plate reflects the “Socialist Realist style” of commercially produced porcelains during the 1930s, in which porcelain designers were “forced to limit their repertoire strictly to official propaganda themes or innocuous decorative subjects,” for fear of becoming an enemy of the state.[1]

The plate’s official subject matter is of the state sponsored sports and fitness campaigns of the 1930s. Its central figure depicts a woman swimmer dressed in a bathing suit and swim cap, standing before the famous Moscow Kremlin. Surrounding the center of the plate is a gilded border with a burnished star-like pattern and a deep cerulean blue background with six vignettes of other female athletes. The vignette on the lower left displays a woman holding a five-pointed red star medallion, which became the symbol of the new Soviet Union. On the lower right side of the plate, a woman holding a type of sword, is supporting a symbolic combination of the five-pointed red star medallion and a cog wheel fragment, referencing the state’s campaign of industrial development. Between each reserve are oval medallions hand-painted in gold with “USSR” in Russian integrated into a floral motif, indicating a more subtle decoration of revolutionary ornament.

An important aspect of this plate is the featured sole depictions of female athletes, displaying their prowess and triumphs, and demonstrating the style of “heroic realism” that became popular from the mid-1920s onward. The encouragement of physical fitness and teamwork within sports were high priorities for the new proletarian society, where the new man and woman of the Soviet future would be healthier, quicker and trained to peak efficiency in both body and mind. This plate not only demonstrates the role of porcelain as a way to communicate state policies and ideals during the early years of the Soviet Union, but its depiction of female athletes also assisted in promoting the state’s newly established political rights of women and their expanded role in Soviet society. As the central swimmer faces out optimistically towards the future, her figure helps to “exemplify the new woman of the Soviet Era.” [2]

This Cooper Hewitt object has a particularly relatable contemporary significance to the 2014 Winter Olympics which recently took place in Sochi, Russia. The spectacular opening ceremony was impressive to those who witnessed it, either in person or on television, but it was not without its political promotions and historical revisionism. The final Olympic medal count put the Russians at the top with 33 medals total, including winning 13 gold. While home field advantage may have played a role, the Russian Olympic team’s overall success demonstrates the country’s continued emphasis and priority on achievement in sports for both men and women.

 




[1] Shinn, Deborah Sampson. Soviet Porcelains (1918-1985). Cooper Hewitt National Museum of Design, Smithsonian Institution, 1992.

[2] Elliot, David. New Worlds: Russian Art & Society 1900-37. London: Thames + Hudson, 1986.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply