Furniture

Of especial interest among the unique pieces of furniture in the Pavlovsk Palace are items with inlay decoration produced by the Russian serf craftsman Matvei Veretennikov: a bureau with scenes from the life of Alexander the Great and views of Pavlovsk and a kidney table with a panoramic view of Pavlovsk. The decoration and furnishing of the Pavlovsk Palace was at first supervised by the French miniature painter Gabriel Viollier, Secretary to Grand Duchess Maria Fiodorovna. He designed furniture for some pavilions and headed the group engaged in designing large sets of furniture for the Palace's rooms. More than two hundred pieces were ordered from Henri Jacob in France. Works by Martin Carlin, Adam Weisweiler and many other French cabinet-makers were purchased through the good offices of Daguerre. The French furniture was installed in the state rooms of the Palace, while living apartments were decorated with pieces made by numerous St Petersburg cabinet-makers. In 1790, Heinrich Gambs, a talented pupil of the famous German cabinet-maker David Roentgen, opened, together with Jonathan Ott, a large furniture factory in St Petersburg. It was, however, before the establishment of this major factory that Gambs had formed a large group of talented Russian and foreign cabinet-makers who fulfilled the commissions of Grand Duchess Maria Fiodorovna. The commissions were very important since the objects were intended as gifts to Catherine II from the heir and his consort.

The Gambs furniture was decorated with painting on opaque white glass, carved ivory, chased ormolu and other materials which lent to these objects an air of beauty and luxury. The factory of Gambs and Ott was also popular for its pieces decorated with inlaid plaques of painted glass in the so-called eglomise technique. Mirror glass, usually gilded or with an amalgam of some other colour, was often decorated with painting. Furniture made at the Gambs factory is particularly well represented at the Pavlovsk Palace.

The fire which ravaged the Pavlovsk Palace in 1803, coincided with a change in the predominant style: at this period the current Louis XVI style in architecture and furniture was ousted in Western countries, especially in France, by the more austere Directoire style reminiscent of the art of Imperial Rome. Voronikhin, who refurnished the Palace after the fire, was under a strong influence of the emerging trend. Only two state rooms retained, at the desire of the Empress, the former furniture by Henri Jacob. For all the other rooms new furniture in the fashion which was to be called the Empire style, was designed. Its shapes and painted decor in imitation of classical bronzes recalled pieces depicted on antique vases and marble reliefs. The spread of the style was largely connected with the paintings of Louis David and the drawings of the architects Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine.

Voronikhin's interiors, however, including his furniture, are marked by the distinct individual features which put them apart from similar Western examples: he sought to endow his works with that especial elegant and ornate quality which was inherent to Russian art as a whole. The furniture of the state rooms, modelled on classical examples, looks sumptuous and magnificent. Richly decorated with carving and gilding in the fashion of antique bronzes, his pieces are upholstered in bright-coloured textiles with motifs derived from antiquity.

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