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The Green Frog Service
In 1773 Josiah Wedgwood received the most unusual and difficult order that an English ceramics manufacturer had ever had. The idea for the commission belonged entirely to Catherine II. In 1774 the job was complete: Wedgwood had produced a large table service for fifty persons, containing 944 pieces decorated with 1,222 views of England. The hand-painted landscapes were never repeated. This was the celebrated Green Frog Service. Questions of shape and decoration were left entirely to Wedgwood’s professional competence; the client’s wishes concerned only the subjects of the painting on the service. The order made two stipulations: the landscapes on the pieces should not be repeated and they should be topographically accurate. It was proposed to devote attention mainly to the depiction of Gothic buildings, since the service was intended for a palace built in that style.

The palace was constructed on a deserted site, covered with trees and shrubs, at the 7th verst of the Moscow highway, between St Petersburg and Tsarskoye Selo. The spot was known to local Finnish-speakers as Kekerekeksinen and gave its name to the palace. The Kekerekeksinen castle-palace was one of the first truly significant Neo-Gothic ensembles in the environs of St Petersburg. The fashion for the Neo-Gothic came to Russia from England, where the Gothic architectural tradition continued almost unbroken even in the period when Neo-Classicism was dominant. It is clear, then, why a service with English views that included so many Gothic ruins was commissioned for such a palace. In contrast to other services that might be moved from one palace to another, the Green Frog Service was an inseparable part of the palace ensemble itself. Its bright, amusing emblem was intended to remind all who saw it of this distinction.

The service was commissioned at a time when Russia was assembling art collections, exhibits for which were gathered from all corners of Europe. In the 1770s Catherine II’s collecting activities assumed an unprecedented scope and scale. This is eloquently shown by just one comparison: while there were 250 paintings in Peter the Great’s Kunstkammer, Catherine’s Hermitage collection contained 2,080 in 1774; 2,658 in 1783 and 4,000 in 1796! Catherine’s especial passion was carved gemstones. The Kunstkammer had around 1,000 cameos and intaglios, while by the end of Catherine’s reign her collection of such “antiques” numbered 10,000 items. She viewed the establishment of an art gallery as an important element in a series of measures intended to show the world that Russia had a right to call itself a European power. But above all Catherine II staggered European art connoisseurs, diplomats, monarchs and the general public with her acquisition of rich collections of the great European legacy in their entirety!

These victories of hers in the field of culture made people talk about Russia just as much as the victories of Russian arms at Chesme and Kagul.

 


Portrait of Josiah Wedgwood
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Wedgwood’s workshop
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The Chesme Palace
Architect: Yury Velten
1777

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Vigilius Erichsen
Portrait of Catherine II before the Mirror
Between 1762 and 1764

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The Green Frog Service
Items from the dinner section of the service
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