After a celebratory family lunch at the British Museum, two of us slope off to find some contemporary art...this feisty driver and his dashing moustache and his tram are exactly right. The colours are pure and bold, the shapes abstract – it’s a flag-waving sort of picture.
And why is this plate in the British Museum? His tram is the kind which revolutionised Russia’s transport system in the 1920s and the plate is here to celebrate it. In 2004 the Vice President of Moscow’s Integrated Energy Systems (IES) visited the Museum and was so inspired by its splendid collection of commemorative plates dating back to the 1920s, that he commissioned twelve new ones. A year later they were ready to mark the 85th anniversary of the electrification of Russia, linking current achievements with the past.
So where is the 1920s set of plates? We find them at the other end of the gallery where there’s another surprise. The plate on the right will already be familiar to many because it's Number 96 in The History of the World in 100 Objects. (By chance Number 97 is Hockney’s In the Dull Village, about which I’ve already blogged). It was designed by Mikhail Adamovich in 1921 and shows a purposeful man, clothed in red, in his hand a hammer ready for any nonsense, his feet trampling KAPITAL on the rocks, thus releasing the dynamic forces of industry for the benefit of workers.
The story of the plates begins after the Russian Revolution in 1917 when the Imperial Porcelain factory at St Petersburg was nationalised. Before then its products had gone exclusively to the Imperial Court. If you turn to
you will discover the intriguing reason why Adamovich's plate is so special and why it was chosen.
The art director appointed after the Revolution had the factory painters retrained and called in new designers. He welcomed different artistic traditions such as Russian folklore, classic history painting, and Futurism from Italy. The new Suprematist style of abstract shapes and pure colours drenched in feeling was introduced by the artist KazimirMalevich. There’s a collection of medals nearby too, paying tribute to advances in power, energy and engineering around the world. People who work in those areas are often invisible until something goes wrong. It’s good to see them in such spectacular limelight.