Soviet Porcelain Ballerinas: A History of the Leningrad Porcelain Factory Collection

Soviet Porcelain Ballerinas: A History of the Leningrad Porcelain Factory Collection

In the middle of the last century, fragile porcelain figurines of ballerinas could be found in many homes. Today, they are sold to collectors and presented to theater personalities.

The idea behind: ballet in every home

A series of ballet-inspired porcelain figurines made in the 1950s at the Leningrad Porcelain Factory is associated with the name of the sculptor Vladimir Sychev. It was he who created graceful figurines based on the well-known classical ballet productions, working in workshop No. 3. Cultural studies scholars and researchers Olga Sapanzha, Ekaterina Ivanova and Natalia Balandina wrote about the master as follows: 

“The creative method of V.I.  Sychev belonged entirely to the early post-war aesthetics with its passion for dynamic shapes, expressive movements, and an extremely realistic approach to the image.”  

In the first post-war decade, there was a demand for interior products designed to decorate living and working spaces. Interior items and decorations were made from ceramics and porcelain, glass and metal. 

The large porcelain factory responded to this public interest with a whole collection of interior items. But why did ballet inspire sculptor Sychev to create a series of figurines? 

The sculptor was a fan of ballet and classical music. According to the art researchers, “the author's personal passion coincided exactly with the focus of the Soviet culture on promotion of achievements of the Soviet theater." In other words, it was in the 1950s and 1960s that ballet became an important part of mass culture and came to many homes in the Soviet Union in the form of porcelain figurines. These products "shaped a new environment, in which ballet turned from an elitist art into an art that was declaratively accessible to the widest masses of working people." 

Many people liked the idea of such “porcelain” popularization of ballet: figurines of the Leningrad Porcelain Factory were bought and collected with pleasure; they became very common. 

Gems of the collection: the most popular figurines by Sychev

The series includes items inspired by the images of specific ballerinas outwardly very similar to their characters, as well as products conveying ballet aesthetics in general. One example is the figurine of Galina Ulanova as The Dying Swan: a snow-white tutu and pointe shoes, a delicate romantic look. The sculptor created the figurine using painting, gilding and luster technique. The figurine of the ballerina frozen in the final pas of the well-known composition became very popular. The porcelain factory manufactured it, together with other ballet "hits", in huge amounts every year. 

Gold painting elements can also be found in other items of the ballet series, for example, in The Spanish Dance, which is a rare collection piece. Ballerina Nina Stukolkina and dancer Alexei Andreev served as prototypes for it, and the sculptor managed to depict the luxurious costumes of the dancing pair using the finest gilding technique.  

Another item from the collection is a paired figurine of two female dancers - Ballerinas Before a Performance. One of the characters of this sculpture is shown sitting on a low bench, the other is standing near her. They are finishing their stage looks with the final touches: the seated ballerina helps her friend fix her tutu decoration. The composition is obviously based on abstract images of theater artists. Their weightlessness is emphasized by translucent luster painting, some details of the costumes are gilded. 

One of the most famous figurines, in addition to those described above, is the Bird Girl from the Shurale Ballet. It is also called Ballerina Dudinskaya by the name of the artist who was the prototype for the porcelain figurine. 

The present and the future of the porcelain series: collectors and reissues

Starting from the 1950s of the last century, ballerina figurines made by the Leningrad Porcelain Factory were lining up in elegant collections on the shelves of the residents of the USSR. Since then, many of them have been passed on. Today, the porcelain ballerinas created by Vladimir Sychev are still being collected and sold. Offers from private owners can be found on ad sites, social networks and even marketplaces. The price depends on the condition of the figurine and its rarity: occasionally, you can find truly valuable items. 

However, the life of this porcelain series continues not only in private collections and museums. Especially for the Ingosstrakh Insurance Company a new batch of legendary figurines had been manufactured. Ingosstrakh gives these exclusive pieces of porcelain to directors of regional theaters, when the Bolshoi Theater tours the cities of this country, as a symbol of the Russian ballet art that has been relevant for over half a century now.