by Maryam Syed
Delicately moulded earthenware, figurines and tableware, Gardner crockery is an ancient art rendering a bold range of colours with brilliant contrast between matt and glazed styles of painting. Named after the Englishman Francis Gardner, founder of the factory at Verbilki, Russia in 1766, the factory came to be recognised for its porcelain ornaments and emerged as significant competition for the Imperial Porcelain Factory. Local clay in the Gjelsk region, where the factory was situated, was used to manufacture the porcelain ware. A well-known German painter, Kestner, was employed at the factory who trained local craftsmen in the art of painting the porcelain. Local craftsmen soon mastered the various techniques used and with the passage of time locally hired managers and craftsmen began to replace foreign employees.
G. Miller, a prominent academic, visited the Gardner factory in 1779 and declared, “its quality is equal to that of any foreign factory.” Furthermore, the factory obtained orders from the court of Catherine II for specially designed tableware. The services were ordered for the Winter Palace and each was to include plates, round and long leaf-shaped dishes, baskets and ice cups.
Gardner porcelain is known for the various types of marks that define the different periods of its existence. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century the Latin letter ‘G’ was painted at the bottom in blue or black ink in different shapes and sizes. The mark then evolved into the full name of the factory in the first quarter of the nineteenth century and in the second half of the nineteenth century the Moscow St. George and Dragon crest, encircled and bearing the full factory name, became more common. Later, the double-headed eagle was added to the emblem and that mark was adopted even after the factory had been absorbed by Kuznetsov in 1889.
Gardner crockery exported to the Central Asian, Arabian and Turkish markets was characterised by the Gardner factory mark in Arabic script underglazing the pottery. The tea services were painted with decorative flowers amidst a white medallion against a deep red, blue or green background. Each earthenware pot, teacup and other tableware had the Gardner emblem — Arabic lettering at the bottom representing the Gardner factory mark.
The porcelain manufactured for the Persian market was characterised with floral decorations such as variegated pink peonies and leaves on a sky blue, deep blue, green or red background. The inner rim of several bowls was lined with Islamic script handwritten in light blue ink. The porcelain was also decorated with leafy tendrils, floral bouquets on plain or gilt lined claret backgrounds.
Vast collections of Gardner porcelain are now maintained by collectors in Pakistan who realise and appreciate its historic value. The crockery that was once used in opulent households, particularly in Peshawar, has now been recognised as an antique and ancient art that needs to be preserved.