|| THE REIGN OF ELIZABETH AND PETER III
|In 1743, the Russian government sent its troops, under the command of General James Francis Edward Keith, to Stockholm, to support the Swedish King.
Baron Korf, Her Majesty Elizabeth's Chamberlain, who was at that time in Stockholm on a diplomatic mission, used this opportunity to sign a contract with Christophe Hunger (Unger), who claimed to be a specialist in the production of porcelain.
According to this contract, Christophe Hunger undertook the responsibility to establish a porcelain manufactory in Saint Petersburg.
On 15 June 1744, General Keith received two directives from Her Majesty. The first was to withdraw Russian troops from Stockholm. The second was to secretly bring Hunger and his family to Russia. (Secrecy was required so that the Swedish government would not prevent the departure of the valuable specialist).
Empress Elizabeth requested Baron Cherkassov, the Governor of her Majesty's Cabinet, to oversee the affairs related to the establishment of the porcelain factory and porcelain production. Cherkassov had great expectations of Hunger as a specialist who claimed to possess the secrets of porcelain manufacturing.
Christophe Hunger in his adolescence had studied jewelry making. Later, he spent some time traveling to many countries of Europe, finally settling in Dresden, where he married. He also became friends with the director of the Meissen Porcelain Factory - the inventor of hard porcelain, Boettcher.
His friendship with Boettcher, and his occupation at Meissen as a gilder, apparently gave Hunger some knowledge of porcelain production, but this knowledge proved to be insufficient to manage a large porcelain factory. Later, Hunger worked as Director of the Rorstrand Porcelain Factory in Stockholm. Clearly, his skills did not meet the requirements of this post- he was dismissed in 1733.
Later, Hunger tried to produce porcelain in Venice. This effort was also unsuccessful. In 1737, Hunger offered his services to the King of Denmark. He courageously promised to produce a porcelain better (or at least not worse) than that produced in Meissen. He even proposed and was allowed to run preliminary experiments at his own expense. But impressive results were not achieved.
In 1741, Hunger offered his services to the King of Sweden. He asked for subsidies to buy a kiln and clay. But due to the intervention of the Director of the Rorstrand Factory, who had previously been granted the privilege of producing Swedish porcelain, these subsidies were never granted to Hunger.
The 18th Century knew numerous rascals and adventurers, who generously handed out promises in various countries, but once their credibility failed, abandoned their unfinished efforts and fled the country looking for other opportunities. Apparently Hunger was such a rogue. It was understandable that Baron Korf was unable to obtain sufficient information about Hunger before signing the contract. Porcelain specialists at that time were of such a great value that all information about them was kept strictly secret. All negotiations with such specialists were held discretely and there was no way to inquire about their working experience.
The Swedish government apparently was well aware of the real value of Hunger as a porcelain specialist and did not create even the slightest obstacle for Hunger and his family to leave Sweden. However, Russia was obligated to pay all debts for Hunger and his family. Thus, not yet having begun work, Hunger already cost the Russian treasury a large sum.
On his arrival in Russia, Hunger began to behave most strangely, even defiantly. Instead of going directly to Moscow, where he was much awaited by the Russian Imperial Court and the Empress herself, he settled in Saint Petersburg, where he spent several weeks doing nothing.
His next move was to file a complaint - claiming that he was not paid everything he was promised. This complaint was investigated and it was discovered that Hunger did not just receive everything that was promised in his contract, but he was even granted a sum larger than the one stated in the contract. In the end, Hunger had no option but to go to Moscow. In Moscow, he fell ill and spent a month in bed. Then he announced that it was too cold to mine clay for porcelain. All this time, Hunger continued to receive a generous allowance from the Russian government, but took no steps toward establishing a porcelain factory. Such behavior could only bring contempt from Elizabeth and the Imperial Court. Finally, the Empress ordered that a partner be found for Hunger who possessed industry knowledge and who could supervise the establishment of a factory.
Dmitry Vinogradov was a graduate of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. In 1736, he and two other graduates (Mikhail Lomonosov and Gustav Raiser) were sent to Germany to study metallurgy. At the time, Vinogradov was just 16 years old. After five years in Germany, he had become an excellent engineer. He also spoke German fluently; that was an advantage in his communication with Hunger.
Finally, in 1744, preliminary work on porcelain production was begun. Hunger received samples of clays from various Russian provinces. He discarded "sandy" clay, which in his opinion was good only for bricks and tiles, and approved the "fatty" clay. The mining of clay could have taken a very long time. Fortunately, local farmers had the necessary clay - already mined and dried. This clay was shipped to Saint Petersburg. The location of the future factory - the left bank of the Neva River - had already been chosen by Baron Cherkassov. Hunger was not happy with this choice. He would have preferred to stay in the city of Saint Petersburg, not 10 miles away from the high society. But this location had been approved by the Russian government and this is where the Russian Imperial Factory was located; it is still there today. What bothered Hunger the most was that nobody treated him as the Director of the future porcelain factory. He did not have access to the funds, nor the authority to use them. His numerous requests that such authority be provided to him were ignored by officials.
Nevertheless, the Russian government made enormous efforts to provide all materials requested by Hunger. The best available equipment was ordered from abroad. A hundred pounds of cobalt were delivered from Saxony, and to get this cobalt, the Russian government had to use diplomatic channels, as the export of cobalt from Saxony was forbidden at that time.
Meanwhile, while materials were transported to Saint Petersburg, Hunger and Vinogradov began to build the factory. But there was no rush on Hunger's part. First he said it was already too cold for producing the porcelain mass. Then he was not satisfied with the kiln - the kiln was redesigned again and again. Then it took months to wash the clay. All these activities took almost a year. Finally Baron Cherkassov became impatient and demanded that the first sample of porcelain be produced by the birthday of Empress Elizabeth - December 18 - or, at the latest, by Christmas. But instead of porcelain Hunger produced anoth
er complaint. This time he was dissatisfied with Vinogradov's behavior. Hunger requested a qualified subordinate, even though by that time he almost never left his apartment and entrusted all his duties to Vinogradov. The situation deteriorated all the more because Hunger from the beginning interpreted his role incorrectly. The Russian government invited him to establish porcelain production in Russia and train the Russian people to produce porcelain. He saw himself as the Director of the Factory who would keep the secrets of production to himself. Naturally, such an attitude would not be tolerated - not by the talented young scientist Vinogradov, not by Baron Cherkassov, and certainly not by Empress Elizabeth.
Hunger still had value for Russia as a specialist who possessed the secrets of production. But his endless quarrels with Vinogradov which interfered with their work were causing consternation in the Russian government. He could still save the situation by producing valuable samples of porcelain. But this was Hunger's greatest fault -in fact he did not have the skills that he claimed to possess. Many mistakes were made in the process of building the factory. Dmitry Vinogradov had to fix all the problems using knowledge that he had gained in Europe.
In addition, Hunger made a serious mistake when he chose the clay. As it turned out, "fatty" clay was not suitable for porcelain production. It was too difficult to wash out the sand, and the porcelain mass burned poorly and turned yellow, while the "sandy" clay was considerably simpler to wash and it remained white after burning. Nevertheless, all attempts to create porcelain were unsuccessful. All samples were yellowed and had a non-glossy finish.
Hunger tried to justify setbacks on the poor quality of the clay, bad wood for the kiln, and masons who built faulty kilns. But the real reason was that Hunger was not a specialist and had only a very rough understanding of how to manufacture porcelain. He spent his time in quarrels with Vinogradov, trying to get control of the leadership of the factory. But since his claims were not supported by deed, the Russian government remained deaf to his complaints.
In the end, the Russian government sent a letter to Hunger requesting that he provide porcelain samples. In the letter, one key question was raised – whether Hunger really possessed the skills required for the production of porcelain and burning dishes. In his response, Hunger again promised to produce samples shortly and claimed that he possessed all the necessary skills, adding that only great obstacles prevented him from producing porcelain.
Another year passed, but porcelain manufacturing still had not begun. At the end of September 1747, the government had ceased to pay him a salary. And in February 1748, he was ordered to leave Russia. What was the result of Hunger's activity in Russia? He left an approximate recipe for porcelain mass, very vague information about kilns, and half a dozen porcelain cups of very poor quality.
Pictures: FROM THE COLLECTION OF RUSSIAN STATE HERMITAGE MUSEUM -Meissen collectable porcelain pieces, portrair of baron Chercassov and Dmitry Vinogradov at porcelain factory
To be continued ...