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Artistic Cast Iron of the 19th – 20th centuries

   Artistic cast iron and,  first of all,  specimens, produced  by Kasli, became items of    museum collecting  at the turn of  the 20th century. The Sergiev Posad Museum-Reserve  started collecting  in the 1930s.  Now  it  preserves   some     200  items.  They are  products of the famous Kasli  plant, works of  the  Kusa, Nyuvchim,  Chepetsky  plants, and a  sample of  household casting,  made  by  one of the famous  Maltsevs factories.  

Cast iron was used in Old  Russia for  guns, cannonballs and  bells. The  appearance of interior  sculpture  is referred by the specialists to the 1820s. In 1860, Kasli cast iron became triumphantly popular  in Russia and in European countries. In the 1880s,  the works of the  other Ural enterprise – the Kusa Plant - gained  distinction.

Cast iron ash-trays, paper-weights, figurines, boxes were very popular in the 19th century. They competed with similar articles of marble, bronze and silver. They were placed in living rooms, studies and libraries; they were presented and collected. Figured cast iron was perceived "like bronze" in the 19th century, but it was cheaper and more available. Those were most important factors explaining popularity of iron works. The first masters came to Kasli from Central Russia, then chasers from Zlatoust were invited. In time, there appeared    dynasties of figure-casters at those plants. The pure surface of the finished article, the identity to the original depended only on the molder. Every craftsman had his own secrets: sets of tools, ingredients in the molding sand, parting dust, etc. Sculpture demanded special skill. It was molded in parts. 

   The product line was determined by the fashion, market demands, available molds. The models could be sold by the author, imported from abroad, received from other plants, made by self-taught local sculptors, etc. The most frequent models were bronze works. Cast in raw iron, they acquired new properties. At the beginning they also used German   cast iron works as models. The French statuettes influenced the development of cast iron interior sculpture.                         At the end of the 19th century, Kasli was especially interested in French models in connection with the World Exhibition in Paris, organized in 1900. The works by J. Gauthier (" Quixote" , "Mephistopheles") and animal sculptures, created by P. Mene, were most popular. 

  The works of  Russian sculptors occupied  an important place in the  cast iron production.  In the second half  of the 19th  century,  the characteristic principles of  Russian art  were  "realism, nation,  nationality".  They were, first of all, manifested  in the choice of themes and  in their naturalistic representation.

 In cast iron the folk themes appeared in statuettes, depicting peasant every-day life, labor and  repose: the ink-pot  “A peasant on the stump”, statuette “Troika in Winter”, ash-tray  “Pot”,  clock  pedestal “A small hut on the chicken legs” reproducing motifs of architectural wood-carving.

The interest in Russian history and  literature  is reflected in such statuettes, as “Yermak – conqueror  of  Siberia” and  "Solokha and the Evil One" of 1937. 

The  numerous works of  E. Lanceray and A. Aubert, illustrating  life of the peoples in  the Russian Empire, were widespread in Russian cast iron.  One of the most favorite models in Kasly  and  in Kusa was  E. Lanceray’s  sculptural group  "Lezgin trick  riding".


   The  iron casters  were  specially  fond of  animalistic sculpture.  The figures of  horses, dogs, deer  supplemented vases, boxes, ash-trays or served as individual  interior decorations.  A Nizhny  Tagil  craftsman  F. Zvezdin  is believed to be the  founder of the Ural animal  genre.  His early replica "Bull" was   reproduced at the  Kasli  plant for many years.

   P. Clodt, the creator of the famous sculptural groups of horse tamers, decorating St. Petersburg, Naples and Berlin, played a decisive role in the formation of the animalistic genre in Russian plastic art. The reduced copies of these monumental works, as well as other samples, made by the Kasli craftsmen after P. Clodt’s works, were long used as models for artistic cast iron. The works of the famous animal sculptor of the second half of the 19th century N. Lieberich, a pupil of P. Clodt, were also made in cast iron. His works were distinguished by a special interest in details and surroundings, and by clean treatment of the surface.


In Kasli they  created  casting models; trained molders,  chasers, and specialists in techniques  of thin-walled casting. There worked local sculptors - M. D. Kanayev and N. R.Bach.  In Kusa  worked master  F.O. Vasenin.  Traditionally, the  sculptural groups and figurines, as  the most laborious and expensive cast iron articles, formed  the largest  parts in  the catalogues.

At the turn of the 20th  century,   the  range of  cast iron articles was considerably changed. The circle of  genre  sculpture was not really expanded, but the production of ashtrays, vases, candlesticks, boxes, etc.  increased. These small, figures of animals, birds and people, decorated with reliefs and delicate ornaments,  most clearly reflected various stylistic  quests  of the late 19th  -  early 20th  century.

The molds,  included in the product line at the  cast iron plants, were reproduced more or less frequently. One and the same mold  could  be used  by  different factories.  Some articles were  memorial.

First of all, there  were  medallions cast for  somebody’s anniversary or in connection with  some  historical event. Unique exhibition items  were created beyond  the catalogs.  The Kasli  watch-chain was one of such singular works.  

The  church  articles  were also produced, but  only  few survived. However, as we know, the icons of cast iron were  produced by many  factories  in the first half of the XIX century. The collection of the Sergiev Posad  Museum includes  the  icon "Mary and Joseph’s  Wedding", created at one of the Ural factories at the beginning of the last century. Cast after the Western European model, the icon is characterized by a complicated composition.

Its polychromatic painting  is unusual for Russian cast iron  of  the later  period.  The  medallion "St. John the  Evangelist "  and  statuette  "Christ"  were  cast  at the  Kasli factory.  Foreign  cast  icons  were  also  spread in Russia.   The icon  “Carrying the Cross”,  from  the Trinity- St. Sergius Monastery,  was made in the workshop of  J. G. Müller. 

The Museum collection contains works,  made at two small private Nyuvchim and Cherepetsky factories. The Nyuvchim  paper-weight, shaped like  a massive plate with a bear hurling down on it,  is  solid and very heavy, which makes it different  from similar objects from  Kasli and Kusa. 

The decorative plates, produced by  the  Cherepetsky  plant,  are embellished  with genre  scenes and relief  allegorical figures, framed with cartouches and rich floral sprouts. The  models  for  them  were  European cast iron works.  Most private and state plants produced black and enameled  house-hold utensils throughout  the 19th century.  They  were remarkable for simple shapes and lack of  ornament. The wash-hand, made at one of the Maltsovs factories, is a rare item in the cast iron collection.    

The mass production of artistic iron casting  stopped in 1914, when the First World War began. A new period in its history began with the production of works, depicting  revolutionary themes in the 1920s.   The Sergiev Posad Museum possesses  a small group  of  exhibits, created at the Kasli plant  in the 1930s-1950s.

The Kasli  pre-war assortment was enriched by E. Janson-Manizer’s statuette "Ballet-dancer   Kaminskaya as Zarema "  and Vladimir Simonov’s sculptural group  "For  the  power of the Soviet” .  In 1937,  S. Morgachev made the medallion with the portrait of A.S. Pushkin, that was released for the poet’s anniversary. In the  1930s, the quality  of castings was equal  to  the pre-revolutionary  level. 

The  Kasli  castings of the 1950s in the Museum collection are represented, in addition to the manufactured  products, by the works of the students  of  Industrial School № 18, organized at the plant in 1933. Among them is the ashtray “An Oak Leaf”.  

The collection of the Sergiev Posad State History and Art Museum-Reserve quite   adequately reflects the best period of the  Kasli and Kusa  activity.

Most items have factory marks, which is important for attribution and identification of  some enterprises. A small group  of works of the Soviet period illustrate the development of  artistic cast iron and present the Kasli castings of  the  1930s-1950s.