Vrubel’s tiles and Maiolica panels: Plevako’s building listed as architectural landmark

Vrubel’s tiles and Maiolica panels: Plevako’s building listed as architectural landmark
The building erected in 1905 is located on Novinsky Boulevard. This is a rare example of northern modern architecture in Moscow, decorated with Maiolica panels and it was given to its subsequent owner by industrialist and philanthropist Savva Mamontov.

The former commercial apartment building owned by the lawyer, Fyodor Plevako, has been added to the list of architectural landmarks. Located at 18A Novinsky Boulevard the four-story building has now received the status of a cultural heritage site of regional importance. Pyotr Mikini was responsible for drawing up the plans and it was built in 1905. People still live there.  

The building is characterised by its monumental size, bland colours and reliefs as well as a lack of small details on the outside of the painted structure which is richly decorated with colourful Maiolica panels and ceramic glazed terra cotta tiles.

“The Plevako building is a rare example of northern modern architecture in Moscow. When it was being done up in the 1980s, the structure was changed but the main walls and the original façade decorations remained in place. Two 1905 grand interior staircases, as well as the décor on the walls, original window casing, jamb walls, windowsills, frames and various other features remain intact. The tiles decorated with designs based on Mikhail Vrubel’s sketches which adorn the outside of the structure came from a pottery workshop that belonged to philanthropist and industrialist Savva Mamontov. He presented the mosaic to the lawyer, Fyodor Plevako, for the residential building that was under construction at the time, as a sign of gratitude. Plevako successfully defended the industrialist in court and Mamontov was acquitted,” said Head of the Moscow Department of Cultural Heritage Alexei Yemelyanov.

The largest Maiolica panels found over the entrances are two mosaics of colourful blue and purple square tiles. The panels are decorated with fish-themed tiles based on Mikhail Vrubel’s designs. Smaller mosaics are located in the niches under the balconies. One depicts an arch twined with branches with fruit under which a couple of swans are moving towards a peacock standing on the shore. It is believed that the mosaic was inspired by “The Swans” painted by Konstantin Korovin.

The other panel depicts a woman with her hair down climbing through thick bushes. The outside of the building is also decorated with flower-themed tiles and bas-reliefs with human figures and vines.

The supports under the balconies are unusually-shaped and cannot be found anywhere else in Moscow. Light comes into the entrance halls through big windows laid with small rectangular pieces of glass – typical for northern modern architecture.

White moulding and brightly coloured Maiolica panels stand out from the light beige brick walls. Moreover, the façade is partially covered with textured light green plaster resembling the surface of a rough porous stone.

Alexei Yemelyanov noted that the Plevako building was listed as a cultural heritage site a year ago. Later experts conducted a historical and cultural assessment that resulted in the building being granted the status of an architectural landmark and a cultural heritage site of regional importance.

It’s prohibited to pull down this particular structure and any repair or restoration work must be approved by the Department of Cultural Heritage who will then strictly supervise what goes on. The original look of the building must not be tampered with either.

Fyodor Plevako (1842–1909) was a prominent Moscow lawyer, attorney and an active state councillor. He graduated from the law department of Moscow University. He often defended his clients in pro bono cases and sometimes paid for their unforeseen expenses. He was famous for his public speaking skills.

He was friends with prominent members of cultural circles, including people like artists Mikhail Vrubel and Konstantin Korovin, theatre director Konstantin Stanislavsky, opera singer Fyodor Shalyapin and actress Maria Yermolova.

Pyotr Mikini (1871–1918) was a Moscow architect with Polish roots. His most famous works include a residential building on Chistoprudny Boulevard (built in 1908 in cooperation with architect Lev Kravetsky and painter Sergei Vashkov), and a residential building on Armyansky Pereulok (built in 1901-1905 in cooperation with the architect Vladimir Vlastov). These buildings were recognised as cultural heritage sites of regional importance.

The maintenance and restoration of architectural landmarks is an ongoing process in Moscow. The list of cultural heritage sites is constantly becoming longer. Over a period of the past seven years alone, around 700 monuments have been listed. They include more than 370 newly discovered cultural heritage sites and around 330 cultural heritage sites of federal and regional importance.

Another Art Nouveau building was recognised as an architectural landmark this year. The former estate of factory owner and merchant Gustav Keller in Butyrskaya Sloboda has an asymmetric façade emphasised by the disposition of windows that are framed with basic aprons and panels.

The Art Nouveau mosaic-decorated hall in the former commercial apartment building that once belonged to Count Orlov-Davydov has been listed as a cultural heritage site of regional importance. The room has unique 1907 décor. Dutch-born French architect Edouard Niermans, who was also an interior decorator, created floral mosaics for the ceiling in the Kohler chocolate shop that was located in a Nikolskaya Street building in the early 20th century. The mosaics are made of smalt, pieces of irregularly-shaped opaque coloured glass and the seal of French glass artist Pizzagalli, who helped with the job, is still visible on one of the panels.