Bear-Shaped Pitcher
A gift to Joseph Stalin
from Lady Nancy Astor
in memory of her visit to
the Soviet Union,
In the summer of 1931, the “Pravda” Daily, the official newspaper
of the ruling Communist party, published a brief report about
“Comrade Stalin hosting Bernard Shaw and his friends”. During
the significant visit to the Soviet Union by the famous writer,
he was accompanied by one of the most extravagant Englishwomen
of the 20th century, first woman-member of parliament in English
history, Lady Nancy Astor.
This odd-looking pitcher in the shape of an amusing, sharp-toothed beast
symbolized the Russian bear, which had crushed a Napoleonic soldier
in his bear hug. This strange item was gifted to the Soviet leader
Joseph Stalin by the spouse of one of the richest people at the time
in Great Britain, Lord Astor. The gift was made as memorabilia of the
unforgettable visit of Lady Astor to the USSR.
Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor
Winner of Nobel Prize,
writer George Bernard Shaw and
Member of the Parliament of Great
Britain, Lady Astor at the Museum
of Underground Printing, a branch
of the Revolution Museum.
On the right: Director of the Museum
of Revolution, Sergey Mitskevich.
22nd of July 1931
A year later, commemorating the meeting in the “high” office, the Englishwoman sent
a gift to Stalin. Lady Astor decided to show her kind and enthusiastic feelings
by presenting the “unique” item to the Soviet leader. This was exactly how the
Lady described the faience pitcher, made in England during the times of the
Napoleonic wars in the first quarter of the 19th century. This shows how the
Russian bear crushes Napoleon in a deadly hug.Such satire in regards to the war
of 1812 became an antique already by the start of the 20th century. And currently
this bear-shaped pitcher is nothing but a unique item: experts have no knowledge of
the existence of any other similar item. As per Lady Astor, the extravagant vessel
expressed the power of the Soviet Union, which “handled the interventionists, just
like old Russia handled Napoleon in the beginning of the last century.” Such an
allegory was not understood so clear-cut by people around Stalin; they tried to
tell the Englishwoman, jokingly, that her gift was not very “suitable.”However, due
to the Lady’s persistence, the “weird” bear was accepted and was sent to Joseph
Stalin’s secretariat. Only after USSR’s victory in the Great Patriotic War
(so called in Russia, the part of WWII fought on the territory of the Soviet Union)
the leader’s personal secretary Alexander Poskryobyshev ordered the handing-over
of the gift from the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party
to the museum: by this time the comparison of the Soviet Union with Russia, which
came out victorious over Napoleon, probably looked more suitable.
Collection custodian:
“Strangely enough, the historic meeting in the office of Stalin started with
vigorous onslaughts on the Soviet leader by Lady Astor. However, by the
end of the meeting the Englishwoman was surprised by the ‘speed and
clarity of Stalin’s thought,’ along with the fact that he had a ‘sense of
humour.’ The Leader, among other things, was very interested in the
anti-Soviet sentiments of the English Parliament. He had a particular
interest in Winston Churchill, war minister during the times of the
Civil War in Russia and a Conservative Party MP. Churchill had financed
the monarchist White Guard’s uniforms and Stalin commented that the Red
Army should have been grateful to him since, after winning the war, they
came into possession of those uniforms. Perhaps this explains Lady’s

Astor’s choice of gift…

Cover letter to the lady Astor`s gift
to Poskrebyshev, A. N., the Secretary of Stalin,
from the Plenipotentiary representative of the USSR
in United Kingdom,
Sokolnikov, G. 1932
Upon their return to England, Churchill ridiculed Bernard Shaw
and Lady Astor for their visit to Stalin, calling them “an old
fool and double-faced Columbine.” By the end of the 1930s Lady
Astor’s saloon had turned into the headquarters of anti-Soviet
intrigues. Nancy Astor opposed the English-Russian alliance until
1942. Her wary views of the USSR did not change even after the
war: Lady Astor publically spoke about the reinstatement of
Germany as a buffer between England and Russia.
“We must stop Russia,” said Lady Astor, “or it will be too late.”
Sir Winston Churchill, 1942.
United Nations Information Office, New York - Library of Congress