Meissen - (Ceramics Porcelain Germany)

Meissen - (Ceramics, Porcelain, Germany) Europe's first and most important hard-paste porcelain manufactory, situated some twelve miles from Dresden, Saxony, Germany, founded in 1710 and named the Royal Saxon Porcelain Manufacture. The first years were largely experimental. Two classes of ware were made, true porcelain and red stoneware, both the invention of J. F. Bottger. By about 1714 the factory was in commercial production.

Bottger died in 1719 and the venture might well have collapsed had not the King (Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland) appointed a Commission to reorganize and enlarge the factory. Progress was almost uninterrupted from 1720 to 1756 (the year the Seven Years War broke out); a disturbed period followed and by the time the factory management was reconstituted (1763-t) Meissen faced serious competition from other European factories, particularly from Sevres. The so-called 'Academic Period' followed (1763-74) and then came the period of Marcolini's management (1774-1814). In the nineteenth century the decline was unspectacular.

Until 1733: Shapes at first followed those of contemporary baroque silver. Painted decoration was undistinguished until 1720 when Johann Gregor Herold, enameller and miniaturist, came to Meissen. As Art Director, Herold was responsible for painted decoration and the colors -evolved and he soon gave the factory a brilliant palette.

Underglaze blue, though never particularly successful at Meissen, dates from about 1725, as do most of the famous ground colors, yellow, blue, green, lilac, grey, crimson-purple. Some of the finest painted decoration was done in the Chinese and Japanese styles; but landscapes and harbor scenes are also notable. Figures were made, animals, grotesque human figures such as dwarfs, but this was the great period of painted decoration; modeling came into its own with the advent of Kandler.

1733-63: Johann Joachim Kandler came to Meissen in 1731 and was appointed chief modeler in 1733. With him the baroque (although by this time giving way to the rococo) found expression in terms of porcelain. He almost invented the 'figure' and that it later became the 'Dresden figure' was no fault of his. He drew inspiration from many and diverse sources and his figures range from Harlequin to street trader, shepherdess to artisan, gallant to Olympian god, court lady to monkey band. His earliest work is his best. Though he adapted himself to the rococo style he was never happy in it.

Modeled and molded relief decoration was introduced to table wares and vases. Scrolls and basketwork patterns became more and more elaborate as the influence of the rococo style grew stronger. What began as border decoration (on plates, for example) spread over the entire surface. Molded flowers had a vogue; the lips and handles of jugs and coffee-pots carried scrolls and flourishes. Tureens in the form of vegetables and animals were made in the 1740's and 50's. As regards painted decoration, chinoiseries remained popular. Formal Oriental flower patterns had a vogue until c. 1740, when more naturalistic European flower painting came into favor. At about this time, too, pastoral scenes deriving from Watteau and other French painters were introduced, and later, in the 1750's, mythological subjects.

1764-74: The Academic Period. Michel-Victor Acier, a French sculptor, was appointed chief modeler, jointly with Kandler, in 1764. Herold retired in 1765. The old order was giving way to a new neo-classicism. Symmetry, and rather stiff symmetry at that, replaced the rococo curve. Painted decoration became more and more naturalistic. The prevailing styles of Sevres were followed. Lace decoration (lace dipped in slip and then applied to a figure; during firing the material burned away leaving the mesh design on the ware) dates from c. 1770. This was all very well but, clearly, the great days were over. 1774-1814: Count Camillo Marcolini was appointed Director in 1774. He did what he could to revive Meissen's prosperity, but circumstances (not least in the form of Wedgwood's wares) were against him. The Thuringian factories imitated (and under-cut) Meissen; Meissen imitated Sevres. Topographical decoration was good but uninspired. The financial position the factory was precarious; Marcolini sold much defective white porcelain that had accumulated over the years in order to raise money.

The nineteenth century: The classical style lasted until about 1830. The influence of Wedgwood is to be discerned. Lithophanes were a popular novelty introduced in 1828. The rococo style was revived between 1835-70 and Dresden figures were produced in enormous numbers. The export trade to England and the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century was big business. Most of the 'Dresden' china to be found in antique shops today is late nineteenth century. (Many experts apply the term 'Meissen' to eighteenth century products of this factory, and the term 'Dresden' to wares produced after 1800.)

Crossed swords are the famous mark, first used about 1724. A dot between the hilts signifies the Academic Period; a star between the hilts was applied during the Marcolini management.

Early Meissen Porcelain: The Wark Collection from the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens Early Meissen Porcelain: The Wark Collection from the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens


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