‘White Gold’ or porcelain as known in 18th century was considered to be one of the
most prized commodities. Though trade in porcelain ware from the Orient was booming, but the query was about imitating it in the West. Though porcelain was developed in China about 2000 years ago, it was a mystery to the Europeans till the 18th century. However, Johann Friedrich Böttger managed to find the formula with trial and error and in the year 1710, porcelain production was started by Meissen Factory. It went on to manufacture some of the best porcelain sculptures and ware and is still a sought after brand for European porcelain.
About Johann Friedrich Böttger
An alchemist, Johann Friedrich Böttger bragged that he could create gold and that is why he was asked to prove it after being imprisoned by Augustus II the Strong, ruler of Saxony. Though he was unable to create gold, he managed to discover the secret of making pure porcelain of high quality.
Meissen factory establishment
After high quality porcelain was discovered by Böttger, the ruler of Saxony,
Augustus the Strong founded the Meissen Factory and many highly skilled artists were employed to create high quality wares. From dishes, vases and bowls started being produced under the trademark of Meissen porcelain. They started experimenting with a host of forms and glazes and later, Bohemian glass cutters were recruited to add to the craft. However, Meissen Porcelain Manufactory took off on a larger scale after Johann Gregorius Höroldt joined in 1720s.
As the company belonged to the ruler of Saxony, he had a huge collection of Oriental porcelain and started ordering large quantities from the factory. Additionally, a lot of it was sold to the European nobility. Porcelain became a symbol of wealth and power.
Amalgamation of East and West designs
In the initial years, many of the Meissen designs were inspired by the Oriental wares. However, in the 1720s, a new phase of decorating the porcelain wares with fantasy chinoiserie scenes began. Later on Japanese designs, especially Kakeimon motifs took precedence apart from other traditional forms. The designs and craft evolved. With time, though the original design was inspired by the Asian motifs, it was given a Baroque makeover, which gave it a unique look.
Origin of porcelain figurines
The inspiration for creating figurines in porcelain came from the sugar ornaments
seen on the tables in the 18th century. The sugar was pressed into moulds to form a variety of shapes. That was one of the reasons that such detailed and edible ornaments were expensive. Now that the figurines were made with such details and were more long lasting, they became more valuable. The common designs were depiction of street vendors and pastoral scenes and were designed as table decorations. Additionally, some of the figures were mythological or even satirical, conveying information about the owners, with varying emotions.
Among other designs, the most common Meissen porcelain figurine was the Harlequin. He was one of the popular Italian commedia dell’arte of the 16th century and was influenced by Molière and Shakespeare. Usually a clown in the traveling theater, Harlequin was a beloved figure among the collectors and artists alike.
With mass production of Meissen porcelain in the 18th century, the ruler of
Saxony ordered creating a menagerie of huge sized porcelain animals. These life-size animals were made for the famed Japanese Palace in Dresden. The project was entrusted to Johann Joachim Kändler and Johann Jakob Kirchner. They played an important role in the evolution of the porcelain designs and style at Meissen Manufactory. Kändler’s skill was to make the models look life like with active movement and dynamism, which makes them a high value collectible even today.
High value of the porcelain pieces
Currently, most of the animals are housed in the Zwinger collection in Dresden, but there are some that are in private collections all over the world. In July 2016, model of the bustard that was made by Kirchner sold for £842,500. That is the worth of such Meissen porcelain collectibles.
Most of the pieces that were made during the early 1720s till later 18th century, are in good condition but not seen in auctions for a long time, command a good price. Most of the porcelain pieces crafted by Kändler are much in demand. As with all collectibles, provenance is essential.
Marks and signs of Meissen porcelain
If you thought that the Meissen crossed swords mark is the first aspect to consider,
but many of the early pieces were unmarked. The color, feel and weight of the porcelain are important. The early period porcelain is marked with Smokey colored white but by the end of the 1720s, the porcelain became brilliant white as the porcelain formula was changed.
Other signs to look out for are the footrims and edge of the bases as the glaze pulls back in an irregular fashion and isn’t in a perfect line. You need to know that the decoration on the wares, should feel right, even if the decoration is unusual. However, if the porcelain ware shows baroque decoration that is combined with neo-classical elements, you can be on your guard as it might not be genuine Meissen collectible. Original pieces need to have dark honey colored ostentatious richness and a glow that differs from other porcelain factories of that time. In 18th century, KPM Berlin was another factory producing porcelain ware that used gilding that was paler, flatter with a brighter sheen to the ware.
Thus, as a collector, you need to be aware about the quality of the porcelain modeling should be right for that period and the artist that made it. Thus, it can be seen that early figures were modelled irregularly while the sculptures and figurines by Kändler a life-like fluidity and high quality finish. The bird and animal models of 18th century has proper delineation and incising.
Recognize Restoration signs
Over the years, some of the Meissen porcelain figures and group of figures have bene restored. Usually, these are edges, swords, fingers and tree leaves. Restoration might have been done twenty years or ago or maybe even hundred years ago and many of these restorations might change colors. This si usually seen as yellowed streaks or hues. Though modern repair signs are less obvious as the restoration techniques have improved and lacquer sprays are used which are difficult to spot. However, one of the obvious tricks is to look for a different sheen in the light.
Additionally, another sign is that the restored portion is always a little warmer than the cold unrestored porcelain. When you pick a figure, when it has not been under any light but in natural temperature, put the restored area under the philtrum (skin between the nose and lips). If it has been restored, it will be slightly warm than the other parts of the porcelain figurine.
View the collections
Most of the valuable Japanese Palace Meissen collections of the can be viewed at the Zwinger collection in Dresden. While other pieces of the famed porcelain sculptures and figurines are spread around the world, and can be seen at Ernst Schneider collection at the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Wark Collection at the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida. The collections house figurines and sculptures from different eras and have been preserved well.
If you are looking to start your own collection of Meissen porcelain, it is an investment. The more you learn on the subject, the better will be your journey as a collector. It is possible to start small and then widen your collection that is born from passion. Know more about the Meissen porcelain collectibles at Ivoryandart.com