Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
750
[MEISSEN
CERAMICS

blue colour being much run and blistered; and when attempts were made at decoration in enamel colours (i.e. colours fired on the finished glaze) the result was unsatisfactory, as, owing to the refractory nature of the hard felspathic material, these colours frequently scaled off. The later success of the Meissen factory must be attributed to Herold or Höroldt (who joined the staff in 1720 as a colour maker and painter), and to Kandler, a sculptor, who came to the works in 1731. In the hands of these two men the forms and decorations, still largely based on Chinese and Japanese models, assumed a definitely European style, while the composition of the body and the glaze, and the application of colours and gold, were brought to perfection. Herold was appointed director of the works a few years after 1720, and retained that post until 1765, while Kandler was chief modeller from 1731 to 1775. The years from 1730 (when the work definitely emerged from its experimental stage) to 1775 (when Kandler died) mark the most distinctive period of the Meissen porcelain. In the estimation of collectors also the Meissen porcelain of this period is the most valuable, and genuine examples of Alt-Meissen command high prices in the sale rooms, especially in Germany. This appreciation was quite as apparent in the 18th century, for by 1740 Meissen porcelain had won the greatest renown in Europe, and was actually exported by way of Constantinople over the Mahommedan countries of the Nearer East. It is frequently described by contemporary writers as being far superior to the porcelain of China, and so great was its vogue between 1740 and 1750 that as many as 700 workmen—a large number for those days—were employed, and the industry brought large profits as well as great reputation to the Saxon court. Each year saw some fresh departure from the original inspiration of the work, some fresh innovation of European style in design. After 1730 the rude reproductions of Chinese forms and decorations in white or blue and white were replaced by imitations of the Imari porcelains, especially those decorated in the style of Kakiemon. Here Meissen was running a race with Chantilly in setting the fashion for the dainty decorations in red and green and gold which spread in time to all the porcelain factories of Europe. Gradually European motifs became predominant. The simple oriental forms were replaced by distinctively European shapes with architectural mouldings, handles and feet. Instead of the dainty Japanese patterns, we perceive the gradual introduction of “Rococo” scroll-work (as interpreted by the Germans) to form a framework or border for miniature-like paintings of landscapes, ruins, figure-subjects, hunting scenes, &c., executed in the limited palette of on-glaze colours then available. Further evidence of the departure from oriental influence is to be found in the numerous “armorial” services produced between 1730 and 1740; and at the same period we find the first appearance of a style of decoration that has persisted to our own times, as a means of passing off pieces with small flaws in body or glaze, by hiding them among sprays of naturalistic flowers, with an occasional fly or some other winged creature thrown with seeming artlessness over the surface of the piece. This idea, though it seems to have been first used at Meissen, was so useful to the potter that it became general, and a device originally adopted to cover faults of manufacture was elevated into a distinct style of decoration by later European factories (e.g. Strassburg, Niederviller, &c.).

The talents of Kandler were applied in ambitious but unsatisfactory attempts to produce life-sized figures of the twelve apostles, an equestrian statue of Augustus the Strong of heroic proportions, and many models of animals intended for the decoration of the Japanese palace at Dresden. Many of these latter are to be seen in the Dresden Museum, and create an unfavourable impression of the taste of their period. The fame of Kandler is better perpetuated (see example, Plate IX.) by the little statuettes and groups of figures and animals that flowed in a steady stream from his facile hand; for though these figures have prettiness rather than grace, and flair rather than style, they are instinct with the spirit of the middle 18th century, and were eagerly imitated or boldly copied at every factory in Europe. Only in the biscuit porcelain figures of Sèvres, and in some few of the portrait figures of Derby, do we find anything artistically superior. These Meissen statuettes look their best when they are simply in white; many are grotesque and ugly, and the colour decorations are usually in very poor taste, the harsh, shining colours contrasting unpleasantly with the pronounced white of the porcelain.

Mention must be made of the use of modelled flowers at Meissen. Originating in the simple application of modelled branches of prunus, &c. in imitation of the white porcelains of Fu-kien, the method developed until we get not only the characteristic “May-flower” decoration (see example, Plate IX.), but also independent sprays and bouquets modelled in porcelain and coloured with the utmost mechanical precision. It is not quite clear whether this production of porcelain flowers was first perfected at Meissen or at Vincennes,<a name="fa35b" id="fa35b" href="#ft35b">35</a> but it was largely practised at both places.

Toward the end of this period, vases, candelabra, mirror-frames and clock cases were modelled in the most outré rococo forms with applied scrolls, shells and flowers. These pieces had their modelled details picked out in gold and colours, while the success of the French styles of decoration is still further shown by the copies of Watteau figures and groups on the more important vases, dishes and plates. Frederick the Great made sad havoc with the prosperity of Meissen during the Seven Years’ War. He looted the factory both in 1759 and 1761, and is said on the latter occasion to have carried away to Berlin both models, working moulds and many workmen. This misfortune marks the end of the most distinctive Meissen porcelain, for after this time Sèvres became the most important porcelain factory in Europe, and the later productions of Meissen were, for the most part, German versions of the styles initiated at the French royal factory. From 1764 to 1774 Dietrich, a painter, was at the head of affairs, while a Frenchman named Acier succeeded Kandler. They introduced the neo-classical style, which was spreading like a blight all over Europe, and this departure was perfected under the directorship of Count Marcolini (1774–1814), when Meissen, fallen from its high estate, was content to follow the lead of Sèvres.

After the Marcolini period there is nothing to be said of Meissen. The old productions of the factory had become valuable, and the custom of reproducing them, marks included, was adopted. Such a practice was not likely to lead to further progress, and, though the factory was removed from its old site in the Albrechtsburg in 1863, it cannot be said to have added anything to the progress of European porcelain during the 19th century.

EB1911 Ceramics - “Dresden” Potter’s marks.jpg
“Dresden” Potter’s mark.

During the initiatory period the “Dresden” pieces bore the monogram “A.R.” interlaced (Augustus Rex), and between 1712 and 1716 pieces intended for sale and not for the use of the court were marked with the sign of Aesculapius (a snake twining round a staff). From about 1720 two crossed swords, painted in blue under the glaze, with or without accompanying stars, crosses, &c., formed the general mark, but the mark has been so often used on other porcelains that, in itself, it is of slight value as a means of identification.

Vienna.—The first mention of the manufacture of porcelain in Vienna occurs in 1718, when a Dutchman, Claude du Paquier, was granted a patent. He had secured two runaways from Meissen, Stölzel and Hunger, yet little progress was made until after 1744, when the factory was bought by the empress Maria Theresa. At first the traditional styles of Meissen were continued, but the characteristic Viennese porcelain was produced after 1785. In this ware figure-painting, rich ground colours and elaborate gilding are associated in an unmistakeable manner. Leithner, who was chemist and colour maker at this period, succeeded in producing a more extensive and brilliant palette of colours than was in use at any other European porcelain factory in the last quarter of the 18th century; and the gilding