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Page:EB1911 - Volume 05.djvu/792

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MODERN]
757
CERAMICS

experienced Staffordshire potters were procured to direct these works, and so far as ordinary domestic pottery was concerned, the first half of the 19th century witnessed the establishment in every country of Europe and in the United States of America of pottery works managed by Englishmen, where earthenwares were made after the English fashion. We shall refer presently to the survival or revival of the older styles of pottery and porcelain, but the English influence was undoubtedly paramount, with one or two notable exceptions, down to 1850, or even later. England itself witnessed a notable development of its pottery manufacture, which became more and more aggregated in that district of North Staffordshire designated emphatically “The Potteries,” where, in spite of later developments, from two-thirds to three-quarters of all the pottery and porcelain made in the British Isles is still produced. This concentration of the industry in England has resulted in a race of pottery workers not to be matched elsewhere in the world, and while it was the supply of cheap coal and coarse clay which first gave Staffordshire its pre-eminence, that pre-eminence is now retained as much by the traditional skill of the workmen of the district as by the enterprise of its manufacturers.

While we must admire, from the economic point of view, the methods of manufacture which have placed England in the first rank as a pottery-producing country, inasmuch as they have brought within the reach of the humblest domestic utensils of high finish and great durability, it is impossible to say much for the taste or art associated with them. Neatness, serviceableness and durability, English domestic wares undoubtedly possess in a degree unknown to any earlier type of pottery, but the general use of transfer-printing as the principal method of decoration, and the absence of any distinctive style of ornament, must cause them to take a low rank in comparison with the wares of past centuries, when mechanical perfection was impossible and rich colour and truly decorative painting were the chief distinctions of the pottery of every country. The London International Exhibition of 1851 is generally supposed to indicate the low-water mark of art as applied to industry; it should rather be regarded as marking the period when many of the old handicrafts had been extinguished by the use of mechanical appliances and the growth of the factory system, and when the delight of men in these current developments was so great that they were regarded as triumphs in themselves, when they were only “means to an end.”

Since that period the development of pottery and porcelain has followed two main directions: (1) an attempt on the part of manufacturers to produce the most artistic results possible with modern processes and methods, and (2) the interesting and valuable efforts of those individual potters in every country with whom art was the first consideration and commercial production was disregarded.

Though the English pottery factories were of such paramount importance in the first half of the 19th century, it must be remembered that some of the oldest factories in Europe were still alive and active. The royal factories in Sèvres, Meissen, Berlin, Vienna, St Petersburg and elsewhere, surviving the wreck of the Napoleonic Wars, continued at the expense of their respective states, to produce porcelains which were the legitimate development of their work during the 18th century.

Meissen and Berlin.—At Meissen, efforts were made to improve the technical process in use, but, unfortunately, the old Meissen wares had already become valuable, and they were reproduced, marks included, until all initiative was destroyed, and the factory continued to live, mainly, on its old reputation.

At Berlin, the financial troubles of the Prussian monarchy throughout the early years of the 19th century were severely felt, so that a cheaper class of porcelain was manufactured. The only innovations that can be ascribed to the factory during this period, though highly esteemed at the time, form striking examples of the artistic decadence of the period. Such was the lace-work decoration made by dipping lace in porcelain slip so that on firing the thread burned away, leaving a porcelain facsimile; another was the production of slabs of porcelain modelled in such a way that on viewing the piece by transmitted light it appeared like a picture painted en grisaille.

From the artistic point of view there is little to be said for the majority of productions of the Berlin factory, but nowhere in the world has greater attention been paid to the technical and scientific problems of porcelain manufacture, and this establishment has rendered the greatest service in the development of the important chemical and electrical industries of Germany by the splendid appliances it has invented for scientific use.

Since 1870 the works, removed to Charlottenburg, have been conducted with very great enterprise. It was here that Seger perfected his soft porcelain based on the glazes and bodies of the best Japanese porcelains, and here also he developed the manufacture of copper-red glazes in imitation of the old sang-de-boeuf and flambé, glazes of the Chinese, at the same time establishing some of the scientific principles underlying their production. At Berlin, too, all the modern methods of decoration, whether in coloured glazes, raised enamels, pâte sur pâte, the elaborate paintings of flowers, birds or figures, or the use of crystalline glazes, have been followed with great success; but the factory has never yet given any special impetus or new direction to the decorative side of porcelain.

Vienna.—Few European factories were so little affected by the general trend of affairs as the royal factory at Vienna. We have already referred to the elaborate paintings and rich gilding which became the distinguishing feature of its wares towards the end of the 18th century, and this style, once perfected, seems to have been continued with little change. It has been stated by a renowned German authority, that the Viennese porcelain was at its best between 1785 and 1815. During this period the plan of painting copies of pictures on porcelain was developed to its utmost, and this, in combination with the richest gilding, marks the apotheosis of Viennese porcelain. The factory came to an end in 1864, but collectors should be warned that a flood of cheap porcelains, decorated in modern Viennese workshops, and therefore styled “Viennese porcelain,” has during the last twenty years overwhelmed the English and American markets.

Sèvres.—The important part played by the Royal French manufactory at Sèvres has already been sketched. During the troublous years of the French Revolution the works practically came to a standstill, and under the Directory it was a question whether this manufactory, along with certain other state establishments in France, should be closed. Napoleon, however, decided that for the glory of France and as a means of encouraging its porcelain industry, seriously threatened by the English potters, the establishment at Sèvres should be conducted as a national factory. By a splendid coincidence Alexander Brongniart, a man of great natural ability, and a noted scientist, was appointed director, and retained that post under the successive governments of France until his death in 1847. In the hands of Brongniart the establishment at Sèvres became at once a school of research and a centre of practical accomplishment—the influence of which was felt throughout Europe. Its products were obviously inspired by the demands of successive French monarchs and their courts. It ministered to the grandiose ideas of Napoleon, who demanded pieces that were to speak of his victories, and after every campaign a fresh table service or new suite of vases was produced to commemorate the emperor’s successes. The most striking piece of this kind was the vase made to commemorate the marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise in 1810. It was designed by Isabey and was modelled with figures in bas-relief. The principal group contains not less than 115 such figures, while the subsidiary group, representing the acclaiming populace, contains between 2000 and 3000 figures. This vase was three years in making, and is said to have cost something like £1250. Unfortunately this was not a solitary example of the productions of Sèvres, for under every successive government of the 19th century the factory has been called to produce enormous vases which are to be found in the rooms or corridors of every palace and museum in France, and while these pieces represent wonderful technical skill, both in their manufacture and the decorations with which they are covered, very few of them possess either spontaneity or charm. They are correct, frigid, cold, and compare most unfavourably from