Most of this pretty and colourful collection of porcelain comes from an early and successful period in the history of the Meissen factory. In 17th and 18th century Europe there was a craze for Oriental porcelain amongst the aristocracy. It was highly desirable and known as ‘white gold’. Although the method for producing porcelain had been known to the Chinese for around 2,000 years, the magic formula remained a mystery in Europe.
In 1708 there was a breakthrough when the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger discovered the recipe for making porcelain, and in 1710 the Meissen manufactory was formed under the patronage of Augustus the Strong, one of the most powerful kings in Europe.
The factory was run by Böttger until his death in 1719. However, dramatic change was afoot with the arrival from Vienna of the young enamel painter, Johann Gregor Höroldt, who arrived at the factory in 1720, aged 24. His skilful ceramic painting was swiftly recognised and he set up painting workshops and colour workshops to create an increased range of vivid enamel colours. He is also responsible for conceiving and creating the distinct style of chinoiserie designs that brought great success to the factory.
Höroldt’s designs display a delightful oriental fantasy world painted onto porcelain. He depicts figures on terraces, at both work and at leisure, surrounded by flowers, birds and insects: we might see a scholar at his desk, a parent amusing a child, or people taking tea. The delicate mandarin figures are finely painted in bright enamels. They wear elaborate costumes and have exaggerated features such as long moustaches and very large hats. The chinoiserie scenes are viewed through gilt painted cartouche borders, embellished with iron-red and purple painted foliate scrolls, and incorporating a lilac/pink lustre decoration developed by Böttger, which now bears his name. Areas of the porcelain not taken up with figurative designs are decorated with sprays of Japanese style chrysanthemums known as Indianische Blumen.
Höroldt decorated the best of the porcelain himself, but following the construction of new kilns and increased production, the factory output was huge and Höroldt was given apprentices and assistants to help execute the painting, although they worked faithfully to his drawings and designs. The shapes of the porcelain at this period were deliberately simplified and plain, in order to act as a blank canvas for the beautiful decoration.
Other subjects, aside from chinoiserie, were also painted. Kauffahrtie, or harbour scenes showing European and Turkish merchants trading at the quayside were popular too. These pieces were often exported, especially to Turkey, where there was great demand from merchants. Another lucrative export market was France.
By the 1730s tastes were changing and new decorative styles were beginning to emerge. Floral designs, known as deutsche Blumen, became popular, as did subjects such as animals and birds. Factory production evolved in a new direction, leaving behind a wonderful legacy of charming chinoiserie designs, with a distinctly European flavour and style.
KATHERINE WRIGHT | SENIOR SPECIALIST