Monthly Archives: November 2018

“Legendary Porcelain Collectors – Princes, Power and Passion”by Anne Howarth

Ceramics Study Day – 15th November 2018             Speaker –Anne Howarth

Legendary Porcelain Collectors – Princes, Power and Passion

This year the day focused, not on a specific factory, style or time period but on who were the initiators of Porcelain collecting and who had the greatest influence on what is primarily a hobby but is also big business.  Throughout the day Anne illustrated her talk with wonderful and detailed pictures of the prize pieces and it is easy to see how, as there was sufficient money available, the desire to acquire such pieces would be hard to resist, and the common denominator of all the key collectors was wealth.   As the Dutch East India Company started importing Chinese and Japanese porcelain back to Europe in the early-mid 18th century it became a huge status symbol to create a collection of pieces.

Anne began with the Princes, specifically the Prince Regent who was a lover of all beautiful and exotic things and is largely responsible for the fabulous ceramics on display at all the Royal residences.  Indeed the Queen probably has the largest collection of Sevres in the world.  Inevitably the rest of the British aristocracy followed suit and created the   collections now on show in museums and stately homes across the UK.

We were then introduced to Augustus the Strong, the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. Despite his warlike reputation he was obsessed with collecting art in all its forms, including porcelain, and bought avidly from dealers, particularly in Holland.  He was responsible for establishing Dresden as a centre for the arts and created the first public museums.  Johann Bottger, an alchemist was rescued from Frederick 1 of Prussia and while the claims of creating gold failed, he did work out how to produce fine white porcelain.  As a result the Meissen factory was founded.

As the passion for porcelain swept Europe Louis XIV wasn’t going to miss out and demand from Versailles made dealers, particularly the Dutch, even wealthier.  It wasn’t long before the Vincennes factory founded in 1736 was moved to Sevres under Royal ownership and was soon producing some of the most beautiful porcelain ever seen.  As in the UK the aristocracy followed their King so when the revolution came, those lucky enough to escape became forced sellers and the buyers swooped, not least the Prince Regent.

The common theme throughout the day was wealth.  To create the collections now on show throughout Europe cost huge amounts so it was natural for this desire to own porcelain to spread to the USA as that country’s development gathered pace.  Here the great and good are not royal but industrial and the fabulous collections now on show in museums have been bequeathed by ‘Captains of Industry’ or maybe, more accurately by their wives.  Yet again the ownership of fine porcelain had become a huge status symbol and Anne showed a number of posed family photographs with extremely elaborate displays of the finest pieces as the backdrop.

If there was any previous doubt, Anne left us in no doubt that while money may not bring happiness it can bring a fabulous collection of the finest porcelain.  We all left looking forward to visiting many of the houses, palaces and museums mentioned to see for ourselves the beauty and artistry on show.

“La Bella Forma – Fashion and Design in 20th Century” by Sophie Von der Goltz

On 8 November we welcomed Sophie Von der Goltz to Clair Hall for our monthly lecture. Entitled La Bella Forma, Sophie delighted us with her enthusiasm for her two passions: Fashion and Ceramics.

Sophie has an MA in 16th century Venetian Costume, she is a specialist in European Ceramics at Bonham’s and is Treasurer of the French Porcelain Society. In addition she has written “In Focus: A Venetian Sixteenth-century Costume Book as an Authentic Visual Record in Art and Authenticity”.

Sophie’s introduction began with the history of Capodimonte porcelain (sometimes “Capo di Monte”) created by the Capodimonte porcelain manufactory which operated in Naples, Italy, between 1743 and 1759. Capodimonte is the best known factory for early Italian porcelain and is most famous for its moulded figurines. The Doccia porcelain manufactory near Florence being the other main Italian factory.

The porcelain of Capodimonte, and later Naples, was a “superb” translucent soft-paste, “more beautiful” but much harder to fire than the German hard-pastes, or “a particularly clear, warm, white, covered with a mildly lustrous glaze”. The Capodimonte mark was a fleur-de-lis in blue, or impressed in relief inside a circle.

The entire Capodimonte factory was moved to Madrid when its founder King Charles inherited the Spanish throne from his brother in 1759. King Charles III was so enamoured of the porcelain that he took the production to Madrid including the moulds, 41 workers and several thousand pounds of clay! Strictly speaking, this was the end of “Capodimonte porcelain”, but the reputation of the factory’s products was so high that the name is often claimed and used for porcelain made in other factories in or around Naples.

Sophie showed many fine examples of soft paste porcelain. Tea pots, tea bowls with botanical and oriental flowers including Korean flower decorations, porcelain figures of daily Neapolitan life such as “A Vegetable Seller” and also “The famous Cries of London” and, from the Frankenthal manufactory in Germany, “The Coal Seller”.  She also showed magnificent snuff boxes, the interiors of which have the highest calibre of painting, in the British Museum and the Metropolitan museum in New York.

Fashion in art was reflected precisely in porcelain and we were able to compare portraiture and porcelain figures side by side through the centuries with many fine interpretations of fabrics, copies of embellishment, bodice and skirt shapes, long coats and crinolines. Subtle changes in headwear and men’s breeches were all apparent and the tricorn hat frequently worn became bicorn by late 1780-1790 and gave way to the conical hat becoming the top hat. We noted that the traditional figurine bases were often more rounded rather than rocky in appearance and some had purely ornamental scrollwork along the edges. Many, but not all, figurines made during this time reflected life in the royal court or the newly emerging middle classes.

A fascinating and informative lecture that has inspired us to look more closely at fashion and art in porcelain and take more visits to The British Museum and the V&A.  Perhaps we should organise a trip to Naples to visit the Villa Comunale when their exhibition is open for special occasions or even a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of New York?