Porcelain production in Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century was dominated by the royal manufactories in Berlin, Vienna, and Sèvres, just outside Paris. The combination of technical advances, royal patronage, and innovative factory administrators resulted in porcelain production of unusually high quality. The Twinight Collection, though formed in only the last fourteen years, has become one of the major repositories, either private or public, of European porcelain from 1800 to 1850. This exhibition brings together approximately seventy-five superb examples from these three European porcelain manufactories and illustrates the exchange of ideas and styles between the factories that resulted in some of the most remarkable porcelain ever produced.
Each factory represented in the exhibition was keenly aware of stylistic and technical developments taking place elsewhere, and the exchange of influences often makes it difficult to distinguish a given factory's product. Accordingly, the works of art in the exhibition are organized according to subject matter or type of decoration rather than place of manufacture. The choice of themes reflects several major artistic preoccupations of the era: ancient history, contemporary events, the natural world, and the changing cityscapes and landscapes of Europe. Within these decorative schemes the porcelain manufactories found an abundance of subjects, animating the resulting compositions through superb painting, inventive designs, and brilliant colors.
Many of the works on view in the exhibition were selected to be royal gifts at the time they were made. Vases, dinner services, and tea services frequently were presented to other members of the royal family, to foreign courts, or to honor a special achievement or service to the court. As such, these works reflect the highest aspirations of each manufactory and provide us with a spectacular record of the artistic tastes and interests of this chapter of European history.
The exhibition is made possible by Richard Baron Cohen.
The Natural World
The observation and classification of the natural world reached an unprecedented level of seriousness and scientific accuracy in early nineteenth-century Europe. This increasing interest in the observed world and its categorization was reflected in many of the decorative schemes chosen for porcelain. Flowers, birds, and landscapes—both exotic and familiar—depicted with exacting detail were considered not only aesthetically pleasing but also worthy subject matter.
Views of cities or landscapes are among the most familiar types of decoration on nineteenth-century European porcelain. Known as vedute, the Italian word for "views," these depictions of buildings, cityscapes, and countryside record the world with a degree of precision and accuracy that was unprecedented in porcelain painting. Often working from prints, the painters at the various porcelain factories depicted monuments, new buildings, and sweeping views of city skylines and rural landscapes that provide historically important and stunningly beautiful visual records of the time.
Important events such as marriages and royal visits as well as architectural interiors were viewed as appropriate subjects for the decoration of porcelain. The objects in this case all record historical occasions or places of special significance. Once depicted, an event was not only commemorated but was also imbued with particular importance.
Recalling Antiquity: Micromosaics
The micromosaic technique was strongly evocative of classical antiquity. Imitating the large-scale mosaics of Greek and Roman art, micromosaics were composed of tesserae, extremely small pieces of colored glass that were assembled to create decorative patterns or representational images. Micromosaic production flourished in Rome in the nineteenth century. Inspired by its popularity, porcelain painters developed a means of simulating its appearance. By painting a web of tiny lines suggesting the spaces between the tesserae, they evoked the slight irregularities of a true micromosaic with remarkable success.
Recalling Antiquity: Cameos
The prevailing Neoclassical style of the early nineteenth century not only employed classical motifs in all forms of art but also sought to emulate techniques associated with classical antiquity. Cameo carving was one of the most revered luxury arts of ancient Greece and Rome. Cameos, carved from numerous types of hardstones, often utilized variations in the stone's color to artistic effect. Profile portrait heads were a particularly popular subject for cameo carvers. Just as they had found a way to imitate the micromosaic technique in paint, the porcelain painters at Sèvres and Berlin became extremely adept at using enamel colors to simulate the physical properties of hardstone cameos.
Recalling Antiquity: Egypt
Motifs and images drawn from ancient Egypt became popular throughout Europe in the early nineteenth century due, in part, to Napoleon's Egyptian military campaigns of 1798–99. The publications that resulted from the French expeditions made Egyptian motifs highly fashionable as well as readily available to a wide public. Both the forms and decoration employed for porcelain reflected this interest in Egyptian art, and motifs as varied as pseudo-hieroglyphics, crocodiles, and sphinxes entered the European decorative vocabulary.
The type of ceramic employed for the objects on view in this exhibition was known in Europe as hard-paste porcelain. While an artificial, soft-paste porcelain had been developed in France in the seventeenth century, true, or hard-paste, porcelain—close in composition to porcelain from China—was developed in Dresden, Germany, in 1708, leading to the founding of the Meissen factory. While soft-paste porcelain remained in production at Sèvres throughout the eighteenth century, the factories in Vienna and Berlin produced only hard paste. By the early nineteenth century all the major European manufactories made only hard-paste porcelain, which is distinguished by its cool white color, translucency, thinness, and ability to withstand high firing temperatures.
Imperial Porcelain Manufactory, Vienna
Claudius Innocentius du Paquier founded a private porcelain enterprise in Vienna in 1718. Beset by financial misfortunes, it was taken over by Empress Maria Theresa in 1744, becoming the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory. It ceased operation in 1864.
The porcelain factory at Sèvres, located outside Paris, was established in 1740 at the Château de Vincennes to the southeast. Moving to larger quarters at Sèvres in 1756, it became the official royal manufactory in 1759 and remains active to this day.
Royal Porcelain Manufactory, Berlin
This factory, the Königlische Porzellan-Manufactur, is commonly known by the initials KPM. Officially founded in 1763 by Frederick the Great of Prussia, it was actually a reorganization of a nonroyal enterprise established three years earlier. The factory remains in operation today.