|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
Porcelain And Pottery - Europe, China And Japan
Porcelain is perhaps the most entrancing of all the branches of the Antique Tree. It appeals alike to the collector with a limited pocket and limited space in his home and to the millionaire who can spread his collection lavishly over a score of rooms. Even a small modern villa can absorb an enormous quantity of porcelain, whereas if its owner collects mainly furniture or even paintings a limit to the space available is soon reached. Silver is perhaps just as easy to accommodate, but silver needs constant cleaning, and silver attracts burglars. Porcelain, however, seldom seems to lure them, probably because of its fragility and subsequent difficulty of removal.
There is, of course, always this problem of fragility as a drawback to collecting china. Damage is a serious matter and a moment's carelessness may ruin the value of an expensive piece. But pleasant cabinets for storage are fairly easy to buy and they can be ranged round the walls without taking up too much room. Besides, antique porcelain and pottery, though getting scarce, was made in such large quantities that it is not really much more difficult to get than many other kinds of antique.
Consequently, if you do damage any of your pieces, it is always possible to buy some more!
Anyone who takes up china collecting as a hobby will need to read widely, and the literature of ceramics is vast indeed. The more one delves into its history, the more bewilderingly beautiful the whole subject tends to seem, for pottery is as old as civilisation itself and had clearly reached a high degree of excellence even in primitive times. Porcelain is more recent, but the Chinese were already making beautiful porcelain when Britain was a mere island of fur-clad barbarians.
Pottery was known in Europe in pre-Roman times, but the secret of porcelain long eluded the European craftsmen. Its fascinating translucence was first revealed to them when the Dutch merchant sailors began to buy up quantities of it on their Far Eastern expeditions and to ship it to European ports. At first it was thought its manufacture must be on the same principle as glass, and efforts to copy it in this way were made.
Only in the eighteenth century was the secret finally discovered in Europe, and this explains why all European true porcelain is of fairly recent date, though a good deal of the ornamental enamelled pottery known as faience has survived from earlier times.
The neophyte who embarks on the great Ceramic Pilgrimage must certainly be prepared for some hard study, but he will do well to avoid the more elaborate works, at all events to begin with. They tend to confuse by the very wealth of information they offer. A good start might be made by visiting a museum with a collection of china and then looking up some information on the pieces which have been seen there. In this way, first-hand knowledge will precede literary knowledge, surely a better procedure than the other way round. Still, there are some general facts which the beginner will want to know. Here is a selection of them as an introduction to an extremely elaborate and fascinating subject: The difference between pottery and porcelain is obvious at first sight. Pottery is opaque and of a thick and rather coarse texture; porcelain is hard, white, vitreous and semitransparent, delicate in appearance and very fragile. But porcelain itself is divided into soft paste and hard paste, the soft variety being the earlier and the more valuable, on the whole, for collectors' specimens.
The hard kind, which is the later sort and which is still made in vast quantities, has a glistening and almost metallic appearance. Soft paste specimens do not come one's way very frequently. But if you encounter a piece which seems to have the gentle warmth and softly glowing colours of the older variety a test can always be made by slightly scratching the bottom of it with a file. If it is soft paste the scratch will be visible; hard paste is impervious to this test.
Both pottery and porcelain next fall into a large variety of groups according to their place of origin. Chinese porcelain, however, tends to be known according to the period of the Dynasty and Reign in which it was made. Thus, while we talk of Delft pottery and Dresden porcelain (Meissen, to be exact), we talk of Ming or K'ang Hsi if the pieces are Chinese, according to the Imperial periods when they were manufactured. Japanese porcelain tends to be known by its place of origin or port of shipment, Imari being the most familiar appellation since that was the port whence so much of it was sent to Europe.
The famous European wares are comparatively few in number. But there are many important secondary ones whose names the collector should certainly know, otherwise he may reject a piece as of little value through not having realized its significance. As a single instance of this, Sevres had a most important forerunner in the manufactory at Vincennes and authentic pieces of Vincennes are extremely valuable and most difficult to come by.
After Dresden and Sevres, Vienna takes high rank, but a number of other factories produced very high quality porcelain, that of Nymphenburg, Limoges and Capo di Monte (Naples) being extremely elegant. English porcelain will be dealt with in the next chapter, but we may note in passing a few of the famous names. Worcester, Derby, Coalport, Bow and Chelsea are names familiar to all; so are Wedgwood, Minton and Spode, three of the few really celebrated ceramic names that have come down from an actual manufacturer's name rather than from a particular place or period. (Wedgwood, of course, is not porcelain but pottery. The great Wedgwood made no porcelain at all, though the later factory has produced some.) But there were a number of other highly distinguished factories such as Swansea, Longton Hall, Pinxton, Lowestoft and Liverpool, while Rockingham is to many collectors the most subtly lovely of all English porcelains. All these sprang from eighteenthcentury foundations; some of them, like Worcester and Wedgwood, have continued into the present time.
How is it possible to differentiate the various makes? How can one be sure that a particular plate is Meissen or Coalport, or a particular cup and saucer Rockingham or Sevres? The answer is that you frequently can't be sure. For one thing, some truly marvellous reproductions have been made which can occasionally bewilder even the experts. But the factories also tended to copy each other's styles and marks so that real authentication is sometimes wellnigh impossible. Coalport, for instance, about a hundred years ago, turned out some superb copies of Sevres (particularly the famous Rose Pompadour ground colour) which are almost as beautiful as the originals and with the passing of a century have acquired the same lovely patina of age. Seen side by side with the Sevres pieces they are almost indistinguishable, except to a connoisseur who has given years of his life to a study of the subject.
As for manufacturers' marks they are really hardly worth the trouble of memorising. They were copied so frequently that it is impossible to place any real reliance on them. It must always be remembered that the mark on the base of a piece of china is the easiest of all features to imitate; anyone who can make a vase or a figure at all can copy a mark.
So do not become excited every time you see a vase with a Gold Anchor mark on the bottom, or pay a high price on the strength of it. If it is a genuine piece of `Gold Anchor Chelsea' $300 will be most unlikely to secure it; it may well be nearer $3,000 or even more.
On the other hand, if you get it for $84 you have almost certainly paid too much since it will be a reproduction and not really worth that amount.
Sevres, owing to its enormous prestige and costliness, has always been widely copied. It was expensive right from the beginning, and its extravagances have even been cited as one of the causes of the French Revolution! There are so many fakes of Sevres about that the famous interlocked L's of its mark should be viewed with the greatest caution whenever they are met. In perhaps seven cases out of ten they will indicate a spurious piece, though some of the imitations are very lovely indeed.
CERAMICS OF THE EAST, CHINA AND JAPAN
The Chinese were the originators of porcelain, and in any study of Ceramics their wonderful contributions to both porcelain and pottery must have pride of place. Chinese porcelain lacks the rich application of gilding and the sumptuous ormolu mounts which were to distinguish some latter porcelains, such as those of Sevres and Chelsea. But it has a marvellous quality of civilised splendour mingled with a superb artistic restraint which makes it unique in ceramic history. In its earlier examples, especially those of the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) A.D.) emphasis was on beauty of form and purity of line and the subtle simplicity of these pieces makes them particularly acceptable to the artistic standards of the present time. Even earlier specimens than Sung can be sometimes encountered in English collections, such as the celebrated Tang Horses. But these are pottery, not porcelain, and though at least a thousand years old they often preserve traces of their original colouring.
With the coming of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) there is the beginning of more elaborate surface decoration by painting. Finally, painted porcelain reaches a high water mark of technical accomplishment and chromatic gorgeousness in the K'ang Hsi period (1662-1722) which was the principal reign of the Manchu or Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1912).
Later porcelain is less highly esteemed by collectors, but, like the Victoriana of European antiques, it is probably only a matter of time before it returns to fashion. In any case, all good Chinese porcelain is constantly going up in value and should be acquired whenever the chance presents itself. The Chinese Government has now imposed stringent restrictions on the export of important works of art from their marvellous past. It is thus inevitable that all Chinese pieces of quality, whatever their period, will grow more and more difficult to get.
The problem of authentication of Chinese specimens to their proper period is a matter for experts. Many specimens bear the mark of reigns clearly previous to their date of manufacture. K'ang Hsi marks are very common on later pieces -'reproductions' or even `fakes' we should call them. But it does not do to apply these terms too indiscriminately. The Chinese, with their deep sense of veneration for their ancestors, often put on their own work the mark of a former age more as an indication of the spirit in which it was conceived than as a deliberate attempt to pass it off as a faked antique. On the cheaper ware, the mass-produced `export' pieces, there are, no doubt, many fraudulent marks. But there is also much really charming and thoughtful Chinese porcelain where the marks of a previous reign were clearly put with no commercial intention to deceive.
If a piece has been definitely authenticated as belonging to the period of its mark, it is usual to state this. The sale catalogue, for example, would say `Mark and reign of, e.g. K'ang Hsi or Ch'ien Lung,' the Emperor in question. If its age has not been established the catalogue will simply say `Mark of . . .' and the prospective buyer must draw his own conclusions. There are hundreds of pleasant blue and white vases, potpourri and ginger jars which bear well-written K'ang Hsi marks, but obviously could never have come from that period. They will be (or should be) listed at the sales under `Mark of K'ang Hsi.'
On the other hand, a great deal of Chinese porcelain, and pottery, has no mark on it at all. In that case it is an interesting process to try to establish the date of the pieces and frequently they are older than might be imagined. I possess a large jar painted with a Chinese battle scene, including caparisoned horses, banners waving in the wind and figures in elaborate oriental armour. I had thought it to be early nineteenth century but an expert considers it as a genuine K'ang Hsi piece; in this case there is no mark of any kind and opinion has to be passed solely on the evidence of the texture and decoration of the jar.
Sooner or later the porcelain lover will come up against the terms famille rose, famille verte and famille noire as applied to Chinese ware. There is also famille jaune, although very few specimens of it ever seem to turn up (most unfortunately, as yellow is a delightful colour on porcelain). These terms, like the firmly-rooted architectural labels `Early English,' `Geometrical' and `Decorated,' look destined to remain with us for good. Their French origin is due to the fact that the French were among the most enthusiastic collectors of Chinese ware and the terms themselves have now a respectable history behind them.
The `rose,' `green,' `black' and `yellow' of the four `families' refer to the predominating tint used and not normally to the general ground-colour of the piece. Famille noire pieces, however, are usually covered with a black ground, relieved perhaps with vermilion and green and white. Both famille rose and famille verte leave a certain amount of the underlying white porcelain visible and carry beautifully-conceived paintings of figures and flowers, sometimes in panels. They will have a delicate predominance of green or rose, according to the palette used. Gilding is employed sparingly by the Chinese, and many pieces have none at all. But when it is used it is with delightfully delicate effect.
District or town names are not referred to very much in talking of Chinese porcelain, certainly not to the extent of European factories. But the name of Ching-te-Chen should be noted, this being the great pottery centre of China corresponding in many ways to the Five Towns of Staffordshire. Other well-known names are Nankin, specially famous for its blue and white ware, and Canton, the home of an enormous industry in beautifully enamelled porcelain.
A fashion for `chinoiserie' seems to ebb and flow in Europe. In the later eighteenth century it took the form of Chinese garden-pavilions and pagodas and even decoration of the fronts of long-case clocks as well as an enthusiasm for pottery and porcelain. In the Victorian and Edwardian period it was mainly a fashion for ceramics and many country-house sales will still yield up lovely specimens of what was then so ardently collected and prized.
Owing to the lavish scale of living of sixty and seventy years ago these pieces are often too cumbrous for our skimpy modern dwellings. But if you have the room for them few things are more satisfying than a group of fine large Chinese vases on carved wood stands. They are both impressive and charming when placed on a staircase or landing and they look very well against a dark-panelled wall. Prices are going up steadily and a handsome pair of the kind which could have been bought easily for $56 ten years ago will probably fetch $170 to $200 today. Really magnificent and genuinely old specimens will reach a far higher figure still.
So if you encounter good Chinese pieces going reasonably (`cheaply' is most unlikely) buy them without hesitation.
We seem to be entering another of the periodic waves of chinoiserie and the lovely art of China is coming into its European own again.
Always linked with China in the eyes of Europeans, though not in the eyes of the Chinese themselves, is the art of Japan. (The great port for the shipping of Japanese porcelain and pottery to the West was Imari and its name has often been used as synonymous with Japan in ceramic terms.)
Until quite late in the nineteenth century very little was known in Europe about Japan. The initial success of the Gilbert and Sullivan Mikado in 1885 was due in part to the extremely fashionable novelty of the subject; a craze for `things Japanese' had set in severely and many of the charming little black, red and gold painted wooden wallbrackets and other trifles which can still be picked up at sales date from this time.
Naturally, porcelain took a prominent place in the collecting mania. Unfortunately the Japanese themselves, with a too eager eye to commercial profit, let loose on England and Europe a whole flood of the most inferior `export' ware. Even now, as a result of the prejudice created by these dreadful objects (particularly a very vile brand of so-called `Satsuma' which has hardly yet finished being sent over) many people fight shy of Japanese porcelain.
This is really most unjust. Japanese porcelain at its best is superb and well able to hold its own with Chinese, surely high praise indeed. The most frequent pieces of good-quality Japanese ware which the small collector is likely to meet are `Imari' wall-plaques and plates, but fine figures and vases turn up from time to time. The `Imari' pieces are often suggestive of rich Oriental brocade, and it seems that it was the European merchants and sailors who originally persuaded the Japanese to transfer some of their lovely fabric designs to the medium of porcelain. At all events, they certainly produce a splendidly brocaded effect. In the better specimens they can be extraordinarily ornamental when hung in an entrance hall or over a mantelpiece.
A much used colour in the Imari ware is a sumptuous tomato-red and this, often combined with gold and a fine deep blue, gives a beautiful glowing result, very acceptable to those who like rich colouring in their bric-a-brac. There are many cheap `export' imitations of Imari available, some very poor indeed, but good examples can still be got for about $12 or $15 each, the larger and finer plaques naturally fetching more.
(The influence of the `Imari Brocade' pattern can be seen in the blue and gold and tomato colouring of `Crown Derby,' which is still manufactured today in reproductions of its former style. Some very beautiful specimens of earlier Spode ware show `Imari' influence also; and on the other hand, there is a Japanese porcelain called `Norituke' which often presents a very creditable version of Western patterns, with lavish and well-executed gilding.)
Saxony claims the right to seniority in the establishment of European porcelain, at Meissen in the early years of the eighteenth century. But much had already been accomplished in the art of pottery and faience (the tin-enamelled pottery which has taken the name of Faenza for its generic title) in other parts of Europe.
Italy, in particular, had produced, from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, some superb pieces of that glazed and modelled earthenware usually called `Majolica'; specimens from the famous factories at Urbino and Faenza are highly prized and command very high prices whenever they appear. There is a magnificent collection of early Italian majolica in the Wallace Collection which everyone should certainly see. The richly glowing yellows and blues of the early pieces are specially noteworthy no less than the splendidly spirited treatment of the figures and landscapes.
It is unlikely that the modest collector will be able to acquire an example of genuine early Italian majolica of this kind. But a firm in Florence (known as Canta Galli and with the mark of a Cockerel painted in blue on the base of their pieces) have made some excellent reproductions. Occasionally these turn up at house sales or auctions and include most attractive ewers with Neptune-head handles and modelled marine serpents, strange birds and amphibious winged creatures painted in blues and yellows and greens.
There is also a good deal of `Victorian majolica' available at the sales, some of it quite atrocious. But the better examples can be both decorative and impressive. Elaborate and massive pedestal-mounted jardinieres can often be obtained very cheaply. They are cumbrous and possibly better suited to a large hall than a modern lounge, but for anyone who is not afraid of size in an ornamental antique they can be a rewarding purchase. Prices vary considerably, owing to the difficulty of finding buyers in some districts. They can be bought for as little as $15, but in certain areas where the demand is greater they may cost nearer $go. Some very splendid examples were produced in a combination of royal blue, pink, green, and a rich yellow-brown. Elaborately scrolled and voluted, they seem to exude the very atmosphere of a Victorian Duchess's conservatory. Excellent things if you can accommodate them.
On a smaller scale, and often in the same colour scheme, are the charming majolica flower-holders which date from about the same time. Frequently boat-shaped, with birds and cupids swarming round the prow and large sweeping handles at the stern. They sometimes have raised gold decorative sprays on a dark blue centre panel and when filled with flowers (a Chinese porcelain tree will look very well in them) they make fine table centres. They too can be bought for about $15, though their price will probably rise soon.
Very attractive two-handled vases in `Victorian majolica' can also be sometimes seen. The ground is usually dark blue with touches of pink and gold in the raised decoration. Panels painted with cupids or a scene after the ubiquitous Angelica Kauffmann will enliven the front, the reverse being usually plain. Many of them are of poor quality, but there are some charming specimens. Carefully placed, they can have a definite decorative appeal, and they can usually be obtained cheaply enough, often for a mere $3.00 apiece.
EUROPEAN PORCELAIN. SEVRES, MEISSEN, VIENNA AND OTHERS
Meissen was first in the field of European porcelain, but Sevres saw the highest point of its accomplishment, at least as far as decorative magnificence goes. Some collectors, especially those of austere tastes, find Sevres altogether too overwhelming, too sumptuous, too grandiose. For most of us, however, Sevres at its best represents the apogee of European ceramic art and the more gorgeous its examples the more we enjoy them. It is really a question of artistic temperament. If your instincts tend towards rich colours and elaborate gilding rather than towards purity of form and line you respond naturally to the splendours of Sevres.
If the reverse, then your true goal in porcelain is probably nothing produced by Europe at all but rather early Chinese vases of the Sung period where beauty of form is paramount.
Specimens of old Sevres are expensive, have always been so, and must inevitably remain so. They called for a lavishness of effort and material which the world can no longer afford; they spring from a period and place where decorative perfection had become a religion. They are the product of a regime which can never return to civilisation and which was itself doomed to disaster during the very years when Sevres was reaching its climax of magnificence.
No-one now defends the economic basis of eighteenthcentury France on which luxuries like the cabinets and commodes of Versailles and the vases of Sevres were produced. The very workpeople who were employed at Sevres were often scandalously underpaid with their wages shamefully in arrears. The condition of France as a whole beggared description for misery and injustice. But the Revolution of 1789 was the death knell of an aristocratic splendour which had never been known before and which cannot possibly be seen again.
The porcelain of Sevres was a mere unit in this magnificence. It took its place against a scene of unparalleled grandeur in every department of the arts. Versailles and all the other great aristocratic abodes were ablaze with a sunny glitter of gilded objets d'art which reflected the rays of the Sun King himself; and after him `Louis le Bien Aime,' and after him - the Deluge. The Wallace Collection gives an excellent impression of what this magnificence was like. Highly concentrated into a single London house of no very great extent it still reveals the perfection and flawless standards which were expected and achieved in French eighteenth-century `gracious living.' Nowhere is this more apparent than in the wonderful collection of old Sevres, one of the finest in the world. And though the private collector of modest means will never be able to include in his collection pieces of this magnificence and perfection, he should make constant visits, when in London, to study them. They will help to give him a criterion, to foster his judgement and stimulate his understanding of the decorative arts to an extraordinary degree.
There is another superb collection of Sevres at Woburn Abbey, which is also open to the public, and yet another at Barnard Castle in County Durham, both extremely rewarding. Has the modest collector any chances at all of obtaining any genuine specimens of old Sevres? Not very many, I fear. Pieces do crop up, but prices are high. However, excellent reproductions, like those made by Coalport in the 1850s, are moderately easy to come by. I got a `Rose Pompadour' Coalport plate about three years ago for a mere $7, though it would probably be rather more today. But the real old pieces of Sevres are keenly sought by collectors with long purses and it is impossible to jump the fences.
Imitations of Sevres are legion. That is why visits to the Wallace Collection or Woburn Abbey or Barnard Castle will sharpen your judgement and put you on your guard against paying high prices for something that pretends to be Sevres and is in fact nothing of the kind. Any book of china marks will show the marks and date-letters which were adopted by the factory in its great days, and this is something to go on. Unfortunately these marks and letters have all been used by the forgers and `reproducers' so that reliance on marks alone is useless. Much of their work was very skilful, and if you sincerely like the piece of `old Sevres' which is offered to you as a `special bargain' for $15 or $ 18, then buy it. But don't cherish illusions about it for they will one day be shattered. And never pay $75 or $90 for it. There are better ways of parting with money than that, and $75 to $90 is a most suspicious price to pay.
Briefly it may be said that the qualities to be looked for in a piece which claims to be old Sevres are perfection of painting, perfection of gilding, perfection of modelling, and, if the piece is mounted, perfection of mounting. The true meaning of these `perfections' can only be understood by a study of genuine examples in some of the great collections.
Sevres owed much to the patronage of Louis XV's favourite, Madame de Pompadour. The lovely `rose Pompadour' which was invented in her honour was long miscalled `rose du Barri,' but Mme Du Barri was not even presented at Court until some years after it was first used. This coveted shade was widely imitated by other factories, but only Coalport was really successful. Other marvellously beautiful colours of Sevres are the delicate cerulean blue which is often combined with fine raised gold rococo decoration, the splendid darker blue, again a superb background for gold, and a most cool and refreshing apple-green, with an occasional elegantly charming yellow.
The paintings, whether of flowers and birds or figures in a landscape, are miracles of technical precision, and always conceived with a superb sense of fitness to the medium of porcelain. Painters of high repute were employed; some of the most beautiful effects being achieved by Aloncle and Noel. Fine specimens of their work, dated 1753, are at Hatfield House.
The Revolution spelt temporary disaster for the great factory, but it made a recovery and continued to produce excellent work during the nineteenth century. But the apogee of grace had been reached in pre-Revolution days and that absolute perfection of cultured elegance was never quite achieved again. Even so, much nineteenth-century Sevres is of high quality and it is only by matching it against the masterpieces of the Pompadour era that any real falling off is visible.
Dresden is perhaps the best known name in the whole range of porcelain. And as it holds the primacy in time, as far as Europe is concerned, it is fitting it should stand as a popular symbol for fine ceramic craftsmanship. However, `Dresden China' is a term which is often misapplied and as the name itself is not strictly correct either some curious confusions have arisen. The famous factory is not in Dresden at all but at Meissen, some miles distant. Most writers and collectors now use the term `Meissen' invariably, though `Dresden' has a romantically charming sound about it that some are unwilling to give up.
The experiments of the chemist Bottger, under the rather dictatorial patronage of the King of Saxony, had finally resulted in the long-sought for discovery of the secret of true porcelain in 1710. From that time onwards European porcelain' was launched on its very distinguished career, the factory established at Meissen being the parent of it all. It soon attracted superb artists and modellers, among them J. J. Kandler, one of the greatest figures in ceramic history. Meissen has always been celebrated for the high quality of its modelling and any examples of its best work, particularly that of Kandler himself, command enormous prices today. $14,000 was recently paid for a pair of Kandler birds mounted on gold. Some magnificent table decorations were also produced by Meissen, a specially splendid set being on show at Castle Ashby.
The profusion of charming figures, elaborate candelabra, vases and general bric-a-brac which Meissen poured out in its early years is astonishing, considering how new the art of porcelain then was. It is really a story of overwhelming popular success and other factories on the plan of Meissen were soon established. Vincennes, the parent of Sevres, was founded in France, and in England Worcester, Bow and Chelsea were soon to follow, all around 1750,
A number of marks were used by Meissen, but the most common and the most famous is the Crossed Swords; this is the one the collector is most likely to meet. (He will also meet many pieces bearing crossed swords that have never been anywhere near the Dresden district!)
Genuine examples of Old Meissen are far from easy to get. Specimens of the `Marcolini' period, when the factory was under the direction of Count Marcolini, are particularly beautiful and much prized. But from time to time early examples of the celebrated blue and white `onion' plates crop up and can be obtained moderately cheaply. The `onion' pattern is a blue and white design of great subtlety, Chinese in inspiration, but unmistakably Western in execution. The `onion' motif occurs in the border of the plate, the centre being a graceful design of stylised flowers and leaves. For delicate charm, few blue and white patterns can equal the effect of a group of `onion' plates against a background of antique panelling, or ranged on a fine old dresser. Imitations of the genuine Meissen plates abound, usually in ordinary transfer blue and without the incised design of the originals. Some are quite pretty, but they are, of course, worthless in the antique market.
A special warning is here necessary against paying high prices for so-called Meissen pieces marked `A R.' These are the initials of Augustus Rex, the King of Saxony who built up a superb collection of porcelain, including some wonderful Chinese examples, in the Royal Palace at Dresden. Now it should be obvious that any pieces stamped with the royal initials must, if genuine, be of the highest possible quality, especially as regards gilding, since the King himself was a most exacting connoisseur and nothing but the very best ever got into his collection. And yet pieces constantly crop up, both in dealers' shops and at sales, with these initials boldly displayed, which a moment's careful consideration will show to be unthinkable as specimens from a royal cabinet. The gilding at once gives them away. It is nearly always brassy and far from perfectly applied. The painted panels could never have been done by artists royally commissioned. The pieces are often very pretty and have undoubted decorative appeal, but they certainly cannot be `Dresden Royal Palace specimens.' They are, in fact, mere reproductions and should be bought only with one's eyes open.
Another confusion that has arisen from the name `Dresden' comes from the manufactures of the firm of Wolfsohn in Dresden itself. Skilful pieces in the style of the great Meissen factory were turned out by this firm until at last a lawsuit was begun by Meissen to prevent the public from confusing the two factories.
As a result the Wolfsohn china was compelled to adopt its own individual mark, and is correctly called `Dresden' since it is actually a product of that city.
Another famous name in European porcelain is Vienna. Earlier specimens are expensive, but the later Vienna is well worth the modest collector's attention as it is very decorative and fairly cheap to buy. The customary mark is a Beehive and it is usually characterised by a flamboyant gorgeousness suggestive of nineteenth-century opulence.
Typical late Vienna vases and plates are of a rich deep blue, with elaborate and good-quality gilding surrounding painted panels in the manner of Angelica Kauffmann. They often have a `towering' effect, even some of the smaller vases having a slim and graceful perpendicular appearance as opposed to the bulbous look of so many Continental pieces.
For those who sigh for reminders of the world of Strauss and the Emperor Franz Josef, late Vienna porcelain can be confidently recommended. Indeed I know of a collector who has a wonderful assembly of what he picturesquely calls `Continental Victoriana' in which the porcelain is entirely Viennese. Against a rich array of red-plush and gilt furniture (his house vaguely suggests the Paris Opera House) the dark blue and gold Vienna vases, with their warmly coloured classical panels, certainly produce a lovely effect.
He has a specially fine vase, about four feet tall, on an imposing gilded plinth, which contrasts well with the colouring of the others. It is in red, green and gold, painted with an impressive equestrian figure in armour and plumed helmet. Placed in a corner of the room, it positively compels attention, even in competition with the overwhelming glitter of the rest of the scene.
Vienna porcelain in some ways recalls the manner of Sevres, but it lacks the delicate charm which often underlies the most sumptuous pieces of the French designers. It is, in fact, a national difference. Vienna is, after all, a Germanic city, its elegance is somewhat more heavy-handed than that of Paris, and this is apparent even in its porcelain. Indeed, one of the most fascinating features of a study of antiques as a whole is the way in which national characteristics can emerge in concrete form. The supremely graceful curves of a fine Louis XV vase or commode, for instance, are expressions of a typically French urbanity, whereas the heavy and overdone pompousness of much Berlin porcelain and furniture suggest at once the heaviness inherent in the German temperament. Vienna, certainly, is not in Germany, but a faintly Teutonic quality is observable in its porcelain, none the less. Many people, however, find it irresistible, and it has undoubted nostalgic charm for those who love the nineteenth century.
There are many other European porcelains which turn up at the sales from time to time and are within the reach of the ordinary collector. Much charming work comes from Limoges; it has a vitreous and brilliant-glazed quality not to everyone's taste but the porcelain itself is of excellent texture and the colouring and design usually tasteful. Coffee sets in Limoges ware can often be picked up quite reasonably.
Nymphenburg pieces of the nineteenth century can sometimes be got fairly cheaply, but you are unlikely to acquire any of its famous historical specimens. For it was at Nymphenburg, founded in 1753, that the distinguished Franz Anton Bustelli worked and anything by him would be a prize indeed. Bustelli has been considered by some critics as the supreme craftsman of eighteenth-century porcelain and his fine sculptural sense produced some marvellous modellings, conveying the atmosphere of the Rococo Age to perfection.
Fashions in ceramics are hard to account for, but the market value of particular kinds does fluctuate. At one time Delft pottery (especially the delightful blue and white Oriental imitations) was collected with great enthusiasm. But it seems to be under a cloud at the moment and few dealers appear to stock it, no doubt due to lack of demand.
Capo di Monte (Naples), on the other hand, is a very lovely porcelain which is being increasingly valued today. Its vases are highly decorative in a classical style, with subjects usually derived from classical mythology. It is not at all easy to get, so any examples at reasonable prices should be bought without hesitation.