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The Dresden China Style
( Originally Published 1913 )
" Dresden will probably long retain the designation of the cradle of Rococo Art," the guidebook informs the visitor to Dresden. " Rococo " means " the style of decoration into which that of the Louis Quinze period culminated, distinguished for a superfluity of confused and discordant detail," says a " Dictionary of Words used in Art and Archmology," and then refers the reader to what it has to say about the Louis Quinze style, viz., " rejecting all symmetry, and introducing the elongation of the foliations of the scroll, mixed up with a species of crimped conventional coquillage or shell-work, in bizarre absurdities." I am afraid that is not too plain, but the fault is more in the books I quote than in myself ; in point of fact the Rococo style is more easily seen and felt than described. Let me try to explain, by a modern comparison, the opposition of " rococo " to " classical " ; the straight lines of a simple door, window, or ceiling-moulding are classical; the twisted and exaggerated lines of what is called " l'art nouveau " are rococo. Exaggeration and over-loading characterise the latter ; simplicity, reticence,-and neat adaptation to use distinguished the first.
Rococitis. " The leading object of rococo art appears to have been to invest even the domestic life of monarchs with pomp and splendour, and to unveil to the eyes of the public the privacy of the princely boudoir and cabinet. Porcelain manufacture was particularly well adapted for giving expression to the spirit of this style, as the material was equally suitable for being moulded into elegant doll-like figures, or into flourishing and fantastic decorations." By nature the French are an artistic people ; by nature the Germans are not. " Louis Quinze " was fairly good; German " rococo" was utterly unredeemed, artistically. Every kind of bad art is flourishing in Germany to-day, and compared with true art the German rococo, eighteenth century or modern, is what cinematographs are to pictures and what roarophones are to music. Quite naturally, therefore, when the Electors of Saxony went in for art at Dresden, the palaces and the porcelain constructed for them became " rococo," displaying a characteristic mixture of " pomposity and childishness, and absence of all feeling for purity of line." If you examine the base-I cannot call it the plinth, for " plinthos " was a Greek word which suggested simple and classical straight lines-if you look at the base or pediment of a Dresden china figure or group of figures, I say, you will find not a straight line anywhere, the curves and scrolls all ornamented, gilded or coloured, or splotched with dots and pimples, in the very type and characteristic symptoms of the rococo style.
Drescfenftiy. The Dresden china style affected all the china-making in Europe, though it influenced English china less than any other, perhaps. Now the Chinese and Japanese styles were (though conventionally, it is true) naturalistic ; to recognise that well you should examine a Ming vase, and then the decorations of a piece of ' ` armorial Lowestoft," made in the East to European orders and design ; you will be able to make this comparison excellently in the Oriental China Room at the British Museum. Augustus the Strong of Saxony (A.D. 1694-I733)-the father of 352 children, by the by-had set his heart on gathering within his new Schloss at Dresden all the fine Oriental china which came to Europe: he spent L150,000 on that; in the Johanneum Museum at Dresden you can still see the five celebrated "Dragon Vases," as they are called. These are under-glaze blue and white, decorated with dragons. " Dragoons for your dragons," said Augustus the Strong to Frederick of Prussia, and gave a regiment of dragoons in exchange for the five tall vases, in the year 1717. When, about the year 1710 Bottger at Meissen was making porcelain at the expense of Augustus, it was quite natural that he should imitate the Oriental style to some extent ; I wish to make it plain that the distinctive Dresden china style did not begin to exist in china until Augustus the Strong was near the close of his reign. Bottger was a man of science, and in liking Oriental china Augustus the Strong showed a true feeling for art ; upon Kandler the modeller and Augustus III (A.D. I733-63) the blame for the Dresden china style must lie, if blame there be.
Kandleritis. In 1731 Johann Joachim Kandler became chief modeller at Dresden, and soon after that Augustus III. began to collect pictures by Watteau and Lancret. The so-called " crinoline pieces " made at Meissen date from this time. Kandler's idea was to mould, in porcelain, figures taken from the Watteau and Lancret pictures which were so popular in that day. Kandler had begun by moulding figures of the Twelve Apostles, an equestrian statue of Augustus the Strong, boars, elephants, and other animals in a kind of cream-ware paste, and several feet high; you find plenty of this kind of production in the Johanneum at Dresden, and what it was like, on a smaller scale, you may see at South Kensington in a set of figures intended to decorate a fountain. But Kandler soon went in for very small figures indeed, and the figurines de Saxe, " those little statuettes and groups of figures which we have since that time come to associate above all else with the European porcelain of the eighteenth century, and especially with that of Germany," came into existence and vogue. In lineal descent from these are the Chelsea, Bow, Bristol, and Derby figures, and also the earthenware cottage-ornament figures which Staffordshire and Leeds turned out by the hundred thousand. Nothing is more interesting, or perhaps more useful for a porcelain collector, than to understand the genealogy of the things he collects.
I do not say that all these figures in themselves were rococo, though most of their bases were. It was Kandler who imitated in porcelain the rococo scroll and shell work of the period, that already existed so lavishly in wood and silver and iron and stone. Kandler also used these flourishy and extravagantly curving lines to enclose these miniature-like paintings of exotic birds, " crinoline pieces," ruins (which Worcester imitated so well), and landscapes. He also modelled candelabra, clocks, mirror-frames, and vases, tortured into convoluted shapes ; in short, under Kandler, the rococo style in porcelain achieved its uttermost. And this is the Dresden china style par excellence, it is Dresden china of this style and of this period which sells for large sums of money. It was this style and this period of " Dresden " which I most of all studied and thought about in the Johanneum Museum of Porcelain at Dresden.