Thoughts on decorative porcelain

I LEARNT this week that our hall, stairs and landing needs decorating again. I have to say that this news did not come as a surprise – I had been expecting it for a few months.

I suspect I am like many men in having little or no real input into when redecoration takes place. I also suspect that like many men I always feel the area designated for decoration has a good few years left in its paintwork.

To say I dislike having rooms redecorated would be wrong. It would be an understatement. Fortunately, my practical skills don’t extend to papering and painting so I am never asked to do either. It’s just the indescribable hassle of the whole process.

Choosing the colour, booking the decorator, moving the furniture, changing the colour once it’s been put on, paying the decorator, clearing up the mess, putting back the furniture and finally, the hardest part, persuading my wife that the colour I never wanted to change, which she now doesn’t like, is better than the one we had, in case she wants to change it again.

Last time we had a room redecorated I knocked over and completely destroyed a porcelain group my wife particularly liked. Thank goodness it wasn’t Meissen…

The first European porcelain factory opened at Meissen in 1710, following the discovery of the formula for pure white, hard-paste porcelain by German alchemist Johann Friedrich Bottger. Bottger collaborated with von Tschirnhaus who longed to unlock the secret of making pure white, hard-paste porcelain produced in the Orient.

In 1709, Bottger produced his first specimen of glazed white porcelain using a high firing clay from Colditz to create a white porcelain body. In 1710 he was appointed the first director of the Meissen factory.

From the 1720s the factory was producing porcelain wares and figures of unsurpassed technical innovation, originality and artistic skill. The two men in charge of this incredible operation were Johann Joachim Kandler and Johann Gregor Horoldt who developed a new palette of polychrome colours and were responsible for the introduction of the now famous mark of the blue crossed swords.

After 1725 the common Meissen mark was the crossed swords painted in underglaze blue, from the Saxony coat of arms. It was occasionally accompanied by a gilder’s numeral.

Meissen satisfied the demand for tea, coffee and chocolate wares with finely modelled designs. The porcelain was painted in the palette of bright enamel colours as developed by the aforementioned Horoldt and then highlighted with modest gilding.

The designs generally featured Oriental style gardens with architecture, exotic birds and flowers and figures dressed in flowing robes. The designs were inspired by motifs found on Chinese and Japanese porcelain. The factory’s great patron, Augustus the Strong, was an enthusiastic collector of Oriental wares.