European 18th-Century Art

Meissen Porcelain

In 1709, the alchemist J. F. Böttger in Dresden managed to make true porcelain using porcelain clay (kaolin). On the initiative of August the Strong, Elector of Saxony, one of the greatest porcelain collectors in history, Europe’s first – and still extant – porcelain manufactory was built the following year in the little town of Meissen, north of Dresden.

A preliminary stage of true porcelain was “Böttger stoneware,” hard-fired, brown stoneware into whose matte or glossy-polished surface decorations could be cut. From 1720, J. G. Höroldt took over the supervision of the manufactory’s painting department. A number of original and charming porcelain decorations were created in polychrome and with gilding, including the “Höroldt Chinese.” The little genre-like motifs in their lacy frames were conceived with great inventiveness, and there are very few repetitions.

A more profitable segment of the manufactory’s production comprised copies of costly Japanese export porcelain made for the European market. Taking genuine pieces in the collection of August the Strong as models, Meissen was quickly able to produce high-quality porcelain whose types of motif, colors, and forms were virtually identical to those of Far Eastern originals.