Products of the Meissen porcelain manufacture pride themselves of the most noticeable and the longest tradition, and have thus rightly become a criterion in the field of European porcelain products, retaining their dominant position amongst porcelain-production till today.
The first hard porcelain was invented in Europe in 1708 by Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus and his associate, Johann Friedrich Bötger. After Tschirnhaus’ unexpected death, the latter continued in the commenced work to eventually introduce the first European porcelain ever. The launch of the porcelain production itself was simultaneous to the 1710 opening of the Meissen manufacture. Its first porcelain products were presented to the world in Dresden and Leipzig in 1714 in order to be sold on a regular basis from that time.
The first period of the Meissen manufacture’s activity, which basically spanned the period when Bögner was in its head (till his death), is mainly characteristic of white porcelain very similar to the Chinese “blanc de chine”. Typical for these products were Oriental forms with either relief or plastic floral decoration. Later, the manufacture also employed silver and gold, and sometimes even black and purple painting.
The leading Meissen personality after Bötger’s death was Johann Gregor Höroldt, painter and engraver from Jena – an outstanding artist and technologist and, at the same time, an excellent manager. In order to halt the production of imitations, he began to sign the Meissen products on the bottom under the glazing. The Meissen period under his management is called “the painting period” and is characteristic of smooth, utility forms with painted decoration in red and, especially, gold. The decoration was initially executed by painters from Augsburg, but after 1720 – when the manufacture introduced and expanded on muffle colors – the decoration was taken over by painters directly employed by the manufacture who executed it after Höroldt’s designs. From 1725, the new painting decoration in muffle was multicolored; there also were, however, miniature paintings on white glazing, outlined by gilded lace cartouches. The main subject was chinoseries, genre scenes from life in China as imagined by the 17th-century painters, and Hörold’s original designs. Also popular were the fantastic, ostensibly Chinese and Japanese flowers called “the Indian-esgue”, as well as motifs of sacred animals: the yellow lion (1728) and/or the Chinese dragon and flying dog (from 1730), all executed in the combination of red, green, blue and gold.
In around 1740 the factory finally employed its perfected cobalt blue in order to develop the characteristic and to-date popular Meissen “onion” pattern. The manufacture employed several painters to work under Höroldt as well as numerous painters working on a freelance basis, so-called Hausmaler. The latter were, for example, outstanding artists Ignác Preissler, Johann Auferwerth, Ignác Bottengruber and František Ferdinand Mayer. In 1731, the Meissen manufacture summoned Johann Gottlob Kirchner to occupy the position of an independent modeler master. Kirchner was ready to create vases and refined figures of exotic animals as well as minute interior sculptures. His ideas anticipated the third and the most famous era of the Meissen porcelain factory (1733–1763) bore in the spirit of emphasizing relief, which perfectly suited the spirit of Baroque representation and grandeur in both content and form. The main representative of this period was the sculptor Johann Joachim Kändler. The result is the sculptures of various animals, including birds, genre figures of blacksmiths, musicians, soldiers, children, saints, allegories, hunts and so like. Moreover, tableware and dishware did not escape Kändler’s attention, which resulted in the profiled edges with profiled, meshed décor and edges with relief cartouches. The famous “swan service” (2,000 items) was born between 1737 and 1741. Porcelain made its way everywhere, and thus became an inherent part of life in the given period. The year of 1748, then, opened the way to the casualness and catchiness of Rococo. The increasing success of the porcelain production was, however, halted by the 1756 Prussian seize of Saxony and the resulting curb of production and transferring most of the factory’s equipment to the Berlin branch.
Primacy in porcelain production was seized by France which came to influence the whole of Europe. In order to smooth the 1763 conditions, even the Meissen production opened itself to Neo-Classicism which strongly influenced its future period of existence. The French Neo-Classicism transformed the forms into sober outlines and patterns in the manner of Louis XVI. Landscapes and genre subjects, battlefield, military and hunting scenes were executed by the most upper-scale artists. The death of Kändler, who eventually returned from the exile, landmarked the end of the famous period of the Meissen manufacture and the following “Marcolini” period (1774–1814), called after the newly established director of the porcelain factory who completed its stylistic and production neo-Classicist makeover. In the Marcolini era, the Meissen products were signed by crossed swords interleaved with a star, and the factory’s models followed the lines of Classical Antiquity – dishware, vases, coffee and tea sets. The decoration displays signs of subjects taken from mythology, landscape scenes, portraits and reproductions of famed paintings. French designs and patterns as well as products of the English pore were imitated in this period, and this trend lasted for almost the entire 19th century, while it was impossible to retain the high artistic standard of Baroque and Rococo. The period of Biedermeier with its decoration abounding in opulent décor but lacking inspiration as far as dishware was concerned was followed by the so-called second Rococo, characteristic of floods of gold effects, relief cartouches and sculpturesque flora.
The Meissen production towards the end of the century followed up with the patterns developed in Copenhagen, producing Art Nouveau vases and dishware decorated with bluish grey floral patterns and landscape motifs. The manufacture’s fame rose again shortly before the First World War due to its collaboration with famous sculptors as, e.g., E. Barlach, P. Scheurich and G. Marcks. The production was called to an end during the Second World War and paused till 1945.
The present-time Meissen production mainly draws from its old 18th-century models, at the same time designing new tableware and sculptures, created on the basis of the company’s collaboration with contemporary, local artists.