International Exposition of Paris 1867

Agriculture, Industry and Fine Arts

April 1, 1867 - November 3, 1867

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Saxon porcelain

Saxon porcelain at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867


The story of the beginnings of the famous Meissen manufactory, though unquestionably authentic, has the air of a legend.

In 1701, an alchemist named Johann-Friedrich Böttcher settled in Dresden under the protection of Frederick Augustus I, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. He was born in Schlaiz in Voigtland on 4 February 1682. Placed as an apprentice with the pharmacist Zorn in Berlin, he had made sufficiently successful experiments to attract the attention and solicitude of King Frederick William I. Tired of being spied on in his work, he decided to escape.

The elector gave the refugee Ehrenfried Walter of Tschirnaus, who was then searching for the secret of Chinese hard porcelain, as his collaborator.

The inventory after the death of the Duke of Anjou, as early as 1360, mentions a bowl of a stone called pourceHaine; that of Charles VI, in 1391, a small porcelain stone; but the products of China and Japan had only been spread in Europe since the beginning of the sixteenth century. Of those who had tried to imitate them, only one, named Morin, had been more or less successful. Starting from the principle that porcelain was a white and transparent pottery, covered with a glaze, he had found, in 1695, the soft pale, i.e. a mixture of chalk, soda silicate and marl, coated with a fusible glaze whose base was an oxide of lead.

It was a question of discovering the hard paste which is composed of alkaline silicates, which the Chinese call petun-tsé; of a hydrated alumina silicate, a clayey and infusible substance which they call kaolin; and of a hard and infusible covering of crushed quartz and feldspar.

Tschirnaus had made a mistake with incomplete vitrification; Böttcher researched the real point of view of ceramics, and began by making vases and ewers of glazed red stoneware, decorated with flowers, armorial bearings, and gold foliage, not fixed by fire.

The Elector and King Frederick Augustus I was so enthusiastic that from that day on he ordered the inventor to be kept under surveillance and not to be allowed to leave the house unless accompanied by an officer, in order to prevent him from communicating his secrets to foreign powers.

Böttcher had a magnificent residence in Meissen, but he was a captive there. When the Swedes invaded Saxony in 1706, he had to transfer his laboratory and furnaces to the fortress of Konigstein. They remained there until September 1707, when they returned triumphantly to Dresden on the beautiful Brühlsche terrace overlooking the Elbe.

So many efforts of care and precaution threatened to fail, when a blacksmith, named Johann Schnorr, got bogged down in the territory of Aue, near Schneeberg.

Gunpowder and wigs were then in full vogue. "

The mired man, who was an industrious man, thought of selling the soft white earth his horse had trampled on instead of wheat flour as powder.

There is a proverb: "Like master like servant. "

Slunker, Böttcher's valet, was accustomed to observation, and he could not help saying to his boss:
"Here is a singular phenomenon! Your powder is much heavier than usual! "

Böttcher woke up and analysed the powdered earth.

It was kaolin!

Thanks to the complicity of chance, hard porcelain had been found.

The Royal Saxon Manufactory was immediately organised on a large scale. On 6 June 1710, the Elector-King solemnly established it in the historic old Albertsburg Castle in Meissen. The company offered Europe, in amazement, both beautiful imitations of Chinese porcelain and original products. Its trademark was an interlaced A and R, Augustus-rex. Later she adopted two swords in a cross in a triangle, then two swords without a frame.

Böttcher, who died in 1719, was succeeded by Horoldt, a painter and modeller, the skilful sculptor Kandler and the painter Dietrich. It was from their hands that came the dapper young lords, the flower girls, the little mistresses, the cuddly maids, the ribboned shepherdesses, the cute loves, and so many delightful figurines, of which there is an admirable collection in Paris itself, in the rue Royale, in the depot of the Saxon factory. This small but rich ceramic museum also contains, at the same time, a service of twenty-four pieces of cutlery, decorated with birds to which the artist has given movement and life.

The Royal Manufacture of Saxony showed itself worthy of its old reputation at the 1867 Exhibition. It overcame enormous difficulties in producing the colossal vase which occupies the centre of its shelf. The accompanying candelabras are no less remarkable. Around it are arranged vases whose decorations are borrowed from the compositions of Bendemann, Raphael, Thorvaldsen, Schnorr and Barolsfeld; caskets; figurines of inimitable finesse. On the walls of this sort of ceramic chapel are applied bevelled mirrors, whose porcelain frames exceed in richness the most delicately carved wooden frames. From the ceiling hang chandeliers like flowering bushes, whose branches, laden with bouquets, shelter nests of loves and birds.

An innovation recently achieved in Meissen, after long and laborious trials, is the imitation of the old Limoges enamels, in hard paste. The subjects are painted in grisaille on a turquoise background; the products obtained are reminiscent of the works of Pénicaud, Léonard and Pierre Raymond.

The Saxony porcelain factory is one of those which will compete for the great medal of honour. This high mark of distinction would look good on the ancient banner of this doyenne of ceramic art, which, not content with its age-old glory, strives by diligent care and work to prove that it is still young.

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée