Swedish porcelain and earthenware - Expo Paris 1867

Swedish porcelain and earthenware at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

Progress is not equally manifest in all peoples. While in some nations liberal education develops democratic sentiments more rapidly, and turns minds towards political and social questions, in others manual work, industry, and art, absorb the concerns and divert them from the great problems of government, race, and nationality, which are of such lively and direct interest to modern peoples.

This is a bit of the history of Sweden. Placed by its geographical situation, even less than by its morals and character, outside the European movement, it refused to accept the social and political regeneration brought about by the principles of 1989. This son of the revolution, this soldier of the Republic, whom the chance of battles had placed on the throne of Sweden, far from leading his people into the new paths opened up in France, endeavoured rather to maintain them in a state of ignorance or political indifference, more concerned with the security of his throne than with the true interests and future of the people he governed.

The Swedish art exhibition has been noticed, and I have before my eyes its exhibition of porcelain, earthenware, biscuit, parian, etc., which indicates on the part of the Swedish industrialists serious efforts and the energetic will to endow their country with an important industry.

Should we attribute the new efforts of the manufacturers of Stockholm and Gustafsberg to the progress of the great factory of St. Petersburg, and to the emulation which they must have produced in Sweden? I would be tempted to think so. Is it not in rivalry, not to say competition, that industry comes to refresh itself, forget its fatigues, and draw new strength to sustain the struggle? Monopoly weakens industry, which competition fosters and invigorates.

Swedish porcelain is represented at the Champ de Mars by three considerable firms: the Hoeganaes factory, which is exhibiting a terracotta vase of great elegance of form and fine workmanship, the Gustafsberg factory, run by Mr. S. Godenius in Stockholm, and the Roerstrand factory, run by Mr. H. de Sträle, in Stockholm.

Mr. Godenius and Mr. de Sträle have combined their exhibitions and occupy a large oval shelf in the Swedish gallery, where the eye is attracted and held by a host of remarkable porcelain, biscuit and earthenware objects.

Our engraving represents one of the sides of Mr. Godenius' exhibition. First, between two vases to which I will return, there is a group in parian representing two wrestlers. The altitude of these two athletes is energetic, without being forced. This group was bought by the emperor Napoleon III. It is placed on a tomb, also in parian, but from which it is independent. This tomb has bas-reliefs on all four sides which tell the origin, the events and the result of the struggle. It is the eternal story of the human heart.

Two roosters were living in peace, a hen came along and war broke out.

It is indeed for a woman that the war is ignited between the two athletes, as the first bas-relief very clearly establishes. The second represents the preparations for the fight. The third, the moment when the winner thrusts his dagger into the throat of his opponent. The fourth, finally, has its philosophical and ironic side. A woman weeps, bent over a tomb. Did the artist mean that the vanquished, whoever he was, was becoming interesting?

I said that this group and the tomb were made of parian. Parian is more or less our biscuit, with the difference, however, that a special preparation gives it a slightly beige tint and great solidity. It is polished like marble and does not have the rough feel that biscuit has.

On either side of the wrestlers, Mr. Godenius has placed two banded vases about 1.5 metres high. These vases are made of earthenware? in the form of Etruscan vases, and are divided as ornaments into three parts. The first, the throat which narrows from the headband, to open widely at the orifice whose edges curve; the second which is the headband; the third which tapers to the foot and is decorated with golden flutes in relief. The paintings on the entablature are interesting in more ways than one. On one side, a symbolic figure, Svéa, the symbol of Sweden, distributes rewards; on the other, a Genie directs and encourages the industrialists, craftsmen, artists and farmers who approach Svéa and offer him their products. Each city or province is represented by its particular industry, and the representatives of this industry have the costume and the instruments, tools, attributes of their profession: Thus Ton sees Stockholm with its silk fabrics, its castings, its earthenware, its goldsmiths, its machine shops, Sudermanland, with its wools, its hops, its Eskilstuna arms factories; Upland, Westmanland, Nerike, Wermland and Dais! and, with their mines, woods, coals, and forges; Dalarna, with its copper mines at Fahlun, its clock factory at Mora, its porphyry factory at Elfdalen; Ostergotland, with its machines at Motala, its cannon foundry at Finspong, the coppers at Atvidaberg, etc., etc, etc.

These figures are drawn and painted with great finesse, and the costumes are reproduced with rigorous accuracy. It is sufficient to compare them with the Dalarna costumes exhibited in the fourth group.

The vases are adorned with two powerful handles that curve into a crook on the rim, and rest on two finely sculpted figures, representing the Queen and King of Sweden.

On a higher plane, Mr. Godenius has placed a very reduced model of a monumental fountain to be placed in the main square of Stockholm. This fountain, whose very elegant basin rests on a torso column, is supported by a monumental foot in which the sculptor has made large shell-shaped excavations. In each one is an allegorical figure: Neptune, naiads, tritons whose feet rest in the caste basin that surrounds the fountain. The appearance of this monument is truly magnificent, and the reduction given by Mr. Godenius allows us to admire the details of the sculpture of remarkable elegance and finish.

I still see in Mr. Godenius' exhibition some busts, among others those of the King and Queen of Sweden, statuettes, vases of all shapes, but to which one cannot refuse a real grace and good taste. His Gustafsberg factory, which has been awarded a silver medal, deals mainly with objects of art and luxury. Not that it does not exhibit various table services, which are not without merit; but one must ask it mainly for fine earthenware, biscuit, parian and fine porcelain.

The same cannot be said of the Roerstrand factory. The director of this company, Mr. de Strâle, who was awarded a bronze medal, exhibits tableware, coffee and tea sets, etc. The models are well executed, the designs are well thought out and the quality is excellent.

The models are well executed, the shapes are pleasing, the paintings are delicate. The toiletries exhibited by this house are highly sought after by visitors, as I see few objects without the indication "sold". They are indeed recommended by the fineness of the paste, the elegance of the form, the richness and the good taste of the ornaments.

This important company does not limit its production to porcelain and earthenware for the table or toilet. Like Mr. Godenius, Mr. de Strâle also exhibits some remarkable works of art. I will mention, among others, two large earthenware vases, both with bands. The shape is reminiscent of those exhibited by Mr. Godenius, with the difference that the handles are formed by snakes coiled several times around themselves and whose heads bite the edges of the vase. Grisaille paintings representing quadrigas, chariots guided by warriors, allegorical subjects, adorn the black painted bands. Rich golden fluting enhances these earthenware pieces which command the attention of amateurs.
In the exhibition of de Strâle, I will also mention some flower vases, in porcelain and biscuit, one in particular with an elongated shape, without a handle, whose elegant neck opens into a tulip. It is strewn from top to bottom with bouquets of flowers of incomparable brilliance and freshness.

It is certain, however, that in the field of luxury ceramics, M. de Strâle must give way to M. Godenius, and this is what the jury wanted to affirm by giving the latter a silver medal and the former a bronze one.

However, if from an exclusively artistic point of view, there is an inferiority for the Roerstrand factory, from an industrial and commercial point of view, this inferiority disappears. The exhibition of 1867 was to develop international relations to a large extent. Unknown until then in France, the great foreign factories revealed in this universal competition, first their existence, some of them also their superiority. Is it not to be expected that the earthenware and porcelain of Sweden will be in demand in England, Austria, Prussia, Spain, and perhaps in France? And, in that case, is it not to be assumed that the trade will demand table and toilet services rather than statuettes and vases costing 3,000 francs? If Swedish exports expand in this direction, if manufacturing increases, if Sweden finally sees the development of an industry which should enrich her, will she not owe more gratitude to M. de Strâle than to M. Godenius?

But it is still the old argument about the supremacy of art over industry. As far as I am concerned, I want to see them equally honoured, equally protected. The artist who illustrates his country and the industrialist who enriches it have equal rights to public recognition. Indeed, if in modern nations industry facilitates material life, are not the arts the charm and consolation of the spirit?

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée