"Beyond the glittering roster of former owners, and the astonishing saga of loss and recovery, Meissen porcelain has its own cachet: it was the product of a royal industry of enviable prestige for the successful discovery of the coveted arcanum, or clay recipe, for a hard-paste body and operated without significant competition for decades, at a time when porcelain was a luxury item and the prerogative of the privileged few. In short, one doesn’t expect to find such masterpieces for sale in the 21st century."
I t is a delicate matter, writing about works of art that return to the market after decades in museums, especially when the catalyst is restitution, as opposed to deaccessioning. And yet this opportunity is somehow thrilling, given the history and rarity of the Oppenheimer property on offer at Sotheby’s, New York. The Rijksmuseum provenance is the icing on the cake, so to speak, when so many pieces are descended from the collection of Saxon Elector and Polish King Augustus the Strong (1670-1733), founder of the Royal Porcelain Manufactory operating in Meissen since 1710, or were diplomatic gifts to other courts, or even personal gifts. In the interim, some were owned by noteworthy German private collectors (von Bode, Bandli, Buckardt, Clemm, Fischer, Jay, Hoth, Mühsam, Weizinger, and Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild), distinguished English collectors (Bernal, Hamilton, Argyropoulo, Sir Anthony Rothschild), Dutch collectors (Rosenfeld-Goldschmidt and Roos), Ole Olsen of Denmark, Baron von Born of Hungary and, eventually, by banker Fritz Mannheimer (1890-1939), who bought them advantageously as the Oppenheimers fled Berlin and then Vienna for America. When Mannheimer suddenly died, aged 41, his artworks were seized to repay banking debts, then commandeered for Hitler’s Führermuseum, then hidden in the Altaussee mines, recovered by the Monuments Men and, finally, awarded to the Dutch State. Beyond the glittering roster of former owners, and the astonishing saga of loss and recovery, Meissen porcelain has its own cachet: it was the product of a royal industry of enviable prestige for the successful discovery of the coveted arcanum, or clay recipe, for a hard-paste body and operated without significant competition for decades, at a time when porcelain was a luxury item and the prerogative of the privileged few. In short, one doesn’t expect to find such masterpieces for sale in the 21st century.
As acknowledged by Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1877-1945), eminent curator of ceramics and glass at the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Decorative Arts Museum) in Berlin and author of the Oppenheimer catalogue published in 1927, the collectors favored Meissen porcelain in the so-called ‘chinoiserie’ taste and planned to leave the collection to the nation.1 The term ‘chinoiserie’ is a catchall from the Victorian era that was applied to pseudo-Asian forms and decorations invented in Europe from the 17th century onward, in response to the exoticism and novelty of contemporary Asian imports, not to mention travelers accounts and illustrations of life in faraway China and Japan. The latter spawned fanciful ornament prints that originated in The Netherlands, were emulated in Germany, and found their way into the princely collection in Dresden as well as the painting studios at Meissen (Fig. 1). Some were even based on Chinese woodblock prints that were likewise royal collector’s items in Europe, due to their rarity, but hardly survive (Fig. 2).
At the time of Meissen’s founding, exotic otherness was called “indianish,” are reference to "East India", as Asia was known in the era of exploration. How the Oppenheimers decided to target chinoiserie- or indianish-style Meissen is unknown, though it is possible von Carolsfeld, born into an artistic Dresden family, helped them find their way to this otherwise unconventional focus. Over time, they collected more than three-dozen small porcelain sculptures of seated Asian deities (lots 1, 2, 3), which were called “pagods” in the 18th century (from the French, pagode, meaning a temple god2) and still so-named by von Carolsfeld in 1927, and an extraordinary range of vases and wares decorated with captivating capriccios in underglaze blue, overglaze enamels, silver and gold. Their taste extended to Meissen painted by the “Hausmaler,” the independent artists working outside the factory who were catapulted into favor with the publication in 1925 of Gustav Pazaurek’s groundbreaking study of this otherwise amorphous group.3 Most collectors in the orbit of the Oppenheimers were more universal in their tastes, whether collecting only Meissen, like the Dresden banker Gustav von Klemperer (1852- 1926), or a broader array of 18th-century German or Continental factories.
Von Carolsfeld was one of a handful of museum specialists of the interwar years who regularly lent their names and expertise to private collectors and Berlin auction houses alike, authoring the von Klemperer catalogue (1928) as well as the Lepke, Cassirer and Ball & Graupe auction catalogues of the Darmstaedter (1925), Buckardt (1925), Kirchberger (1927), Salz (1929) and Goldschmidt-Rothschild (1931) sales. Private collections like these were more or less a twentieth-century phenomenon and response to the groundbreaking European porcelain exhibition mounted in Berlin in 1904, which brought a curated selection of over 1200 fragile masterpieces to public awareness, including 575 examples of Meissen, with loans from private collections as well as museums.4 The Kunstgewerbe museum, where it was staged, was not far from the Oppenheimer’s grand villa at Regentenstrasse, 2 . Another show with outstanding decorative arts was held in Berlin in 1906, by the Kaiser Friedrich Museums Verein founded in 1897 and ongoing, though the museum was renamed The Bode-Museum in 1956. Some of the loans of Meissen porcelain to the 1906 exhibition were later acquired by the Oppenheimers (lots 59, 69, 110, 111).
In his introduction to the 1927 Oppenheimer catalogue --- which was unillustrated, albeit black-and-white photographs of some pieces were tipped into the copies destined for worthy recipients --- von Carolsfeld suggested that a subsequent volume was planned for the later acquisitions and the collection did grow from 239 to 332 inventory numbers before its dispersal.
Additions included the signed Löwenfinck tankard from the Buckardt collection (lot 36), an almost unique blue paste vase (lot 47), three Earl of Jersey-type dishes (lots 42, 43, 45), the boxed armorial tea-, coffee- and chocolate-service gifted to the Venetian Morosini family in 1731 (lot 94), and two chocolate cups with the arms of the Duchy of Parma that were sent to Elisabeth Farnese (1692-1766), Queen of Spain, part of an extensive Meissen tribute delivered to her in 1738, when her son, King Charles VII of Naples and later Charles III of Spain, married Maria Amalia, granddaughter of August the Strong (lots 92 & 93). Two of the three seated Buddhist divinities in this sale (lots 2 & 3) were also acquired after 1927, as were the two small scent bottles in the shape of pilgrim flasks (lots 86 & 87), and several rare items with significant Japanese Palace associations (lots 1, 6, 7, 26, 27, 28, 30, 35, 96).5
A PALACE OF PORCELAIN ROOMS FOR AUGUSTUS THE STRONG: MEISSEN PORCELAIN FOR THE JAPANESE PALACE
The origins of many of the pieces collected by the Oppenheimers can be associated with royal commissions for Meissen porcelain to decorate the interiors of Augustus the Strong’s colossal ‘porcelain palace’, conventionally known as the Japanese Palace (Japanisches Palais), on the banks of the river Elbe in Dresden-Neustadt (Fig. 3).6 The present building incorporates a much smaller two-story belvedere of around 1715 that was acquired by the king in 1717 and called the Dutch Palace (Holländisches Palais), in reference to its au-courant porcelain rooms in the Dutch taste.
The vogue for such rooms, where rare Asian porcelains exported to Europe by the Dutch East India Company were massed in symmetrical arrangements against mirrors to stunning effect, came to Germany with the dynastic marriages of the daughters of Amalia of Solms-Braunfels (1602-1675), Dutch Princess of Orange, to German princes, notably Luise Henriette (1627-1667), consort of The Great Elector, Frederick William of Brandenburg (1620- 1688), for whom the legendary porcelain room at Oranienburg was created in 1695.7 Engravings by Daniel Marot (1661-1752; Fig. 4) and Paul Decker (1677-1713) also fueled the fashion for such rooms.
With the meeting of the ‘three Fredericks’ in Berlin in 1709 (Augustus the Strong (christened Friedrich August), Friedrich III of Prussia and Friedrich IV of Denmark), Augustus the Strong personally witnessed the Oranienburg room as well as porcelain rooms at the Prussian palaces of Caputh (completed ca. 1690) and Charlottenburg (completed in 1706; Fig. 5). The Danish king even made a note in his travel journal about the Charlottenburg room, commenting that “porcelain in front of mirrors is an impressive sight” and asked for drawings to bring home to Copenhagen.8
In 1717, Augustus the Strong acquired 151 blue-and-white Chinese porcelains from the Prussian royal collection in exchange for a regiment of Saxon Dragoons (Fig. 6), underscoring the princely association of this palette, already instilled from his time in Paris while on the Grand Tour (1687-89).9 At Versailles, he would have seen blue-and-white Chinese porcelain presented to Louis XIV by the famous Siamese embassies of 1684 and 1686, some of it in the apartments of the king’s brother, known as Monsieur, an acknowledged connoisseur of Asian ceramics, who arrayed his pieces on the walls, on mantlepieces and massed on furniture.10
The novelty of Augustus the Strong’s Dutch palace in Dresden was not only that it comprised several porcelain rooms in a single palace dedicated to the display of this rare and fragile medium; in addition, some of the rooms were devoted to the products of the king’s own royal manufactory at Meissen. The building was acquired and furnished in anticipation of the extravagant monthlong festivities that were mounted in Dresden in September 1719 to celebrate the marriage of the Crown Prince, Friedrich August II (1696-1763; later Augustus III) to Archduchess Maria Josepha (1699-1757), a daughter of Habsburg Emperor Joseph I (1678-1711).11
The palace served as the setting for the opening events held on Sept. 10, 1719, which comprised a theatrical performance in the gardens, a banquet indoors and fireworks over the Elbe (Fig. 7 and Fig. 8). The royal couple were introduced in Vienna in 1717, married there in August 1719 and entered Dresden on Sept. 2, 1719, where the king welcomed them to the state apartments in the royal residence which were likewise refurbished for the occasion. Some of the high-style furnishings were purchased in Paris in 1715, when the Crown Prince, like his father before him, was on the Grand Tour; among the deliveries were two grand Boulle clocks for the throne room (Fig. 9). Silver furniture was commissioned from Augsburg, in a nod to Augustus the Strong’s memories of Versailles, and grand silver vessels were acquired in reference to the great Silver Buffet he witnessed in Berlin in 1709. The famous double-gilt table service was also assembled for the occasion. These efforts elevated the status of the Dresden court (Augustus the Strong was an Electoral Prince in Saxony but a King in Poland) and put the Crown Prince in line for the imperial throne.
As a result of his Grand Tour, which took the future Augustus the Strong to the courts and capitals of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, he was well-versed in the role of art and architecture in the projection of majesty. Accordingly, his life and that of his son and successor were regularly immortalized in paintings and tapestries and a grand publication on the 1719 wedding was planned.12
Construction of the overblown orangerie known as the Zwinger (Fig. 10), which was completed by 1728 and functioned as a setting for tournaments and festivities, paralleled the creation of the legendary Green Vaults and the expansion of the royal menagerie, among other groundbreaking royal initiatives. The king also established a network of outlying pleasure palaces after the model of Louis XIV. When there was not enough money to replace the royal castle in Dresden Altstadt with a more modern representational residence or ‘Saxon Versailles,’ however, he decided to commission an expansion of the Dutch Palace in the Neustadt, renamed the Japanese Palace, to create an architectural emblem and showpiece for his achievements in the realms of porcelain, politics and commerce. Three wings were added to the original structure, thereby creating a central courtyard, with rooms en enfilade on two floors. The architects were Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann (1662-1736), author of the Zwinger and a student of the Roman baroque, who traveled to Berlin to study the porcelain rooms there, Jean de Bodt (1670-1745) and Zacharias Longuelune (1669-1748). The king too produced his own annotated drawings.
According to a succession of architectural plans, elevations and handwritten orders dating from around 1725-35, the outmoded baroque interiors of the smaller Dutch Palace would be reinstalled on the ground floor of the expanded Japanese Palace while the upper floor would feature specially commissioned Meissen porcelain in a series of high- ceilinged neoclassical reception rooms en enfilade and long galleries leading to a throne room, state bedroom and chapel (Figs. 11-13).
In concept, the visitor would progress through the lower rooms, with their impressive but somewhat retardataire furnishings and Asian ceramics, and ascend to the light-filled parade rooms on the upper floor, where Meissen manufactures would be densely installed as if porcelain tapestries. A long gallery with an astonishing porcelain menagerie of over 900 life-size Meissen animals and birds would lead to rooms with Meissen of a specific ground-color or decoration, including a dining room, buffet room, “retirade” (withdrawing room) and, finally, another long gallery of 120 feet in length, with a carillon (Glockenspiel) or clock at one end and a throne at the other, both situated under a baldachin (state canopy; Figs. 14-15).
The instrument or timepiece in the elevation is so diminutive, it reads as if a clock case instead of a keyboard instrument and even resembles the porcelain clock case in the Oppenheimer collection that is dated 1727 (Fig. 20 / lot 64).13 The actual carillon with Meissen porcelain bells was certainly designed around that date by Pöppelmann, according to its resemblance to the architecture of the Zwinger, which was completed in 1728 and celebrated in print in 1729 (Fig. 16).
Pöppelmann collaborated with local organ builder Johann Ernst Hähnel (1697-1777) but it was ten years before the instrument was ready; the Meissen work reports indicate the carving of the wooden case was overseen in 1736-37 by Johann Joachim Kändler (1706-1775), the legendary sculptor who arrived at Meissen in 1731 as head of the modeling studio (Fig. 17). Five different models of Meissen porcelain clocks were produced ca. 1727, perhaps for various rooms in the palace. Although similar models in DuPaquier porcelain are known, the artistic communication between the private industry in Vienna and the royal manufactory in Saxony is not understood, except for the likelihood this was facilitated by the consort of Augustus III, Habsburg archduchess Maria Josepha, daughter of Emperor Joseph I.
According to the archival documents, the king initially placed a small order for Meissen copies of Asian porcelain for the new interiors of the Japanese Palace, notably replicas of the distinctive Japanese blue-and-white porcelain “birdcage vases” acquired in Holland in 1717, in order to demonstrate that Meissen was equal to Asian porcelain, if not superior (Fig. 18). This approach would align with the relief decoration of the extant pediment of the building which shows Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, war, art and commerce, seated in judgement as she is presented with, on one side, porcelain tributes from Asian merchants and, on the other, Meissen porcelain from Saxony, which she demonstrably favors.
Rather quickly, however, it was decided to decorate the upper floors with porcelain models and decoration that were Asian in flavor but would never be confused for Asian originals. Accordingly, on a floorplan of around 1730, the upper rooms were labeled to indicate the desired colors and decoration of the Meissen. There was a room for “Seladon” (Fig. 19 / lot 35), and one for “Paillie” (straw-color or yellow; lot 98); a third was labeled dark blue (lot 49), the fourth indicated light blue and a fifth was labeled purple (lot 110).
In other words, the white Meissen porcelain was fired with an opaque glaze in the specified color except for shaped reserves which were glazed canvases for miniature enamel paintings; these painterly capriccios were additionally framed with ornamental gilding. On the basis of extant examples, it seems that different styles of chinoiseries were used on the fronts and backs of the pieces; a primary panel faced the viewer and the secondary painting on the back was reflected in the mirrored walls of the room (lot 50). The floorplan shows there were also rooms devoted to white Meissen porcelain with polychrome chinoiseries (lot 41) and white Meissen porcelain with gilt decoration, the latter doubtless an indication of the signature gold chinoiserie decoration commissioned by the factory from the Seuter workshop in Augsburg (lots 10-15); at the time, Meissen could not produce the same inhouse. Finally, the so-called (then and now) Yellow-Lion pattern was indicated for the Dining Room.
There exists as well a handwritten order for the Meissen porcelains required for the palace, dated 1733, apparently copying earlier orders that are now lost. The author of the surviving list assigns the following ground colors to the various rooms: seladon; another sort of green (without a modifier and perhaps indicating grass green or pea green, according to known pieces in these colors); deep yellow; dark blue; purple; gray (meaning gris-de-lin, a pale lavender); “pleumerent” (presumably a sky or pale blue); and peach-bloom. Meissen in blue- and-white was indicated for the long gallery with the throne and carillon at either end (lots 6 & 7); Chinese porcelains with blue-and- white decoration were variously termed “indianish” or “alt-indianish” or “Krack.”14 Although Japanese kakiemon porcelain was sometimes called “Alt-indianish,” the abundance and importance of porcelain in the blue-and-white palette favored by princes and kings, whether imported from China or made at Meissen and marked “AR” for Augustus Rex, leads us to conclude that it was the palette for the long gallery and throne room in the Japanese Palace. The porcelain shapes signaled in the orders included garnitures (sets) of vases for symmetrical arrangements, as well as individual vases; tablewares; tea-, coffee- and chocolate services; various small sculptures; candlesticks; toilette services (lot 34) and writing sets; and clock cases. Porcelain at the time was too precious for everyday use, so the ‘useful wares’ were actually representational elements for display on the walls as opposed to table settings for dining or tea. One could imagine the architects and administrators of the project were neither conversant with the desired repertoire of shapes, nor aware of the limitations or capabilities of the fledgling royal factory, so they sketched or listed imagined models known to them in other media to serve as placeholders. Longuelune expressly stated that the displays should avoid the appearance of a “well-stocked warehouse, and present the eye and the mind with amusing objects which – as it were – speak for themselves.”
The subjects of the never-completed ceiling paintings for the long gallery were described in a document by Longuelune, who refers to associated sketches by the court painter Louis de Silvestre (1675- 1760), which are mostly lost with one exception.15 According to the architect, the ceiling above the throne would represent “the dispute between Minerva and Neptune regarding the naming of the city of Athens. This is a grand subject in which all the pagan gods can be depicted, and a knowledgeable and skillful painter will find scope for ornaments and ingenious allegories.” The ceiling above the carillon was dedicated to the Sun god, Apollo, and incorporated his attributes as well as figures representing the seasons and the continents; the subject would have been more appropriate to a clock and perhaps the carillon was to incorporate a timepiece. The long gallery ceiling would reference the exterior pediment by showing “Saxony and Japan engaged, in the presence of Minerva, in a dispute on the merits and perfection of the works made in their respective porcelain manufactories. [...] The goddess shall put the crown into the hands of Saxony,” while Asian representatives are instructed to return their porcelains to their ships. The margins of the ceiling would present allegories of “the arts and the manufactories established in Saxony [...] and the natural beneficial products grown and the art produced in the land.” There would also be several medallions devoted to Minerva “who presides over the arts, and the subject matter shall represent the most memorable elements in her history [...] such as her triumph over Arachne, who for her boldness was changed into a spider.” That particular myth is the subject of the sculptural group atop the Oppenheimer clock (Figs. 20 & 21) and on a standing cup in the Rijksmuseum, suggesting they were intended for this space.
Fourteen clock cases were ordered for the Japanese Palace: four for the long gallery, six for the state bedroom and two each for the gris-de-lin and purple rooms, reflecting the example of the state apartments in the Royal Palace in the Altstadt, which featured the Boulle clocks from Paris.16 In the same 1715 shipment from France were more than three dozen small bronzes for the Kunstkammer, which joined an already established collection that eventually entered the Green Vaults and remains an almost unrecognized source of inspiration for the modelers at Meissen.17 George Fritzsche seems to have worked with Paul Wildenstein (1681-1744) on the ambitious three-dimensional model for the porcelain clock case in early 1727, an astonishing architectural masterpiece which warrants a dissertation and probably refers in some respects to a two-dimensional gilt metal clock frontal by Dresden clockmaker Johann Gottlieb Graupner (1690- after 1739; Fig 22).
Although print sources are known for the myth of Minerva and Arachne, the dynamic composition of the pair atop the roof was likely drawn from the antique and modern sculptures acquired by Augustus the Strong’s agents in Rome and Paris for the decoration of his palaces and gardens in Dresden (Figs. 23, 24, 25). By contrast, the very small, seated figures positioned in the niches seem inspired by Dresden goldsmiths – or gilt- metalwork.18
Altogether, nearly 4000 Meissen vases and around 19,000 wares were ordered for the Japanese Palace, as well as 300 small figures, over 900 large animals and birds, two dozen so-called Venus Temples19, standing cups, toilette boxes (lot 34) and desk sets (lot 76), candlesticks, flowerpots, two wine coolers and the aforementioned fourteen clock cases. It is likely some of the pagods owned by the Oppenheimers were intended for the Japanese Palace. Successive waves of deliveries left the factory by wagon for Dresden, where they were put into storage while the building was under reconstruction.20 When Augustus the Strong died in Warsaw on Feb. 1, 1733, his visionary palace in Dresden was far from finished. A few months later, thousands of undecorated Japanese Palace pieces were counted in the factory workrooms, including 790 vases and 16 clock cases. Deliveries of finished pieces continued until 1738, when the project was abandoned. Some of the porcelains were reassigned to the Tower Room (Turmzimmer) in the state apartments or were repurposed as diplomatic gifts.21 The rest languished in the basement of the Japanese Palace until 1876, when the porcelains were transferred to the former royal picture gallery, the Johanneum, where they remained until World War II.22 A temporary display was mounted in the cellars of the Japanese Palace in the 19th-century and items perceived to be overstock were regularly sold to visitors, including dealers from England. Some Meissen porcelains were also exchanged with ceramics museums across Europe, towards the creation of a universal ceramics collection in Dresden. In the early 20th century, in order to raise money for acquisitions to expand the limited range of the former royal collection, considerable numbers of Asian and Meissen porcelains were deaccessioned and auctioned by Lepke, Berlin, in 1919 and 1920, which allowed collectors like the Oppenheimers to acquire them.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF MEISSEN PORCELAIN
The royal manufactory founded at Meissen in 1710 was already exhibiting their luxuries at the famous Leipzig fair the following year, yet the industry was largely staffed by arcanists and craftsmen with little internal artistic direction until the arrival of the talented miniature painter Johann Gregorius Höroldt (1696-1775) in 1720.23 While models in other media informed the earliest repertoire of shapes, the surface decoration, whether painted, gilded or engraved, was provided by court artists in Dresden, notably lacquerer Martin Schnell (ca. 1675 - 1740), who applied the unfired chinoiseries to the extremely rare Oppenheimer black-glazed stoneware tankard (lot 4). This fine-bodied stoneware, reverentially called terra sigillata as well as ‘red porcelain,’ was produced at Meissen from ca. 1710-13 and appears in the Japanese Palace inventories, in shipments to the royal palace in Warsaw, and was gifted to the king of Denmark.
Höroldt ran the painting studio and art school at the factory, despite remaining an independent contractor from 1720 until 1731, when he officially joined the staff with the title “Hofcommissarius.” There were only five painters on the payroll in 1720, seven were listed in 1721-22, and twelve were on staff in 1723-24. Some were journeymen or apprentices, which means that Höroldt was largely responsible for miniature painting in fired enamel colors as well as training the incoming artists until 1725 or later, when there were sixteen on the payroll. Thirty-four painters were registered in 1729-30 and by 1740, there were forty, including seven “blue painters” who were responsible for underglaze blue decoration. All of the painters worked ‘anonymously’ in a uniform factory style and were not allowed to sign their work. The chinoiserie style so beloved by the Oppenheimers was Höroldt’s invention and reflects a unique assimilation of Asian and European print sources (Fig. 26). That is, the painters learned the factory style by sketching from the master’s own paintings on porcelain or copying his drawings on paper; over a hundred practice sheets by various hands have survived and are known as the Schulz Codex. It is possible they came onto the market when the factory moved premises in the late 19th century, and consequently retired or destroyed some of the historic property, whether bundles of sketches or plaster molds. In 1726, Höroldt was inspired to publish etchings of his chinoiserie compositions and acquired a printing press for this purpose. Whether he was the author of the variant Meissen chinoiseries we sometimes assign to others, for example, to Johann Ehrenfried Stadler (1701-1741), is uncertain.
Beyond painting and teaching, Höroldt’s responsibilities extended to the chemistry and technology of kilns, glazes and enamels. Although he inherited a small number of enamel recipes from the Dresden goldsmiths who had been supplying that sort of decoration before his arrival, fired in a simple muffle kiln, Höroldt grew the palette to sixteen colors by 1730 (red, brown, black, various yellows and greens, blacks, purple, overglaze blue, brown, as well as a metallic luster and an underglaze blue.)24 He also mastered ornamental gilding on Meissen which was previously the purvey of Dresden and Augsburg goldsmiths well into the 1720s. Metalwork mounts were applied by outside workshops and fitted leather boxes for the display and transport of diplomatic gifts were supplied by a separate trade as well.
In 1731, when Höroldt transitioned from freelance artist to salaried administrator, he sold to the king (ie. the royal factory) a personal collection of 510 pieces of Meissen comprised of test pieces, samples and models he created in around 1726 in response to the Japanese Palace commissions.25 According to the invoice, there were more than forty small bowls, seven vases and fifty-three beaker-shaped cups, some with handles, and three dozen cups and saucers of varying shapes, decorated with different ground colors and decorations. The ground colors were given as yellow, dark blue, peach bloom, “steel” green, sky blue, gray (meaning gris-de-lin), purple, sea green (celadon), and red, and each piece had reserves with miniature painting. A few of the items were described as white, and some of these were painted with small figures or flowers. It is possible the extraordinary Oppenheimer vase executed in a pale blue paste (Fig. 27 / lot 47) was a byproduct of Höroldt’s efforts to produce a pale blue ground color. Several of the small sample bowls have been identified, including two inscribed on the underside, in underglaze blue, “Meißen den 27. Augusti 1726,” thereby providing a date for this period of experimentation.
Some of the samples were transferred to the Japanese Palace and appear in the 1770 and 1779 inventories. The Oppenheimer beaker and saucer with a yellow ground (Fig. 28 / lot 96) may represent a sample supplied to the king for the room with yellow-ground Meissen in the Japanese Palace; it was one of six beakers and saucers delivered to Dresden in 1727 and assigned the Japanese Palace inventory number N - 117.
Markings on Meissen are few and yet they provide important clues to dating and interpreting the items on which they appear. The most common is the underglaze blue cross-swords, still in use today, drawn from the swords on the Saxon coat of arms, albeit in a nod to the underglaze symbols on Asian porcelain in Augustus the Strong’s collection. A mark was seen as a guarantee of the authenticity of the porcelain as well as the decoration. In 1722, the abbreviation “M.P.M.” was applied to teapots and sugarboxes, signifying “Meissener- Porzellan-Manufaktur;” within the same year, K.P.F. took its place, for “Königliche-Porzellan-Fabrik,” (lot 52). By 1723, the abbreviation “K.P.M” for “Königliche-Porzellan-Manufaktur,” (lots 65 & 70) paired with the crossed-swords, was used on teapots and sugarboxes, with the plain crossed-swords in underglaze blue applied to other shapes. By 1726, the “K.P.M.” was abandoned and the swords were retained. Various pseudo-Asian marks are found on products of the early 1720s.
The cipher “AR” for Augustus Rex (Figs. 29 & 30) was introduced in the 1720s and appears on many of the Oppenheimer vases (lots 6, 7, 35, 41, 49, 50, 79, 80, 104, 107), on the yellow beaker and saucer delivered to Dresden in 1727, and on some of the Höroldt samples. It is here suggested that Meissen porcelain with this mark was property of the King, who was, after all, owner of the manufactory and its principal client. Meissen ‘smalls’ and ordinary wares were sold at various outlets, but the great painted and sculptural production was the prerogative of the king and his ministers, and functioned as well as a national treasure and diplomatic gift.
Inventory numbers were painted onto, or even engraved into, the glaze on the underside of some of the porcelains delivered to the Japanese Palace, whether Asian or Meissen or otherwise; the numbers were paired with a symbol signifying the palette or perceived origin of the piece. ‘Japanese,’ for example, referred to Imari decoration, whether from China or Japan and ‘green’ indicated famille-verte. ‘Indianish’ was a catchall: it was applied to blue-and-white porcelain of various origins, including French soft-paste pieces that somehow made their way from Paris to Dresden in the early 1720s. ‘Terra Sigillata’ was likewise was a loose term for red or brown bodies, whether Meissen stoneware, Chinese Yixing, stoneware from other Continental workshops or even so-called “Guadalajara ware” imported to Europe from Mexico. Although white Meissen porcelain in concept occupied its own chapter, white Asian ware were inventoried there as well. Clearly, the scribes and supervisors responsible for the inventories were property managers, not porcelain specialists, and were chiefly concerned with an accurate counting of pieces according to shapes and size, with the occasional notations of provenance or condition. Japanese Palace inventories were taken in 1721, 1770 and 1779.
On paper, the king’s ambitions for his nascent royal porcelain manufactory were boundless. In reality, the manufactory was limited in scale and technology, and stretched thin, not only by the royal commissions and waves of diplomatic gifts, but a French merchant named Rudolphe LeMaire was also ordering vast quantities of Meissen for sale to his Parisian clientele in 1729-31.26 The short-lived arrangement involved an exclusive contract with the king for accurate copies of over 200 pieces of mostly Japanese kakiemon in the royal collection, to satisfy the French collectors of these alluring but scarce Asian imports. His ally in this effort was the former Saxon envoy to France, Count von Hoym (1694-1736), who by 1729 was back in Dresden and director of the Meissen manufactory. Lemaire’s thinly veiled effort was to sell the Meissen copies to unsuspecting collectors as Asian originals. The Marquis de la Faye, Comtesse de Verrue, Marshal d’Estré, Duc de Framont and Vicomte de Fonspertuis, were all fooled. Indeed, when Fonspertuis’s collection was sold by Edme-François Gersaint in 1748, the entry for lot 94, a pair of twelve-sided Kakiemon-type dishes, like the one owned by the Oppenheimers (Fig. 31 / lot 26), included a lengthy disclaimer and discourse:
“94. Deux très-beaux Saladiers creux à petits pans, & à Pagodes de Porcelaine de Saxe.
Ces deux morceaux sont copiés d’après l’ancien Japon. Quoique copies, les Curieux conviendront aisément qu’ils sont admirables dans leur genre, en ce qu’ils ressemblent si parfaitement aux Originaux qui sont de la plus rare & de la plus belle sorte, que les yeux les plus fins pourroient être séduits par cette exacte imitation de toutes les parties essentielles & dépendantes de cette qualité de Porcelaine si estimée des Connoisseurs, si l’on n’y voyoit dans le dessous de chaque Pièce, la marque des deux épées en sautoir, qui caractérisent les ouvrages de la Manufacture de Dresde. Je n’ai pas été le seul qui ait balancé à pouvoir en constater la qualité, & je ne rougis pas d’avoüer, que j’ai même été quelque tems à délibérer. Mais je m’apperçus qu’il y avoit un cachet au milieu du dessous de chaque Pièce. Ce cachet qui me dénotait quelque petite supercherie, confirma mon soupçon, & en effet, après l’avoir levé, mon doute fut éclairci par les deux épées en sautoir que j’y vis peintes. Il est sur qu’au premier coup d’œil, il seroit difficle de ne s’y pas laisser tromper, était surtout dans une juste prévention, que dans un Cabinet de cette conséquence, il ne doit se trouver que du vrai. Peut- être que M. de Fonspertuis avoit acquis ces copies, dans l’intention de se procurer le plaisir de la surprise de la part de quelque Curieux. Quoi qu’il en soit, ces deux morceaux ont du mérite, ainsi que huit autres du même genre, qui se trouveront ci-après. Je doute qu’il soit jamais rien sorti de la Manufacture de Dresde qui ait été fait avec plus de soin, pour imiter l’ancienne Porcelaine. Comme je me suis toujours fait une loi envers le Public (autant que mes lumières peuvent me l’indiquer) de ne lui jamais rien donner que pour ce qu’il est ; j’ai levé les cachets du dessous de chaque Pièce, & je me suis fait un devoir d’annoncer ces Pièces telles qu’elles sont. C’est une méthode que je suivrai toujours, à moins que je n’aye le malheur de me tromper. C’est aussi, je crois, l’unique moyen de gagner de plus en plus la confiance.” 27
Hiding the crossed-swords mark under a paper label, as on the Fonspertuis pieces, was hardly an ideal solution, but Lemaire could not convince the king to eschew the mark altogether on the pieces going to France, though the factory did so secretly for a limited time before the scheme was discovered in 1731. As a result, von Hoym was imprisoned, Lemaire was deported, and the Meissen copies awaiting transit to France were seized, entering the Japanese Palace instead, where they were inventoried. An overglaze enamel crossed-swords is found on some of the Lemaire pieces, perhaps an effort to comply with the king’s wishes, albeit the overglaze mark was easily abraded. When Höroldt gave up his freelance status and joined the factory in 1731, another consequence of the Lemaire debacle, the king purchased his private collection of Meissen copies of Asian prototypes, created to serve as models for the factory painters; these are distinguishable from Lemaire’s stock because they are incised with the inventory numbers of the Japanese originals that were somewhat surreptitiously and briefly borrowed from the royal collection in Dresden.28 Indeed, until 1731, Höroldt seems to have had a certain amount of freedom to work on private commissions, including gifts to members of his family (lot 58).
DIPLOMATIC GIFTS AND PERSONAL TRIBUTES
The Meissen manufactory was a royal industry akin to the Gobelins in France or the Opificio in Florence, and its products were likewise bestowed as gifts. By chance, the Oppenheimers owned a number of gifted items, ostensibly acquired for their chinoiserie decoration. The boxed Morosini service is remarkable for several reasons, not least that it survived intact in the family palazzo in Campo San Stefano in Venice until 1894, when it was sold from the estate of Loredana Morosini Gatterburg (d. 1884; Fig. 32 / lot 94). Each piece is emblazoned with the arms of the legendary military hero and doge, Francesco Morosini (1619-94), bearings that were awarded to him by Pope Alessandro VIII Ottoboni in 1690 and extended to his family in perpetuity. Although the decoration on the sugarbox is inscribed “K.P. M. F. Meissen 1731” (Königliche Porzellan Manufaktur [Fabrik or Fecit?] Meissen 1731), thereby providing a date for the production and the gift, neither the precise Morosini recipient nor the reason for the gift are known.29 The same mystery attends a later Meissen service with the same Morosini arms, but decorated with landscapes and the date 1743, which was likewise sold in 1894. Many such gifts of Meissen porcelain with Venetian armorials were sent to the hosts of Saxon Crown Prince Friedrich Christian (1722-63), who spent six months in La Serenissima in 1739-40 and interacted with members of the Morosini family. Indeed, the prince’s father (Augustus III) and grandfather (Augustus the Strong) also sojourned in Venice on their respective Grand Tours, so the connections to the leading families of Venice were long established and would account for the many armorial services of the 1720s and later.
By contrast, we have clear documentation for the two beakers with the arms of the Duchy of Parma (lots 92 & 93), which were part of a service sent to Elisabeth Farnese (1692-1766), Queen of Spain and Duchess of Parma. It was one of fourteen boxed tea-, coffee- and chocolate-services delivered to Madrid in 1738 in conjunction with the marriage of her son, Charles (1716-88), to Princess Maria Amalia (1724-59), daughter of Augustus III. Remarkably, this fragile gift, which also included a colorful garniture of vases plucked from the Japanese Palace, was stolen en route by a rogue courier but was finally recovered and presented to the Queen. Part of the service was sold to the Porcelain Collection in Dresden in 1901 by Wilhelm von Bode, who may have somehow acquired the entire service before selling it piecemeal to museums and private collectors (Fig. 33).30
There were only two armorial services among the fourteen shipped to Madrid, one with the arms of the Naples/Sicily and Saxony/Poland and the other with the arms of the Duchy of Parma; the twelve other boxed services were described in the archival documentation as white with gold chinoiseries (Fig. 34 / lot 12), white with applied flowers, fluted with chinoiserie figures (Fig. 35 / lot 31), and with the ground colors “gris de lin,” celadon, blue, and a hexagonal service in yellow. No traces of the gift are known in Madrid today, and the sale to von Bode suggests some or all of the services were sold or otherwise dispersed before 1901.
The Oppenheimers also owned the waste bowl from the utterly captivating tea-coffee-chocolate-service made for the great porcelain connoisseur, Clemens August (1700-61), Prince-Bishop of Cologne, in 1735 (Fig. 36 / lot 78). The service was inventoried in one of his residences, the Indianisches Haus in Brühl, outside Cologne, after his death. Three years later, in 1764, some of his property was sold at auction in Bonn, according to the existence of two printed catalogues for sales in May and December of that year. The May sale included more than a thousand paintings, hundreds of gemstones, twenty clocks and around 500 lots of porcelain, defined as only a part of his vast collection of Asian and European ceramics. Most of it was “porcelaine de Saxe”, comprising more than two dozen vases, thirteen tea- coffee-chocolate-services, two table services, various ecuelles, potpourris, candelabra, two standing cups, a porcelain aviary of nearly 80 birds, and around fifty small figures and animals.
Two richly decorated tea-, coffee- and chocolate services are amply described as follows:
276. Un petit Service de Porcellaine de Saxe, d’une dorure très-riche, avec des figures & fleurs peintes dans la derniere perfection consistant en un sous-coupe quarrée, Caffetiere, pot à lait, sucrier, Jatte, boëtte à Caffée, douze tasses à Caffée, six tasses à Chocolat avec leurs sous-tasses.
277. Un Service de Porcellaine de Saxe dans le gout du precédent, consistant en un théiere, un pot à lait, un pot à sucre & sa tasse, une Jatte, une boette à thé, douze tasses à thé, six tasses à Chocolat avec leurs sous-tasses. 31
Many consider lot 276 to be the beguiling 1735 armorial service. The sale of December 1764 was devoted to pastels, miniatures, sculptures and ‘other curiosities,’ as well as three lots of porcelain, none of them Meissen. Evidently, there were other sales for which we have no catalogue evidence.
Clemens August actually owned three customized Meissen services -- a chinoiserie tea service of ca. 1725-30 (Fig. 37), the 1735 service, and a table service of 1741 painted with naturalistic flowers and insects and his beribboned cipher – and he was also the recipient of a ‘hunting’ cup with his coat of arms and dateable to 1741. In the inexplicable absence of archival information for these four personalized commissions, it is impossible to know how they came about and whether they represent gifts from the king or commissions from the Prince-Bishop. One could speculate that Höroldt had a hand in the design or execution of the whimsical artistic programs of the ca. 1725-30 and 1735 services, the latter being the most elaborate and extensive of any painted tribute executed at Meissen in the 18th-century; only the decoration of the standing cup made for Sophie Dorothea, Queen of Prussia, in 1735, is as personal and inventive. Clemens August was the son of Bavarian Elector Maximillian II Emanuel (1662-1726), a great collector of Asian ceramics, many of which were mounted and have survived in the Residenz in Munich. His older brother, Charles (1697-1745), succeeded their father and, thanks to his marriage to Archduchess Maria Amalia (1701-56), daughter of Emperor Joseph I, he was elected Emperor Charles VII in 1742. Thus, he was brother-in-law of Augustus III, also a contender for the imperial throne, and his consort, Maria Josepha. Where that positioned Clemens August in terms of interest and access to Meissen is not clear.
Von Carolsfeld defined the Oppenheimers as collectors of Meissen chinoiseries, whether sculpted or painted. This suggests they acquired the extraordinary clock, the extensive Morosini service, quantities of Japanese Palace vases and the Clemens August bowl on that basis alone, not for their rarity or the significance of the armorials or provenance.
Whether or not this is a fair assessment, his eighteen-page introduction to the 1927 catalogue is similarly focused on only the chinoiserie aspects of the collection, with passing references to artists, print sources, dates and marks; there is no demonstrated interest in presenting the longer histories of the individual manufactures. By the time of the factory’s Jubilee in 1910, a literature had emerged and there were guidebooks to the Porcelain Collection in Dresden as well as the famous Lepke sale catalogues of 1919 and 1920. Admittedly, we know far more now than was understood before WWII, as reflected in Abraham den Blaauwen’s 2000 catalogue, Meissen Porcelain in the Rijksmuseum, where most of these pieces were published. Nevertheless, in the intervening twenty years and, indeed, in the process of cataloguing these pieces anew, we have been able to restore, amplify, or even reframe many of the individual narratives, and certainly this process will continue.32 The sale also inspired John Ward’s insightful, if not groundbreaking, investigations into the silver and gilt metal mounts on Meissen porcelain, a subject long overlooked by porcelain and silver specialists alike.33 In the process, we hope the status of the collectors has been enhanced as well.
1 As suggested by Sebastian Kuhn, ‘Collecting Culture: The Taste for Eighteenth-Century German Porcelain’, in The Arnhold Collection of Meissen Porcelain 1710-50, New York, 2008, pp. 22-119.
2 See Danielle Kisluk-Grosheide, ‘The Reign of Magots and Pagods’, in Metropolitan Museum Journal, vol. 37, 2002, pp. 177-197.
3 Gustav Pazaurek, Die Deutsche Fayence- und Porzellan-Hausmaler, 2 vols., 1925.
4 Europäisches Porzellan des XVIII. Jahrhunderts ran from February 15 to April 30, 1904 and the accompanying catalogue was chiefly authored by Adolf Brüning.
5 Many Oppenheimer items were sold from the Mannheimer collection in 1952, for example the teapot bought by R. Thornton Wilson and donated to the Metropolitan Museum in 1954 (54.147.74).
6 For an architectural history of the building, see Stefan Hertzig et al, Das Japanische Palais in Dresden: Porzellanschloss – Staatsmonument – Museum, 2019. An earlier ‘porcelain history’ of the building was published by Ulrich Pietsch et al, Japanisches Palais zu Dresden: Die Königliche Porzellansammlung Augusts des Starken, Dresden, 2014. See as well Samuel Wittwer, The Gallery of Meissen Animals: Augustus the Strong’s Menagerie for the Japanese Palace, Munich, 2004, and Ruth Sonja Simonis, Microstructures of global trade: Porcelain acquisitions through private networks for Augustus the Strong, Dresden, 2020.
7 Danielle Kisluk-Grosheide, ‘Lack und Porzellan in en-suite-Dekorationen ostasiatisch inspirierter Raumensembles’, in Schwartz Porcelain: Die Leidenschaft für Lack und ihre Wirkung auf das europäische Porzellan, Munich, 2003, pp. 77-89.
8 Jesper Munk Andersen, Royal Danish Collections, kindly confirmed the king’s comment, adding that Frederik IV noticed as well the glass doors leading to the garden. The unpublished travel journal is deposited in the Rigsarkivet, Copenhagen.
9 Samuel Wittwer, ‘Liaison Fragiles: Exchanges of Gifts between Saxony and Prussia in the Early Eighteenth Century’, in Cassidy-Geiger (ed.), Fragile Diplomacy: Meissen Porcelain for European Courts, ca. 1710-63, New York and London, 2007, pp. 87-109.
10 John Whitehead and Sir Francis Watson, ‘An inventory dated 1689 of the Chinese Porcelain in the Collection of the Grand Dauphin […]’, in Journal of the History of Collections, vol. 2, issue 1, 1991, pp. 13-52.
11 Claudia Schnitzer, Constellatio Felix: Die Planetenfeste Augusts des Starken anlässlich der Vermählung seines Sohnes Friedrich August mit der Kaisertochter Maria Josepha 1719 in Dresden, Dresden, 2014.
12 Raymond LePlat’s Recueil of the king’s outstanding collection antique and ‘modern’ sculpture appeared a few months after his death in 1733.
13 Crown prince Friedrich Christian (1722-63) and his brother went to see and hear the instrument in the Japanese Palace on Sept. 20, 1737.
14 Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, ‘Meißen Porcelain ordered for the Japanese Palace: A transcription of the Specification von Porcilan of 1736’, in Keramos, 153, July 1996, pp. 119-130; the document is actually dated 1733.
15 Published by Julia Weber in ‘Copying and Competition: Meissen Porcelain and the Saxon Triumph over the Emperor of China’, in Corinna Forberg and Philipp Stockhammer (eds.), The Transformative Power of the Copy, Heidelberg, 2017, p. 362, fig. 19.
16 Walter Holtzhause, ‘Die Bronzen Augusts des Starken in Dresden’, in Jahrbuch der Preussischen Kunstsammlungen, vol. 60, 1939, pp. 157-86. Princes and courtiers shared the taste for clocks.
17 Michaela Völkel, ‘Laocoön in Disguise: Johann Joachim Kaendler and the Art of Antiquity’ (Haughton International Fair; Art Antiques London, 2011; online at Haughton.com).
18 As on the metal components of the 1737 centerpiece in the Art Institute of Chicago (1958.405a-f).
19 A model known by examples in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (50.211.229) and in the Rijksmuseum (BK-1968-115).
20 Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, ‘Safeguarding the Royal Porcelain Manufactory in the Albrechtsburg castle at Meissen: the Guardhouse Logbooks, 1731-40’, in Keramos, vol. 218, 2013, pp. 3-174.
21 Anette Loesch (ed.), Das Porzellankabinett im Hausmannsturm des Dresdner Residenzschlosses, Dresden, 2019; Cassidy-Geiger, Fragile Diplomacy (in note 9).
22 Some of the exotica, notably the Chinese carved soaptstones, returned to the Japanese Palace in 1977 when it became the home to the Ethnographic Museum; see Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, ‘Changing Attitudes Towards Ethnographic Material: Re-discovering the Soapstone Collection of Augustus the Strong’, in Abhandlungen und Berichte des Staatlichen Museums für Völkerkunde Dresden, vol. 48, 1994, pp. 7-98. Lacquer wares entered the Decorative Arts Museum; Monika Kopplin and Gisela Haase, Sächßisch Lacquirte Sachen: Lackkunst in Dresden und August dem Starken, Münster, 1998. The unique featherwork state bed was displayed at Mortizburg castle; see Cassidy-Geiger, ‘The Federzimmer from the Japanisches Palais in Dresden’, in Furniture History, 1999, pp. 87-111.
23 For background to the Leipzig fair, see Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, ‘Luxury Markets and Marketing Luxuries: The Leipzig Fair and the Dresden Merceries under Augustus the Strong’, in Mark Häberlein and Christof Jeggle (eds.), Materielle Grundlagen der Diplomatie. Schenken, Sammeln und Verhandeln in Spätmittelalter und Früher Neuzeit, 2015, pp. 441-58.
24 According to the publications and research of chemist and Meissen collector Nicholas Zumbulyadis which appear in Keramos and the journal Archaeometry, 2020.
25 See Claus Boltz, ‘Eisbären und Polarfuchse / 6. Kästen Sächsisches Porzellan’, in Keramos, 148, 1995, pp. 3-36; Boltz, ‘Japanisches Palais-Inventar 1770 und Turmzimmer-Inventar 1769’, in Keramos, 153, 1996, pp. 3-118; Boltz, ‘Höroldts Malereimodelle von 1731’, in Keramos, 158, 1997, pp. 3-24.
26 Claus Boltz, ‘Hoym, Lemaire und Meissen’, in Keramos, 88, 1980, pp. 3-101; Julia Weber, ‘A detective story: Meissen porcelains copying East Asian models – Fakes or originals in the own right?’ (Haughton International Fair; Art Antiques London, 2012; online at Haughton.com); Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, ‘Meissen et la France avant et après la Guerre de Sept ans : Artistes, Espionage et Commerce’, in XXes Rencontres de l’Ecole du Louvre, 2008, pp. 61-99.
27 Edme-François Gersaint, Catalogue raisonné des bijoux, Porcelaines, Bronzes, Lacqs, […] de la Succession de M. Angran, Vicomte de Fonspertuis, Paris, 1748, pp. 61-63.
28 Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, ‘Returning to Hoym, Lemaire und Meissen’, in Keramos, 146, 1994, pp. 3-8.
29 That is, when the Doge died without issue, the title passed to the sons and grandsons of his brother, Lorenzo; it would seem the grandsons were all named Francesco and their life dates and careers are uncertain.
30 The wastebowl in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe was acquired in 1922 from the Behrens collection (1922.302); whether Behrens bought it from von Bode, or when, is unknown.
31 (Anon.), Liste D’une Partie des Peintures, des Diamants, de Porcellaine, et des Horloges Provenantes de la Succession de son Altesse Serenissime Electorale de Cologne […] de vendre publiquement à Bonne, le Lundi 14 Mai 1764, & Jours suivants.
32 While it is tantalizing to imagine that the rare hexagonal Meissen vases with oversize figures (lot 79) were gifts to Hanbury Williams or otherwise made their way to England, where they were termed “jars” and were apparently copied by the Chelsea manufactory, there are no documents as yet to explain the chain of events. Likewise, the bracketed scenes on the two Oppenheimer stands (lots 74 & 75) are consistent with gifts to France, though proof for this is elusive.
33 See John Ward’s essay, Mounting and Meissen: Elias Adam, Enhancing the Precious, at Sothebys.com.