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ART SEEN - Meissen Porcelain at the Ariana

Mid Morning Mix// ART SEEN // Explore Switzerland// Art & Culture // July 1, 2020

The Ariana Museum in Geneva is currently hosting an attractive exhibition on Meissen Porcelain. The exhibition covers the very beginnings of porcelain manufacture in Europe and draws upon 8 Swiss collections – 6 from private collections and 2 from museums.

Sian Sibley investigates... 



First we learn the history of porcelaine in Europe and the role of Augustus the Strong (1670-1733), Elector of Saxony. The exhibition touches upon the long search to imitate Chinese porcelain, (already in production for 1,000 years), before the secret was "discovered" by a young alchemist-come-scientist, Johann Friedrich Böttger. The search to discover the secret of porcelain in Europe was a conquest, marked by successive attempts interspersed with numerous failures. Its story reads like an adventure story with a series of betrayals and imprisonment.

The porcelain factory itself was founded at Meissen in 1710 close to deposits of kaolin used in the production.

The Decorator
Then we move on to the works themselves with examples by the most famous decorator, Johann Gregorius Höroldt (1696-1775). His first designs were influenced by Eastern models and then he created designs of his own invention which became known as Chinoiseries. Inspired by an idealized vision of China, these were hugely successful. Subsequently a more European style emerged in the form of landscapes, hunting and pastoral subjects, seascapes or scenes of gallantry in the manner of the French painter Watteau.

  • Above, left: Clock with elephant, approx 1745. Meissen Porcelain, soft porcelain & bronze. 46 x 33.5 cm (Private Collection)
    Above, right : Mantel clock, approx 1750-55. Johann Joachim Kändler. Porcelaine, polychrome enalel and gold (rhinoceros); Vincennes soft porcelain and polychrome enalel (flowers); gilt bronze mount. (Private Collection)
  • Below: "Le Nain de cour Joseph Frölich", 1738. Johann Joachin Kändler. Polychrome enamel & gold (Private Collection)
    Photo : Jeanā€Marc Cherix, Musée Ariana

The Modeller
Johann Joachim Kändler (1706-1775) was appointed in 1731 as the factory’s chief modeller. He was a sculptor by training and he started the production of countless figurines based on the society of the time: court life, street life, scenes of gallantry, the Commedia dell’arte etc Through his work we see the Baroque period come to life.

Dinner Services
By 1709 Louis XIV had issued sumptuary laws which decreed that all gold and silver tableware owned by the nobility had to be melted doewn to replenish the state coffers. These royal commands led to the creation of matching ceramic dinner services and it was at Meissen the first major dinner services were produced. When we say major, we mean major – they would comprise over 2000 pieces each. Example pieces of two of these services can be seen in the exhibition – the Swan service and the Brühlsches Allerlei. The detailed painting of fruit and flowers on the latter service is extraordinary.

The pre-eminence in Europe of the Meissen factory ended with the start of the The Seven Years War in 1756 when the production came to a temporary halt. In the second half of the century is was the French Sèvres manufactory which then became the most desirable porcelain.
The Ariana Museum is the Swiss Museum for Ceramics and Glass and entry to the museum’s permanent collection is free of charge. The galleries are well arranged by period and category and have English display text. There is a charge of CHF12.- francs for temporary exhibitions like this Meissen one, but take the time to look around the rest of the museum and visit the café on the first floor with a great balcony view across Geneva.

Practical Details:

WHAT:                          Meissen. Folies de Porcelaine.
WHERE:                       Ariana Museum – the Swiss Museum for Ceramics and Glass
WHEN:                         Now, until September 6, 2020
ENTRY FEES:              Adults: CHF 12.- (Concessions  CHF 9.-).


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