January 13, 2013

Rare Birds from Berlin

Every so often, a mystery piece comes in that communicates on some subliminal level. In this case, it is a pair of birds, beautifully detailed. They were from a fine collection- their companion was a Meissen group of kissing doves by Kandler, c.1745, and they had a certain feel about them that suggested they were nice and early.
left: Billing Doves, by Kandler, Meissen c.1745  right: mystery Partridges

They are two of the same, meaning they came from the same mould. They stand 16.5cm high, around life size. I believed them to be white quail, but have changed to 'partridges' after viewing many photos of quail, all of which lacked the longer necks shown here. Note the superb detail to the moulded feathers, and the subtle use of touches of grey to highlight & give depth- another characteristic of 18th century porcelains.

Underneath, there is a central circular hole, to let the hot air vent from the interior during firing. There is an old collection number - unusual in that it is leather, stamped 132 and then gilt, suggesting a very exclusive and old provenance, alas now lost. And there is an incised mark on each piece..... both have a 4, while one is clearly 1/4, the other could be T4. This mark would surely reveal the maker - but no clear solution could be found.

After several days of fruitless search, they were put back on the shelf. Cataloging of more obvious pieces went ahead, and of course right when least expected, they turned up in a photo!

The book is a 1960's paperback, little used and rather brown, being printed on cheap paper: George Savage's Penguin publication, 'Porcelain through the Ages', first printed in 1957. It's a great general read, although I rarely open it- the info is MOSTLY more readily accessible in other more recent books, and the photos are black & white and very average. The only reason I chanced to open it was it was at the front of a group of books I wanted to investigate- I flipped the pages, and the 'partridge' leapt out at me!

Trembling with excitement, I read the caption- Berlin c. 1755- and suddenly it all made sense. Somehow, the clues- the mark, the details, the old collection number- all fit. How extraordinarily rare.
Berlin Partridge, Wegely period 1752-57, alongside the example illustrated by Savage. The seedhead on our example has been restored; in the photo, it is broken off at the same place.

Turning to the marks section, he illustrates a perfect match:

The pair belong to the rarest possible Berlin group, the early porcelain factory of Wegely.
Wilhelm Kasper Wegely was a Prussian cloth manufacturer by trade. The Prussian monarch, Frederick the Great, was a porcelain addict. He eyed the neighbouring Saxon Meissen factory of Augustus with green-eyed jealousy, and indeed when he had the chance in the second Silesian was of 1744-45, he directed his soldiers to take as much Meissen porcelain from the factory as they could. They also were to secure workmen and materials, as Frederick realised he could jump-start his own ambition of owning a working porcelain factory in his territory. However, Augustus was one step ahead, and had removed all key personnel from the Meissen works, securing them within another of his strongholds. They placed their raw materials in secret rooms, which they bricked up before leaving, meaning Frederick's men found nothing but the stock at hand. They emptied the storerooms of thousands of pieces of both decorated and white Meissen, which they brought back to Berlin- where many pieces still exist.

Back to our Birds: he never lost his dream, and in 1751 granted permission for Wegely to establish a porcelain factory in Berlin. With the help of Johann Reichard, an alchemist with experience at the factories of Höchst and Fürstenburg,he was able to produce a brilliant white hard paste porcelain. In appearance, it was very similar to Meissen, and indeed the clay was sourced from the same location at Aue that Meissen used.
Production was never great, and apparently Frederick was hard to please: he still preferred Meissen. When he came to occupy Meissen again at the outbreak of the Seven Years War, Wegely hoped to receive raw materials and workmen to boost his concern. Instead, Frederick gave the charge of the Meissen factory to his Army contractor Schimmelmann, and Wegely found his enterprise failing. He closed his doors in 1757.
Berlin porcelain plates, the first two circa 1790, the third circa 1870.

Of course, Berlin porcelain was re-established, and came to be one of the top European porcelain factories for the remainder of the 18th and the19th centuries. This second factory built on what Wegely had begun, and obtained the ear of Frederick- who actually lived in Meissen 1760-62, a neighbour to the great Meissen sculptor Kandler himself! As the occupying ruler, he was able to prise away the artist Meyer and several decorators and workmen. With this help the new concern of a gent named Gotzkowsky was able to be successfully established in1761, although it soon found itself in trouble, and he sold it to Frederick in 1763. As King, Frederick could ensure the financial future of the factory, for example making any Jewish person in his kingdom buy an expensive service of porcelain from his factory if they wished to have a marriage license! So the Berlin factory became state owned, and has continued to operate as such right down to the present.
The plates above are from the Berlin factory, marked with a blue sceptre.

These marks put them in the late 18th century, while the one in the distance is from the 1870's.

The birds, and these plates, will be released for sale as a part of our 2013 Exhibition & Catalogue of recent acquisitions, to be held late February in our Geelong premises.