Once the Chinese secret of hard paste porcelain was discovered in Saxony under the commission of Augustus the Strong, it was first used for the production of practical items such as vases and dinnerware. Considering himself a patron of the arts, however, it was not long before Augustus began commissioning artists for the creation of porcelain sculptures, or figurines. By far the most successful of these early artists was Johann Kändler, who produced around a thousand figures before his death in 1775. His lifetime spanned three artistic movements-Baroque, Rococo and Neo-Classicism-and the range of his experiments in a large degree determined the future course of porcelain figurines.
Generally the production of a porcelain figurine, or figural “grouping,” consists of two steps. The first is the molding and casting process, which results in the basic shape of the final figural piece. The second, and perhaps most important step, involves “modeling.” In this stage of the process, smaller or more detailed items such as flowers, baskets or musical instruments, were modeled separately or by hand and attached to the larger piece with porcelain “slip” (soft porcelain mixed with water.) It is this second stage that determines the unique character and flavor of the piece.
By far the most impressive development of the modeling process was the invention of “Dresden lace.” This was a method developed by Dresden decorators in which real lace was dipped in liquid porcelain and then applied to the figures by hand. The result was a stunningly delicate appearance that was almost indistinguishable from soft fabric. However, most of the results were so fragile they could be broken even by a light touch. This makes the pieces that remain intact all the more impressive, for the care that must have gone into preserving them.
The most famous Dresden figurines are the “crinoline groups,” which portray various aspects of court life, such as dancing or playing musical instruments, and sometimes amorous scenes. Many of these were produced under the original Dresden blue crown mark seen on the dinnerware, but several other manufactures imitating the Dresden style attained a degree of artistry that rivaled the original studios. Some of the more famous include Alka-Kunst Alboth & Kaiser, Ernst Bohne & Sons, the Irish Dresden company, and Sitzendorf. Several of these are represented in the Nacq Partners, Ltd. collection.