Dinnerware – Dresden

Whoever coined the expression, “what’s a pretty plate with nothing on it,” clearly never had the privilege of handling a piece of Dresden china.  The term “Dresden porcelain” refers more to an artistic movement than a particular line of figurines or dinnerware.  Several decorating studios emerged in this Saxony capital in response to the rise of “Romanticism” during the 19thcentury.  Dresden was an important center of this artistic, cultural and intellectual movement, which attracted painters, sculptors, poets, philosophers and porcelain decorators alike.  In 1883, in response to the exciting developments happening all around them, four prominent ceramic decorators registered the famous blue crown Dresden mark, and the widely popular “Dresden style” was born. To view Dresden porcelain marks, click here.

Much confusion exists concerning the relationship between the names “Dresden” and “Meissen,” which are often used interchangeably.  This misunderstanding dates to the earliest years of porcelain production in Europe.  The secret of hard paste porcelain, previously the exclusive knowledge of the Chinese and Japanese exporters, was actually discovered under the commission of Augustus the Strong in the city of Dresden.  The first porcelain-producing factory, however, was begun fifteen miles away in the city of Meissen, in 1710.  However, as Dresden was a vital cultural and economic center of Saxony, most Meissen china was sold there.  As a result, much Meissen chinaand figurines, characterized by the blue cross-swords stamp, were mistakenly referred to as “Dresden.”  Modern day collectors, however, distinguish Meissen from the china produced by decorators in the city of Dresden beginning in the 19th century, which generally bear a blue crown stamp or other related mark.  While the work of Dresden decorators often rivaled that produced in Meissen, no actual porcelain was produced in Dresden.  That aspect of the process, at least, remained the exclusive pride of Meissen factories. 

Dresden china is often described as “rococo revival” style.  Rococo comes from the French word “rocaille” meaning rock work or grotto work, and refers to the artificial grottoes used in French gardens that were decorated with irregularly shaped stones and seashells.  Originally popular during the renaissance, rococo experienced a revival during the 19th century, touching virtually all aspects of interior design.  Dresden decorators were the first and most successful to employ this style on dinnerware, characterized by elaborate fanciful design and a profusion of foliage, flowers, fruits, shells and scrolls.

Although there were over 200 painting shops in Dresden alone between 1855 and 1944, the Dresden style is typically associated with the blue crown stamp first registered byRichard Klemm, Donath & Co., Oswald Lorenz, and Adolph Hamann in 1883.  The style they employed was a mixture of Meissen and Vienna flower and figure painting.  Later, other decorators employed the Crown and Dresden mark, and such names asFranziska Hirsch, Ambrosius Lamm, Carl Thieme (vases/urns, decorative)  and Helena Wolfsohn have also become synonymous with Dresden china.  The works of several of these decorating studios are represented in the Antique China Porcelain & Collectibles collection.

Perhaps even more popular than the dinnerware are the lace porcelain figurines that were produced in Dresden during the same period.  Elaborate figures and “groupings” were made in large quantities, and are still produced in Germany to this day.  The famous “Dresden lace,” 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, Dresden lace is so fragile that it can be damaged by even a light touch.  The fact that so many pieces still remain intact in the Antique China Porcelain & Collectibles collection is a testament both to the value of the work, and the care of those who have preserved them over several generations

The most famous Dresden figurines are the “crinoline groups,” which portray various aspects of court life, such as dancing or playing musical instruments, or 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 Antique China Porcelain & Collectibles collection.

Unfortunately, much of the work and the history of all the porcelain produced in Dresden was destroyed during the allied bombings of World War II.  In a single night, most Dresden decorating studios were obliterated along with many historical documents, and the porcelain painting business has never fully recovered.  However, owing largely to the vast popularity of the Dresden style, much of it remains preserved in antique shops and private collections around the world.  At Antique China Porcelain & Collectibles we cherish the pieces in our collection and hope that their future owners will treasure them for many more generations to come