In terms of unique decorative arts, history and extraordinary craftsmanship, porcelain stands out from other areas of collecting. At M.S. Rau, we have long sought out some of the most extraordinary examples in addition to the beloved figurines, plates, and vases that are staples of every collection. Sometimes, however, a truly monumental masterpiece of painted porcelain art crosses our path, and we simply cannot resist acquiring it. Our most recent curated collection, The Pursuit of Perfection: Masterpieces of European Porcelain, showcases some of these highly important - and our very favorite - masterworks in porcelain. Read on to learn more about this once-in-a-lifetime collection, which is on exhibition now at our French Quarter gallery.
A Brief History of Porcelain
When porcelain decorative arts began to be heavily imported from China in the 16th century, it quickly became one of the most highly coveted luxury goods throughout Europe. Beloved for its pure white hue, translucency, and resilience, it held an exotic appeal for the European upper classes. Naturally, European manufacturers soon set out to uncover the secrets of mastering the art of porcelain themselves; the result was a flourishing of creative, scientific, and commercial enterprises throughout Europe.
By the 18th century, European porcelain factories proliferated throughout the continent, and many enjoyed a royal or noble patronage. Firms developed a rich repertoire of painted wares to please their aristocratic patrons, from extensive dinner services to monumental vases and expressive figurines. The Pursuit of Perfection: Masterpieces of European Porcelain showcases an outstanding sampling of some of the finest European porcelain creations created by these famed firms at the height of their output. View a small sampling of these porcelain masterpieces below.
The Four Elements Ewers by Meissen
This extremely rare set of Meissen porcelain ewers represents the Four Elements: Earth, Air, Water and Fire. First introduced by Meissen artist Johann Joachim Kändler around 1735, the Four Elements design has endured for more than 100 years. Not only do they appear in ewers such as these, but also as figurines and in candelabra, vases, clocks and more. Kändler was highly regarded for his allegorical representations, and the Four Elements represent that height of his achievements with fine porcelain creations.
Earth is represented by a detailed hunt scene and presided over by Pan, the Greek god of woods and fields. Air is beautifully portrayed with flying birds and billowing clouds, all under the reign of Juno, the goddess who personifies air, and her peacock. Neptune rules the waves on the ewer representing Water, which also depicts his team of seahorses striding dramatically from the sea. Finally, Fire is represented most by a dragon-shaped handle, animals fleeing the burning forest and Vulcan, the god of fire.
The Papal Tazza by KPM
This porcelain tazza was created for Pope Pius VII by the special order of King Friedrich Wilhelm III as a symbol of peace and friendship. After the successful Concordat of 1821 and the Congress of Verona in 1822, the King ordered two tazze to be made especially for the pontiff. This is one of the pair, and its mate is currently displayed at Charlottenburg Castle in Berlin.
According to KPM records, each “peace dish” was created in order to commemorate the end of two wars that took a tremendous toll on Prussia. The present tazza is detailed with Berlin’s Kreuzberg Liberation Monument in remembrance of the end of the Wars of Liberation (1813-1815), while the other in Berlin commemorates the end of the Seven Years War (1756-1763) with its depiction of the Neues Palais in Potsdam.
Unfortunately, Pope Pius VII died before the gift was completed, so the tazze entered the collection of the Prussian Palace.
Sèvres Palace Urns
Hand-painted panels of figures from Greek mythology, including Poseidon and Aphrodite, grace the fronts of these absolutely monumental palace urns by Sèvres. The renowned manufactory has created several versions of the palace urn over the years, yet even among the best examples, these antique urns stand apart. Very few were fitted with the handcrafted, specially made gilded bronze mounts such as those featured here. Additionally, most urns created were just one quarter to half the size of these monumental examples. Very large pieces such as these were made only by special order for elite clientele, earning them the moniker “palace urns.”
Count Brühl's Tailor on a Goat by Meissen
One of our absolute favorite pieces, this royal porcelain statue by Meissen boasts a story that is as interesting as the work itself. During the 1730s, Count Brühl, Chief Administrator to the King, was known as the best-dressed man in Saxony. The Count’s tailor felt he was as much responsible for that title as the Count himself. Thus, the Saxony tailor became very conceited and requested that the Count secure him an invitation to dine with the King at an upcoming banquet.
The Count didn't dare make such a request, so he came up with a different plan. He commissioned Käendler to create a statue of the tailor that could be placed on the Royal dining table, thus fulfilling his tailor’s wish to “dine with the King.” Käendler’s sense of humor got the better of him, however, and his royal porcelain creation became a hilarious caricature of the pompous tailor.
Visit our French Quarter gallery to view the rest of this incredible collection and other works of art, or click here to shop our current selection of fine porcelain painted decoration.