Porcelain in the Age of Mass Production

On September 28, Suzanne Marchand, Boyd Professor of European Intellectual History at Louisiana State University, gave a lecture in the CGES lecture series at IES on the cultural and economic history of porcelain in Europe between the 18th and 19th century. Marchand began with an introduction to the historical conditions of the porcelain industry in Europe. She explained how in the 17th century, the Netherlands were the largest importer of Chinese and Japanese porcelains, but that trade was cut with the fall of Ming Dynasty, which engendered an opportunity for domestic producers. As a result, cheaper alternatives such as faience and Delftware were developed. In Germany, the porcelain industry was mostly domestic, but it also had an international dimension: it faced stiff competition from the UK. As coffee and cuisine à la française grew in popularity, demand for porcelain also increased. Later in the 18th century, trade with Turkey also encompassed a large base of the demand for German porcelains. Production-wise, recipes, such as the famous Böttiger’s hard-paste porcelain formula, were kept as trade secrets and designed as art. Financially, state funding was key to many ateliers’ starting-off, but private capital injection, often from wealthy aristocrats, ensured their survival. For the nobility, porcelain was seen as a sign of Glanz, Germany’s artistic prowess, and was often used as diplomatic gifts. With the onset of the French Revolution, the porcelain market suffered, and from 1819 – 1833, there was large layoff in public and private firms, and even the most successful firms suffered. In the 19th century, the porcelain market in Germany widened, although the change was slow. As exotic hot beverages became popular, the range of porcelain ware expanded, but not yet as an object of daily use. Producers wanted to cling onto its aristocratic heritage, producing works of art for the nobles, but economic conditions eventually pressurised the industry to cater to a larger audience. Interestingly, producers were very frustrated by the public’s “poor taste.” The public loved the Rococo Revival style, which accounted for 80% of the brand Meissen’s sales. Artistic experimentation proved to be a total fiasco. As pressure to commercialize porcelain persisted later in the 19th century, “semi-commissioned” porcelains emerged in the market, where customers chose the design and color in a catalogue. In the Q&A section, the audience of 25 people actively participated, asking a wide variety of questions from Limoges porcelain’s lack of popularity to whether outside artists had been brought in for production. A question was also raised regarding the raw material industry’s influence on the state subsidies to the porcelain industry.