Meissen, the oldest porcelain manufactory in Europe, began producing their finely crafted figurines and tableware in 1710. In their 300 year history, Meissen’s commitment to quality has never wavered, beginning with their in-house China clay pit, from which they mine all of their raw material. Painters and modelers at the house receive training for three years, though mastery can take several decades.
“The intricacy of our figures and sculptures, the perfection of our hand-painted patterns - these are the things that underscore our approach to quality.” - Meissen
The expense, and rarity, of production limited the manufactory’s audience to the wealthy and elite of the time, and Meissen quickly became associated with the royal courts and upper classes across Europe; Queen Elizabeth II received a Meissen chocolate pot as a wedding gift for her 1947 nuptials. The manufactory’s famous tableware patterns include the baroque Swan Service, originally designed for Count Heinrich von Brühl, then Meissen’s director, as well as the imitable Blue Onion, a rococo motif of florals and fruit shapes.
The Monkey Orchestra
However, Meissen may be best known for their figurines, popularized by Johann Joachim Kändler. Born near Arnsdorf, Germany in 1706, Kändler would go on to become Meissen’s most important porcelain modeler. He apprenticed under Dresden court sculptor Johann Benjamin Thomae, and in 1731 Kändler was appointed by Augustus II, King of Poland, as royal court sculptor. It was around this time he began his tenure with Meissen, quickly becoming modelmaster in 1733.
His best known work includes a series of Harlequins, romantic Comedia dell’arte characters, and, most famously, the Monkey Orchestra. Created in 1753, the whimsical set of 21 figurines of Rhesus monkeys, baboons, and orangutans dressed in baroque costumes and each playing an instrument, subtly incorporates a humorous caricature of court life. According to legend, the idea was said to have originated after a lavish banquet for Augustus III, King of Saxony, a when guest at complained that the orchestra entertaining them sounded like a group of performing monkeys.
Freeman’s is pleased to offer a group of sixteen figures from the Meissen “Monkey Orchestra” series, in the upcoming British & European Furniture & Decorative Arts auction. After the models by Johann Joachim Kändler, the underside of each figure bears the blue underglaze crossed swords mark emblematic of the manufactory.
Join us on May 25th for the British & European Furniture & Decorative Arts sale.
To be offered May 25th, 2017: A group of sixteen Meissen 'Monkey Orchestra' figures, 19th and 20th centuries. Estimate: $3,000-5,000