Early Royal Copenhagen Stoneware

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Early Royal Copenhagen Stoneware

Post by Kevin H on April 8th 2018, 1:56 pm

I thought people might find it interesting to know a little bit about the beginnings of the art pottery tradition in Denmark in the context of a recent discovery that is the culmination of nearly 20 years of searching. The Royal Copenhagen factory has been in existence since the late eighteenth century making Porcelain for the wealthy and competing with the likes of Meissen and Sevres in the finest table wares and ornamental wares.  The beginnings of a modern outlook at the factory began in 1884 when Arnold Krog was appointed artistic director.

In the early years he focused on improving the underglaze blue that was painted onto the porcelain but as with many factories in the latter half of the nineteenth century art pottery became an interest and new developments were attempted.  As with many others the real change in outlook began with inspiration stemming from Japan opening up to the western world after many years of being a closed society.  The event that did most to achieve this was the Universal Exhibition of 1864 when many Japanese artefacts were on show in the west for the first time.

These were a revelation for the design conscious at the time who had been searching for a new aesthetics to capture the modern outlook.  Christopher Dresser's book on Japan captures this new spirit of experimentation well. Out of this enthusiasm for all things Japanese (Japonism) was born the aesthetic movement of the 1870s and 1880s, which, in its turn led to new stylistic developments in the 1890s that we have come to know as Art Nouveau.

Studio pottery, in the Western context, emerged at this time.  The developing anti-industrial/mass production and pro-craft ethos of the arts and crafts movement fused with this new artistic outlook and it led to the development of a number of small studios making art pottery as well as some larger factories taking an interest.  In Britain we tend to think of the likes of William de Morgan, the Martin brothers and the Doulton factory in Lambeth as the place where all this happened. And it did.  But the real centre for art pottery at this time was France.

There were several key developments in this new studio pottery in France which was to set the outlook for future, modern developments: new styles of pottery and decoration along the Japanese line, and the search for new and exciting glazes.  A leading potter among a dozen or so others who perfected both was Jean Carries.  The medium he chose for his pottery was stoneware.  Before then stoneware had been seen as a base material used for storage jars and some tablewares with porcelain preferred for fine art pottery and cabinet pieces.  Carries was able to do new things with this high fired medium and found it took new, experimental metal oxide glazes very well.

In Denmark Krog's early focus was on new glazes rather than stoneware body or shapes and the early ceramics the Royal Copenhagen art studio experimented with were still based on porcelain.  Krog hired the chemist Valdemar Engelhardt to produce these new glazes.  Over the latter years of the nineteenth century he was able to perfect high quality crystalline glazes, producing many beautiful effects and novel glazes.  These early porcelain works with their beautiful appearance can still be collected today by anyone with deep enough pockets.

Krog had begun to dabble in stoneware around 1895 but it was really only after the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900 that the Danes started to consider the use of stoneware for art pottery seriously.  There they were exposed to the work of these pioneering French ceramists and the qualities that could be produced on stoneware.  In the first decade of the Twentieth century, Krog had Hans Hjorth at Hjorth pottery to throw simple stoneware pots for him and he then had Engelhardt develop glazes for them.  They experimented with both different clays and glazes during this time.  The pots in this period were experimental and were not produced commercially.  Krog only decided to begin commercial production when he hired the studio potter Patrick Nordstrom to head up the art studio at Copenhagen in 1911.  Nordstrom had been experimenting too and had also been inspired by Carries work and the Japonist style that he saw in Paris in 1900.  He had even gone to Paris to try and learn the secrets of making such pots but without success.  It was only when he returned to Denmark that he was able to learn the secrets when he came across Carries glaze recipes in a couple of trade magazines!

What of these early experimental pots from before Nordstrom's arrival in 1911?  Do any still exist? A picture of one example is shown in Robin Hecht's book Scandinavian Art Pottery from 2000. It shows a simple shape and the mark of the three wavy blue lines, a model number (126) and the initials OM though she says that most known examples were unsigned.  Whenever I've inquired after such pieces from leading dealers across the world I've been told they are not available as they were not made commercially and that the studio tradition at Royal Copenhagen really starts with Nordstrom.

Well... I've just found this.  A primitive little pot with what looks like an unrecorded, experimental glaze, three wavy lines and a model number.  And not just any model number!  Could this be one of those early experimental pots? It is difficult to say with absolute certainty that this wasn't made by Nordstrom.  However, it conforms in every way to what we know about those earliest pieces from the few that exist in museums.  I got it recently from a dealer in Denmark who said he'd handled a thousand or more of pieces of Danish stoneware over the years but had never seen another just like this one.





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Kevin H

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Re: Early Royal Copenhagen Stoneware

Post by 22 Crawford St. on April 8th 2018, 3:55 pm

lol. No.1 you sure he's not just added the marks with a marker pen?

It's certainly a lovely story... as with most time will tell, collecting ceramics is not a quick hobby if you want answers.
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22 Crawford St.

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Re: Early Royal Copenhagen Stoneware

Post by Kevin H on April 8th 2018, 5:47 pm

Ha Ha. Yes, I'm sure. Under a magnifying glass and strong light it is clear that the blue mark has been through the firing process and wasn't added later.

Model number 1 (shape) not item number one...
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