The history of Royal Copenhagen
1709: Europeans elicit the secret of Chinese porcelain - 1772-1774: The chemist F.H. Müller experiments – 1775: The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory is founded
By the time the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory is founded on 1 May 1775, under the protection of Queen Juliane Marie, more than one hundred years of persistent efforts have elapsed to elicit the secret of porcelain-making from the Chinese.
In Dresden the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger produces the first European porcelain, although King August the Strong zealously guards both the alchemist and his formula. As the century proceeds many European kingdoms succeed in establishing their own porcelain manufactories, where they produce the rare material nicknamed “white gold”.
In Denmark the chemist Frantz Henrich Müller has put his heart and soul into the enterprise. Following years of experimentation and trials he succeeds in producing the coveted hard porcelain, and receiving the backing of the royal family.
The three waved lines, symbolising Denmark’s three straits: Øresund, Store Bælt and Lille Bælt, are adopted as the trademark.
An old post yard on Købmagergade, in the centre of Copenhagen, is converted to house the manufactory.
A labourous beginning
1775: Blue Fluted – 1779: The King takes over the porcelain manufactory – 1779: Blue Flower
The manufactory’s first years are a hard daily struggle against fluctuating and poor raw materials, lack of experience, unsuccessful firings, disappointing experiments…. But Müller and his small select team of artisans labour determinedly and persistently, and succeed in creating such a solid basis for the manufactory’s continued survival that the absolute monarch King Christian VII in 1779 accedes and take over, thus guaranteeing the future of the porcelain manufactory.
It is agreed from the outset that the greater proportion of porcelain produced will be painted blue before glazing. This proves the most economical method because underglaze porcelain demands only one firing at the very high temperature (1,400 degrees Centigrade) required to fuse the porcelain mass and the glaze. At this point in time only cobalt blue can withstand such a high temperature. Since then it has become the factory’s mark of distinction.
The first dinner service pattern selected is Blue Fluted. This is a popular pattern at Europe’s first porcelain manufactories. Since the taut stylised floral motive originated in China, it is considered the epitome of genuine porcelain. Only Denmark, however, continues to paint the pattern by hand, even today. Blue Fluted would gradually become synonymous with Danish porcelain.
In 1779 another blue dinner service, still in production today, follows, Blue Flower. The pattern reflects the contemporary European style of naturalistic flowers.
Danish Porcelain´s first bloom
1790-1802: The Flora Danica Service
A period of bloom follows. The manufactory’s clientele are predominantly the royal family and the nobility. Porcelain is a status symbol in the 1700s. Commissions for coffee and tea services, and large elaborate vases run to sums that today would be computed in millions. Porcelain was principally commissioned as gifts for family members and foreign monarchs. The works produced are richly decorated in multicoloured overglaze and delicately modelled details.
The largest and most renowned of these commissions is the exquisite dinner service Flora Danica. It is commissioned in 1790 by the Danish king, according to legend, for Catherine the Great of Russia. Danish flora is reproduced on the porcelain copying the copperplates published in one of the Age of Enlightenment’s greatest botanical works, Flora Danica. When the service is delivered to the royal family, twelve years later, it comprises 1,802 pieces. The service is revived for the marriage of Princess Alexandra of Denmark to the future King Edward VII of England, in 1863. Flora Danica is still painted by hand today at Royal Copenhagen.
The hard years of the Napoleonic Wars
1792-1815: The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars – 1807: the bombardment of Copenhagen
The Napoleonic Wars rage throughout Europe. The English bombard Copenhagen in 1807 causing large-scale devastation that almost annihilates the porcelain manufactory. Fuel, kaolin and other raw materials are in short supply. Between 1809 and 1811 most of workforce is let go or put on deformant wages.
But, as it works out, when one looks at Danish porcelain in the more long-term historical perspective, slump and boom alternate. A radical revival in production starts in 1816, followed a few years later by a marked artistic upswing.
The Golden Age & Hetsch
1821-1864: G.F. Hetch, Artistic Director – 1851: The World Exhibition in London
During what has come to be termed the Golden Age of Danish culture, which lasts until the mid-1800s, the porcelain manufactory again flourishes and its production range is influenced by the classical ideals of the era.
The period’s trendsetting architect, G.F. Hetsch, is the porcelain manufactory’s artistic director. He assigns several artists to the factory, notably the flower painter J.L. Jensen who distinguishes himself with his multicoloured overglaze paintings. Hetsch designs several neo-classical services and elaborate vases richly ornamented in gold. He often finds inspiration, as is customary at the time, in foreign styles, patterns and colours. But he inevitably refines the style in his endeavour to find ‘purity’ that for him is the distinguishing feature of Danish porcelain and so essential to national identity in this period, when the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory’s role as the nation’s flagship is growing.
The porcelain manufactory’s artistic performance is raised to such a pitch under Hetch’s leadership that the factory in 1851 is qualified to participate in its first official exhibition, the World Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, London.
A New Era
1849: The Constitution – 1853: Bing & Grøndahl – 1868: The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory goes over to private hands - 1882: Alumina and the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory – 1884: The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory moves to its present address
Absolute monarchy is abolished in Denmark in 1849. Old state monopolies disappear and privileges are revoked, with the introduction of the new constitution. The old porcelain factory is now compelled to prove its viability on the free market. Soon, Denmarks other large porcelain factory appears, Bing & Grøndahl.
The figure maker Frederik Vilhelm Grøndahl proposes that Meyer Herman and Jacob Herman Bing, two brothers who are art dealers in the city, establish a porcelain manufactory. It would produce biscuit figures based on the works of Thorvaldsen, the renowned Danish sculptor. Grøndahl has a great deal of experience with the production process involved from his years with the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory, where he trained. Bing & Grøndahl is founded on 19 April 1853.
Following a period of decline the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory comes into private hands, in 1868. In 1882 the faience factory Alumina purchases the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory, which shortly afterwards moves to a modern factory building at Alumina’s site in Frederiksberg, on the outskirts of Copenhagen. Royal Copenhagen still operates from here today.
Both porcelain factories benefit from the new bourgeoisie, with money to spend, in an age of mounting industrialisation. They are now financially prepared for a concerted artistic onslaught that in the second half of the century will lead Danish porcelain to the modern breakthrough in porcelain’s history. Whereas others choose to concentrate on the ethos of mass production inherent in the Industrial Revolution, the Danish porcelain manufacturers resolutely put their energies into conserving, reviving and developing the artistic and craft qualities of their products.
Porcelain´s modern breakthrough
1885: Arnold Krog and Pietro Krohn - 1886-88: The Heron Service – 1888: The Nordic Exhibition in Copenhagen – 1889: The World Exposition in Paris – 1900: The World Exposition in Paris
A broad-based group of Danish industrialists, artists and craftsmen constitutes the driving force behind porcelain’s modern breakthrough. However, the primary stimulus is supplied by the artistic directors of the two porcelain manufactories: the architect Arnold Krog at the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory 1885-1916, and the painter Pietro Krohn 1885-1892 at Bing & Grøndahl, followed by the sculptor and painter J.F. Willumsen 1897-1900.
Renewal focuses on the underglaze technique. Hitherto, the technique was used solely for plain blue painting, as for instance on the Blue Fluted pattern. Taking their inspiration from the era’s idolisation of nature and from Japanese woodcuts, the Danes refine a type of watercolouring technique in which the colour is applied both with a brush and sprayed on to give a fresh natural resonance. A chrome green and a golden brown/red are gradually added. The restricted underglaze palette is used with such virtuosity that entire landscapes expand under the clear glaze in mild, dimmed tones.
Audacious and free modelling is also manifest in this period. In 1886-88 Pietro Krohn anticipates the art nouveau genre with his Heron Service, while notably Eiffie Hegermann-Lindencrone’s i perforated, carved porcelain urns and J.F. Willumsen’s powerful works stand out convincingly at the turn of the century.
Danish underglaze porcelain attracts great attention at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889 and is awarded the Grand Prix. The international breakthrough is guaranteed. Efforts intensify in the subsequent years, culminating in prizes, honours and commendations at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900.
An international clientele
1890: The Paris shop - 1891 and 1894: Proposed mergers – 1895: Bing & Grøndahl becomes a limited company – 1897: The London shop
Museums and collectors the world over vie with each other to acquire the new underglaze works, at exorbitant prices.
In 1890 the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory opens a shop in Paris. In 1897 another shop is opened on the fashionable Old Bond Street, in London. Among its exclusive clientele the Copenhagen shop at this time boasts the Russian Tsar, Alexander III. The collection he left behind in St. Petersburg manifests his esteem for Danish underglaze porcelain.
Devotion to the artistic aspects demands abundant resources. On several occasions in the 1890s the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory and Bing & Grøndahl are advised to combine their resources to guarantee an international position for Danish porcelain. It would take another 100 years, however, for such a merger to become a reality.
Christmas Plate, Seagull Service and figurines
1892: The Seagull Service – 1895: The world’s first Christmas Plate
The newly developed underglaze technique is quickly adapted to the production process. Using a specific version, on which the decoration is cut in relief and interchanging layers of colour produce a variety of blue shades, the underglaze painter F.A. Hallin produces the first Christmas Plate in 1895. At about the same time, the painter Fanny Garde designs her Seagull Service in the new art nouveau style. A service that a few generations later would be designated “Denmark’s National Service”.
But most notably in this period, the foundation is laid for naturalistic vase painting depicting landscapes, marine and animal motives, and corresponding figurines of animals and humans, which was destined to become one of the cornerstones of Danish porcelain production.
Essentially, the end of the 1800s represents the inception of a definitive Danish ceramic tradition that has advanced steadily to this day, adopting the changing modes of the times.
The dawn of a century of modernity
1909: Gerhard Henning – 1911: House of Porcelain on Amargertorv – 1912: Patrick Nordström - 1914-1918: The Great War
The new century begins with a craving to again break the confines and search for new idioms for a modern time. At the porcelain factory several skilled artists pursue their own cogent paths.
With their luxuriant and richly coloured Alumina faience in typical Danish art nouveau style, Christian Joachim and Harald Slott-Møller create a golden age for Danish faience. The sculptor Gerhard Henning causes a stir with his elegantly refined porcelain figurines, elaborately decorated overglaze in oriental fairy tale mode. In sharp contrast, interest emerges, too, for robust stoneware, a genre in which Patrick Nordström shows the way with his pioneering experiments in stoneware glazes.
Since 1885 the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory has had a shop on Amagertorv in Copenhagen. It now moves to the old Renaissance building at number 6, an alderman’s courtyard dating from 1616, where it remains to this day.
Between the wars
1925: Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris - 1940-1945: World War II
Two predominant styles, Art Déco and functionalism, mark the years between the two world wars.
Both discernibly influence Danish porcelain — although imbued with a typical Danish interpretation, in other words, the addition of an equal measure of common sense, humanity and harmony.
It subdues the Roaring Twenties’ otherwise more exaggerated and flippant Art Déco with more discreet shapes and decorations, as for example in Christian Joachim’s and Thorkild Olsen’s porcelain services.
To the under different skies often very stourt and ascetic functionalism, Danes add friendly rounded shapes and a straightforward, relaxed elegance. One example is Ebbe Sadolin’s Dinner Service of the Thirties, where functionalism becomes the forerunner of the style that would later catch on internationally as Danish Design.
Sparse decorative works equally represent Danish ceramic art strongly and origianally. Examples include Kai Nielsen’s naturalistic sculptures in pure white, gloss, undecorated porcelain that accentuates his rounded shapes, Arno Malinowski’s figurine series in blanc-de-chine porcelain, Jean Gauguin’s wild expressionist faience sculptures and Axel Salto’s unique stoneware in fruit-like shapes, geometric patterns and rich autumn tones.
1962-1964: White Koppel – 1965: Blue Line
After the Second World War people take a more optimistic view of the future; a new and better world will be rebuilt. Simultaneously, the democratisation of society results in heightened awareness of and broader interest in decorative art and applied art, generally. Everyone should have an opportunity to acquire beautiful and functional objects. In Denmark this leads to a definitive style characterised by simple ease and natural elegance. With its international connotations, Danish Design becomes the style of the Fifties and Sixties, all over the world.
At the Danish porcelain manufactories the style is adapted with great virtuosity and competence, in both stoneware and porcelain. Among the renowned artists, ceramists and designers of the period are Axel Salto, Thorkild Olsen, Gertrud Vasegaard, Nils Thorsson, Magnus Stephensen and Erik Magnussen.
Two services from this period testify to two different parallel design lines: the sculptor Henning Koppel’s service from the early Sixties, in which generous, organic shapes in gloss, white porcelain suggest luxury, although remaining simple and functional; and the architect Grethe Meyer’s taut, functional faience service Blue Line — sober grey glaze and a simple blue line, which was destined to become the most popular Danish service in a modern idiom.
The Seventies and Eighties are characterised by contrasting styles.
Firstly, the nostalgic ‘back-to-nature’ style of rustic handicraft, which finds its way to almost every home. The porcelain manufactories expand their artistic workshops giving a host of ceramists an opportunity to experiment freely.
Rustic is followed by its opposites: High-Tech, post-modernism and finally an elaborate new rococo, which finds its earliest and most illustrious expression in the Triton porcelain service, designed by the goldsmith Arje Griest.
The merger years
1985: Royal Copenhagen – 1987: Bing & Grøndahl part of Royal Copenhagen – 1997: The Scandinavian art industry consolidates in Royal Scandinavia
Towards the end of the 20th century international competition sharpens to such an extent that the European art industry is compelled to amalgamate its resources in mergers, buy-outs and new partnerships.
The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory had already bought Georg Jensen Silversmithy in 1972.
In 1985 the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory and Holmegaards Glassworks merge under the name Royal Copenhagen A/S.
In 1987 Bing & Grøndahl joins Royal Copenhagen. The intention is to secure a strong position for the Danish art industry globally.
Numerous foreign subsidiaries are strengthened and established, and Royal Copenhagen shops open on prestigious thoroughfares in cities throughout Europe, the USA, East Asia and Australia.
Finally, the best of the Danish and Swedish art industry merges when Royal Copenhagen joins forces with the Swedish glass works Orreefors Kosta Boda, under the name Royal Scandinavia.
The porcelain division continues to bear the name Royal Copenhagen.
Decorative and Applied Art
1993: Ursula – 1998: Ole
The last decade of the century is naturally marked by efforts to further the most essential attributes of each of the tradition-steeped companies, which are now united in one entity.
With respect to porcelain, renewal concentrates on two significant lines: developing and introducing new everyday items, while simultaneously experimenting with freer expression. A dual process that down through history has been the vital challenge facing Danish porcelain .
The ultimate winner of the Nineties is launched in 1993, with ceramist Ursula Munch-Petersen’s version of new and luxuriant functionalism in the Ursula faience service. In 1998 the ceramist Ole Jensen designs a series of sculpturistic applied art objects, under the collective name Ole. The collection is composed of individual items for the kitchen and table, with the shared idea of making play of work.
Some of Denmark’s best visual artists are provide the free artistic expression. Names of note include Jens Birkemose, Carl-Henning Pedersen, Bjørn Nørgaard, Arne Haugen Sørensen, Peter Brandes, Torben Ebbesen, Lise Malinowsky, Maja-Lisa Engelhardt and Doris Bloom, while the porcelain factory’s fulltime ceramists Sten Lykke Madsen, with his fabulous sculptures, and Ivan Weiss, with his metre-high urns and tiny ceramic boxes, combine to demonstrate the broadness of approach and openness with which Royal Copenhagen greets the new Millennium.