The Royal Copenhagen History

Danish Royal Porcelain 1775-2000 - 225 Years of Design

The Dream of China

The dream of China was the dream of porcelain, that fairytale, semi-translucent material that was placed on a par with precious stones and the composition of which was the secret of the Chinese.   

In the late-medieval period, it arrived via the Caravan Route in Persia and Turkey - and subsequently in Europe.  With the establishment of a sea route trade grew, with porcelain becoming curiosities that lent kings and royalty added status. Around 1700, cabinets of curiosities began to feature in many castles, with decorative presentations.  The function of porcelain was to make an impression.

Denmark gained its East India Company in 1731.  Ships were sent out every year and, in the course of the 18th century, millions of items were brought back to Denmark.  Although most of the porcelain was resold, much of it remained in the country.  It was still considered a luxury but, with the arrival of the new drinks coffee, tea and chocolate, it became an indispensable part of everyday life.

The Earliest European Porcelain in the 18th Century

The state capable of producing its own goods was able to save valuable currency.  Large sums of money were spent on trying to emulate the art of the Chinese.

In most instances this only resulted in an external similarity, but Johann Friedrich Bottger, who worked for the King of Saxony, succeeded in 1709 in producing first brown stoneware and, in the years that followed, a genuine, white porcelain paste, composed of quartz, feldspar and kaolin. Attempts to keep the recipe a secret failed, and in the course of the 18th century porcelain manufactories were established throughout Europe.  

The Establishment of the Royal Porcelain Manufactory in 1775

The Danish Porcelain Manufactory was established on 1 May 1775.  The initiative came from the chemist Frants Heinrich Muller, who had conducted experiments for a number of years.  The Government was eager to support a scheme that could make the country self-sufficient and the Royal Family, headed by Queen Juliane Marie, displayed considerable interest, taking shares in the manufactory.  The manufactory chose for its emblem the three wavy lines that symbolize Denmark's waterways - the Sound, the Great Belt and the Little Belt.

The initial years meant only expense.  What saved the manufactory was the fact that King Christian VII took over all the shares in 1779.  The manufactory now had a management nominated by the king, its name changing to The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Man factory.

Table Arrangements and Interior with Royal Porcelain from 1775-1800

After the teething troubles of the first few years, sales opened on 1 March 1780.  No book of models exists, but the porcelain, which has survived, bears witness to great creativity.  The main emphasis in production was to be blue-painted porcelain that was decorated under the glaze. Items decorated with polychrome colors painted on top of the glaze were extremely expensive. The quality was high and the ingenuity considerable. Buyers were the Royal House and the social elite. Production was distinctly craftsman like, with many models only being used for a single project.

The Years About 1800 - Royal Display Vases

The royal house was the porcelain manufactory's biggest customer.  To decorate the castles and palaces, large vases and magnificent services were commissioned.  Porcelain acquired an important function as presentation gifts to both Danish and international figures, creating respect and testifying to the country's culture.

As a specialty, the manufactory produced numerous so-called luncheon services. With their rich decoration they fulfilled the double function of being both functional and a form of reward that was not financial.

Blue Fluted and Blue Flower 1780-1800

Blue-decorated porcelain accounted for most of the manufactory's production - although if was only within reach for the prosperous members of society. 

In the 18th and 19th century, there were set rules for the strictly symmetrical positioning of the individual items of the service around the center of the table.  Food was served in up to three 'sets'.  The many dishes had their permanent position on the table, with guests helping themselves from the closest dishes.  The final 'set' included desserts.

In the 19th century, the style changed now the table was almost bare.  The dishes were borne round the table, with everyone eating the same dish.

The Royal Commissions - Flora Danica and Frederik VI's Dessert Service

The royal commissions marked a milestone in the artistic development of the manufactory.  The Flora Danica service was produced in 1790-1802, based on the famous botanical publication.  

The service is both a dinner and dessert service, originally comprising 1,800 items.  It was probably intended as a diplomatic gift for the 'Empress', Catherine the Great of Russia, but the service remained in Denmark.  As bridal accessories for the princesses Wilhlemine and Caroline and for the rebuilt Christiansborg Castle, King Frederik VI commissioned large dessert services in the late 1820s and early 1830s.  The style was inspired by French Empire, the porcelain being almost completely covered in decoration and gilding.

G.F. Hetsch and the Golden Age – The Establishment of Bing & Grondahl in 1853

The first professional artistic leader of the manufactory was the German-born architect G.F. Hetsch, who took up his appointment in 1826.  In his artistic work as well as in his supervisory capacity Hetsch strove for 'purity of style' - purified classicism, which represented ideals from classical antiquity, although using new materials. After the approval of the Danish Constitution Act in 1849, The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory could not continue its monopolistic position.  The Bing brothers, who ran a considerable business with luxury articles, established a porcelain manufactory in Vesterbro in 1853, along with Frederik Vilhelm Grondahl.  Already by 1860, Bing & Grondahl were technically and artistically on a par with The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory, from where they had recruited many of their employees.

Arnold Krog – Artistic Director 1885-1916 

The Architect Arnold Krog was appointed artistic leader of The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory as of 1 January 1885.  His first initiative was to trim the traditional fluted patterns.  Combined with new design of a whale series of service items, for which he sought inspiration in porcelain from the manufactory's first years, he turned the service into the modern display service of his age.

The International Breakthrough - The Nordic Exhibition of Industry, Agriculture and Art in Copenhagen, 1888

In 1868, The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory was sold by the state to the merchant G.A. Falck, who turned it into a profitable business.  He sold the manufactory in 1882 to the engineer Philip Schou, who was the proficient leader of the earthenware manufactory Aluminia in Frederiksberg. The porcelain manufactory moved to this location in 1884. 

Philip Schou was one of most important industrialists of his age.  He took the initiative for The Nordic Exhibition of Industry, Agriculture and Art, which were held in Copenhagen in 1888, where the porcelain manufactory displayed with great success under the artistic leadership of Arnold Krog.

Philip Schou was also one of the leading figures behind the establishment of The Danish Museum of Decorative Art in 1890. 

Bing & Grondahl's porcelain manufactory, which had participated with growing confidence in the major exhibitions of the age, was owned by Harald Bing.  The painter Pietro Krohn was its artistic leader from 1885. Like Arnold Krog, he was interested in Japanese art and the potential of underglazing.  It was with items in this new style that both manufactories attracted the attention of other countries in subsequent years.

The World Exposition in Paris, 1900

Since the World Exposition in Paris in 1889, the leading position of the Danish porcelain manufactories was an undisputed fact while The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory perfected under-glazing painting, using contemporary pictorial art as its model, Bing & Grondahl, under the artistic leadership of J.F. Willumsen from 1897 onwards, moved in the direction of decorative sculpture.  At the World Exposition in Paris in 1890 both manufactories were much praised:  Arnold Krog for his international Art Nouveau, Willumsen for his monumental symbolism.

Luxury and Art Deco – the 1920s

In the years around the First World War, underglaze painting had become so well established that people were looking for new avenues.  Stoneware with glazing inspired by Japan via France opened up possibilities for the sophisticatedly rustic, while overglaze painting was its diametrical opposite, symbolis­m oriental elegance.

The World Exposition in Paris in 1925 brought together both schools in the concept of Art Deco.  Not until after 1930 does functionalism make its mark - and thus undecorated porcelain.  It took a long time for the public to see the absence of decoration as a positive feature.

The Post-War Years - Functionalism and Sensitivity

Scandinavian Design' is the name given to a 15-year period from the early 1950s onwards, during which a Nordic design movement swept across Europe and America.  The term 'Danish Modern' comes from the same movement and time and it describes what was distinctive about Danish design in that period. 

Artists' workshops at both The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory and Bing & Grondahl became the centers of a rich artistic development within the field of ceramics.  The free experiments resulted in unique items, limited series or regular mass production.

The artists Axel Salto and Gertrud Vasegaard, who worked for the two factories, were leading figures in the international breakthrough of Danish ceramics of the 'Danish Modern' period.

Danish Modern – Minimalism

The sculptor Henning Koppel's rounded, warm, organic forms became internationally synonymous with 'Danish Modern' in the 1950s:  the gentle sculptural design that expresses lux­ury whilst remaining simple and functional.

Towards the mid 1960s, the mode of expression changed to a more architecturally in­spired functionalism.

With the items' function as the point of departure, the ceramist Erik Magnussen and the architect Grethe Meyer designed services, which were completely stackable and standardized in all the components.  The ceramist Bodil Manz succeeded in transferring the vibrant beauty from the unica into industrial production of the dinner service 'Facet'.   

'Danish Modern' expressed within the field of applied art the ideals of Denmark as a welfare society.

The Services of the Future

For an industrial design company it is essential to arouse and keep the interest of the outside world through innovation.  This also applies to Royal Copenhagen, even though it has such solid 225-year-old successes as Blue Fluted in its portfolio.

Dating from the period succeeding the great upheavals of lifestyles and artistic mani­festations of the 1960s are three extremely different pro­ductions from Royal Copenhagen.  Each speaks in its own way to various moods and needs in the individual: the imaginative, the classical and the playful.  Eldest of the three is 'Triton' by the goldsmith Arje Griegst from the 1970s - pure magic and oriental magnificence.

Developed in the 1980s, 'Ursula' by the ceramist Ursula Munch-Petersen was to prove the new hit of the 1990s, achieving the difficult balance between being both an every­day service and a set of soloists.  And, on the threshold of the new millennium, the designer Ole Jensen conjured up a new family of functional porcelain, full of humor.

Individualism - The 1980s and 1990s

Royal Copenhagen has invited eight ceramists and designers to develop their ideas on present and future ceramic applied art.  The controlled, almost minimalist artistic idiom, though with organic curves, is still predominant.  Even so, an incipient joy in decoration is beginning to make it self-felt. As so often in the past, nature is the great mentor - and the many thousand-year-old shapes of pottery provide further inspiration.

The individualism of our age leaves its mark on the artists' ways of conceiving porcelain.  The single items can all be seen as belonging to one family, but are also capable of standing on their own in conjunction with objects from other times and cultures.  Once more, it transpires that the global and the local, function and dream, can find expression and form in magical porcelain. 

One of the absolute most innovating new ideas that have come from the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Factory in many years is the ‘MEGA BLUE FLUTED’ designed by Karen Kjaeldgaard-Larsen. Each design focuses on the multiplicity and the harmony in the traditional Blue Fluted Pattern.  

Royal Copenhagen - Marks and Backstamps 1775-1934

The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory was established May 1, 1775. From the beginning, each porcelain item was marked with three waves symbolizing Denmark’s three straits: the Sound and the Great and Little Belts.

For almost 100 years after the establishment of the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory in 1775, the three waves were painted by hand. But in around 1870, the company began stamping the mark under the glaze – a tradition that lives on today.

The mark of the three waves has changed over time making it possible to date any piece of Royal Copenhagen Porcelain. Some of the factory marks are shown above. These have been used on porcelain with a blue underglaze decoration, namely the Christmas Plates, figurines and blue porcelain dinner services – all of which are essential not only to the company’s product line, but also to the beauty and elegance of any home.

Date the Backstamp Since 1935

Most porcelain made since 1935 can be dated by locating green dots placed above or below the letters in the company name, which is stamped on all pieces.

On porcelain made in the year 1935, the dot is placed just above the first letter in the company name, eg. “R”. Each year thereafter, the dot is moved one letter to the right so that on porcelain made in the year 1936, the dot is placed above the “O”, and so on.

By 1949, the dot has reached the last letter, and so in 1950, the dot once again appears next to the first letter in the company name, only now it is placed below.

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