Royal porcelain from the Twinight Collection

Many of the objects in Cohen’s collection have important provenances. Numerous examples bear likenesses of emperors, kings, queens, princesses, and generals that identify them as royal gifts, and their stately splendor is often enhanced by rich neoclassical ornament in raised, incised, or polished gold. But there are also more subtle aspects to the porcelain of this period. Botanical flower painting, for example, is one of the most difficult skills for a porcelain painter to acquire. It requires a deep knowledge of nature and a mastery of color, for the changing “moods” of enamels when being fired have always presented porcelain painters with enormous challenges. In addition, the art of botanically correct yet decorative porcelain painting requires a large palette of colors, and this did not develop until about 1800. The expanding palette developed in Vienna—including the famous deep blue, Leither-Blau, named after the factory´s chemist Joseph Leithner (active 1770–1829), orange, and a bright chrome green—was greatly admired by the other important manufactories in Europe. Chemists and artists began to cooperate with one another and factory directors exchanged samples and recipes, all of this while Europe was dominated by the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte. Indeed, additional stimulus for creativity occurred when the Congress of Vienna met from 1814 to 1815 to lay out a new order on the map of Europe. “Nationality” received a new meaning, and local landscapes and depictions of the latest architectural achievements made perfect subjects for garnitures of vases or breakfast services ordered as diplomatic gifts by and for the many royal courts involved in the negotiations.

Apart from their serious historical background, Cohen’s porcelains offer great visual pleasure. In addition to their delicious colors and irresistible gilding, wit and surprise in the form of flower riddles, hidden figures, and amusing scenes enhance the almost monumental simplicity of the forms themselves.

Admiration of antiquity was a main impetus for the arts of this period, reflected not only in the shape of porcelain objects but also in their decoration. An example is the pair of slender amphora vases with fine gilt-bronze handles in Figure 1, painted with cameos of Augustus and Julius Caesar against an immaculate beau bleu (dark blue) ground. Napoleon ordered these vases from Sèvres for his residence in Rome in 1809, but before they were completed he had to give up Rome, and the vases remained on a shelf at Sèvres until 1825. At that time the new French king, Charles X (r. 1824–1830), presented them to the composer Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868) in appreciation for the opera Il viaggio a Reims, which he had composed for the coronation. Here the illusion of the vitreous quality of ancient cameos is captured perfectly. In other instances, objects were painted to imitate ancient Roman micromosaic decoration (see Figs. 5, 6), a technique invented at KPM following a fashion begun by Josephine (1763–1814), empress of France, and also taken up by the Prussian queen Louise (1776–1810), who ordered micromosaic jewelry from the Vatican workshops.

The competition among the royal porcelain factories is especially evident in the vases they created. Cohen owns a pair of the second largest ones ever made at KPM (see Fig. 12). Produced to impress the visitors at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1855, they were painted by Hermann Looschen and Wilhelm Escher with biblical scenes after murals by Wilhelm von Kaulbach at the newly opened Neues Museum in Berlin. Eventually Frederick William IV (r. 1840–1861) of Prussia gave the vases to Friedrich I (1826–1907), grand duke of Baden, and Cohen purchased them from an estate of the house of Baden.

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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