How does one live in the company of such monumental vases? Or with a service given to a hero? “Great objects are like great people, you respect them,” says Cohen; as an example he had specially designed niches built in his house to hold the Baden vases.
Cohen finds that one of the great pleasures of porcelain collecting is reuniting pieces that have been separated by history. To return a teapot or a tray to its original déjeuner service is wonderfully satisfying. Even separated couples find each other again with his help, as was the case with Frederick William III (r. 1797–1840) and Queen Louise, whose portraits on KPM porcelain plaques of 1815 were apart for 150 years, until Cohen discovered them, respectively, on the art markets in New York and London within a year of each other. “Such happy reunions do not happen too often among real people,” he remarks with a smile.
Cohen has never bought art as an investment. It has always been love at first sight: “The moment you buy for investment reasons, you cease to be a collector and you become a speculator,” he observes. He has been known to fly across the Atlantic once a week if necessary in pursuit of coveted pieces. As a self-described “control freak,” he prefers to buy at auction himself, even though he dreads the uncertainty of the situation. His calm, compassionate, and highly sensitive personality is rare and impressive. When a small KPM plaque with a painting of the Charlottenhof Palace in Potsdam, a neoclassical jewel designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, came up at auction in 2005 and exceeded the budget of the Stiftung Preussische Schlösser und Garten (Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation; SPSG), Cohen spontaneously bought it for them. And he has continued to acquire for himself even while his collection is traveling. Most recently he purchased a large Sèvres vase with gilded dolphin handles, a chrome green ground, and an exquisite portrait of Louis Antoine d’Artois, duc d’Angoulême (1775–1844), the dauphin of France, a military officer, and the consort of Marie-Thérèse Charlotte (1778–1851), the only surviving child of Marie Antoinette (1755–1793). It was once a gift from Charles X to his grandson, Henri d’Artois, comte de Chambord (1820–1883).
As the current exhibition demonstrates, Cohen feels a strong obligation to share his collection. The idea of celebrating his fiftieth birthday with a European showing of some four hundred pieces from the twenty-five hundred he owns arose when he met Samuel Wittwer, the curator of ceramics at the SPSG in Berlin-Brandenburg. At first the show was scheduled to be seen only at the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin, but soon after the enormous crates arrived in Europe, it seemed natural to present it in the other cities where the porcelain was “born.” Soon the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna joined as a partner, followed by the Musée national de Céramique-Sèvres. The finale at the Metropolitan Museum (where some ninety-five pieces will be on view) seems like the perfect ending of a long story: “I often went to the Metropolitan Museum as a child,” Cohen recalls, “and I never anticipated having my collection exhibited there. This is the best thing that could have happened, finally my vindication. For many years, no one at home understood my passion for porcelain, but now it all makes sense.” As a happy continuation, he has now found a companion in his love of porcelain in his eldest son, Adam.