While Cohen has not missed his porcelain while it has been traveling, he has found that visiting it in different exhibition venues is a great experience. Moreover, he enjoys the fresh perspective provided by its absence at home, although even without this part of his collection, his house is filled with porcelain and other beautiful objects. Since 1998, for example, his eye has been drawn to miniature portraits, his favorites being by the English miniaturist John Smart (see Fig. 11), whose accuracy and subtle style of painting on ivory speak to Cohen in a way similar to miniature painting on porcelain, which launched this new love.
In Cohen’s eyes one of the other responsibilities of being a collector is being a patron too. To this end he has commissioned the Royal Copenhagen porcelain manufactory to produce a large dinner service decorated by the Danish porcelain artist Jørgen Steensen with portraits of hundreds of different members of the species Hippopotamus amphibius, of which he is exceedingly fond. Sarah Louise Galbraith, Cohen’s former assistant, traveled the world to photograph these large, dangerous, but family-loving animals in all possible zoos on all continents for the service. The shapes of the pieces are taken from the famous Flora Danica service, first produced by Royal Copenhagen in the late eighteenth century and one of Cohen’s favorites. Indeed, he has also commissioned Royal Copenhagen to produce three thousand pieces of Flora Danica decorated after original drawings of plants, such as grasses, seaweeds, or fungi, that were not translated onto porcelain in the past. It will take six years to complete, and special exhibition space will be created for its display in Denmark.
A man with a twinkle in his eye, who has discovered great joy in porcelain, Richard Baron Cohen is a true collector—he follows in the tradition of his royal predecessors, who took both great risks and great pleasure in making their visions come true. His porcelain collection reveals not only the refinement of an era, but also the human interests, worries, and victories in a crucial time of European history.
Royal Porcelain from the Twinight Collection, 1800–1850, a collaboration between the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation, Berlin and Brandenburg, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is on view at the Metropolitan Museum from September 16 to August 9, 2009. It is accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue by Samuel Wittwer and others, including Claudia Lehner-Jobst, published by Hirmer Verlag, Munich.
CLAUDIA LEHNER-JOBST, a freelance art historian specializing in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Vienna porcelain, is a guest curator at the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna, where she was a co-curator of the showing of the Twinight Collection in 2007.