PURCHASED FROM: Adolf Beckhardt, The Art Exchange, New York, 1943.
This bottle is from the Smithsonian’s Hans Syz Collection of Meissen Porcelain. Dr. Syz (1894-1991) began his collection in the early years of World War II, when he purchased eighteenth-century Meissen table wares from the Art Exchange run by the New York dealer Adolf Beckhardt (1889-1962). Dr. Syz, a Swiss immigrant to the United States, collected Meissen porcelain while engaged in a professional career in psychoanalysis and the research of human behavior. He believed that cultural artifacts have an important role to play in enhancing our awareness and understanding of human creativity and its communication among peoples. His collection grew to represent this conviction.
The invention of Meissen porcelain, declared over three hundred years ago early in 1709, was a collective achievement that represents an early modern precursor to industrial chemistry and materials science. The porcelains we see in our museum collections, made in the small town of Meissen in Germany, were the result of an intense period of empirical research. Generally associated with artistic achievement of a high order, Meissen porcelain was also a technological achievement in the development of inorganic, non-metallic materials.
The bottle (its stopper is missing) was made in the Meissen manufactory but painted outside by an independent artist. Hausmalerei is a German word that means in literal translation ‘home painting’, and it refers to the practice of painting enamels and gold onto the surface of blank ceramics and glass in workshops outside the manufactory of origin. Beginning in the seventeenth century the work of the Hausmaler varied in quality from the outstanding workshops of Nuremberg, Augsburg, and Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland), to the less skilled efforts of amateur artists. Early Meissen porcelain was sought after for this purpose, and wealthy patrons of local enameling and gilding workshops purchased undecorated porcelain, often of out-moded or inferior quality, which was then enameled with subjects of their choice. Hausmalerei was at first acceptable to the early porcelain manufactories like Meissen and Vienna, and Meissen sent blank porcelain to Augsburg workshops for decoration, but as the market became more competitive they tried to eradicate the practice. It was a temptation for Meissen porcelain painters to take on extra work as Hausmaler to augment their low pay, and the manufactory cautioned or imprisoned them if Hausmalerei activity was suspected or discovered.
The bottle follows the shape of Japanese prototypes in the collection of the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland August II (1670 -1733). In Japan this form had its origin as a flask for rice wine or saké, and the shape was a success in reproduction at Meissen, sometimes painted in imitation of the Japanese Kakiemon style, or with European subjects. This bottle was decorated in the Netherlands in about 1740-1750, although the Hausmaler is not known.
Dutch Hausmaler enameled large quantities of Chinese and Japanese porcelain imported from East Asia by the United East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-indische Compagnie), and they enameled European faience and porcelain as well. The quality of the Dutch Hausmalerei was not as refined as Meissen imitations of the Japanese Kakiemon style as this bottle shows, but at its best Dutch enameling can present difficulties in distinguishing East Asian decorative work from that of Holland. The objective was to sell these items at the higher prices obtainable for Japanese Kakiemon porcelain.
On Hausmaler see Ulrich Pietsch, 2011, Early Meissen Porcelain: The Wark Collection from The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, pp. 43-46, and the examples of similar saké bottles on p. 530.
Hans Syz, J. Jefferson Miller II, Rainer Rückert, 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 568-569.