There could be no better setting for a once royally endorsed porcelain production than in a castle. Yet, although it now enjoys world-class prestige and is based in Munich’s Nymphenburg Palace, the beginnings of the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory are considerably more humble. Back in 1747 the factory started life in a hunting lodge in Munich’s Au district, when master potter Franz Ignaz Niedermeyer and several Viennese artisans began producing faience-like dishes near the Isar River.
Taking over the factory in 1751, Sigmund Graf von Haimhausen brought onboard Jakob Ringler, knowledgeable in the mixing of raw materials and the art of firing, along with the Viennese master modeler Joseph Ponhauser. From this team came the first large porcelain table ornament representing a fantasy garden (Lustgarten
). This was received so well by the public that the creation of figurative table ornaments soon took center stage.
The truly magical moment in Nymphenburg’s history, however, came in 1754, when Haimhausen met Franz Anton Bustelli. Until his death, in 1763, this brilliant sculptor conceived numerous designs of imaginative figures. Within nine years he had dreamt up 150 of them, including the renowned 16 commedia dell’arte figures, which established the factory’s international reputation and command the highest prices to this day.).
The impressive list of artists the factory employed over the centuries makes it almost impossible to discern a single Nymphenburg style. What was constant, however, was the standard of craftsmanship, which was passed down through generations from masters to apprentices.
One such talent was Joseph Zächenberger, whose skill at flower painting and whose vibrant, playful arrangements made him known as the first flower painter at Nymphenburg in 1760. In 1761 Dominikus Auliczek, a Bohemian sculptor, became Bustelli’s successor after the production moved to its current location in the northern palace crescent. Here, workshops, warehouses and appropriate amenities are strategically located near the palace canal—its water continues to act as an energy generator for production facilities. Auliczek’s influence brought about a new zeitgeist, but it was his revolutionizing of dinnerware for which he is most famous. He was followed, in 1800, by Johann Peter Melchior, who was renowned for his avant-garde Empire models and busts, some of which were gold-plated. King Max I Joseph appointed the young architecture professor Friedrich Gärtner artistic director in 1822 and commissioned the Onyx Service—more than 100 pieces, including fruit bowls and vases. Subsequent decades saw the creation of hundreds of dinnerware designs and 27 statuettes. Owing to economic necessity the factory also started branching out into the production of additional items, including glass roof panels, mosaic floors, terra cotta and stoneware goods and in 1856 an order of 65,000 glass telephone insulators was met.
In 1888 Albert Bäuml took over the factory and set about reproducing a number of 18th-century pieces that had almost been destroyed in 1802. In fact, it is thanks to the Bäuml family that such an extensive collection of Nymphenburg porcelain survives today. This is now on permanent loan to the Marstall Museum at Nymphenburg Palace. Bäuml also convinced Prince Regent Luitpold to allow the porcelain to be put on international sale at the World’s Fairs in Paris and St. Louis. Indeed, it was at the Paris fair, in 1900, that Hermann Gradl’s Art Nouveau fish service was awarded the fair’s Grand Prix. This prestigious prize was again taken home by the manufactory in 1937, when it was awarded to Wolfgang von Wersin for his Lotus Service.
As the artists came and went, so too did the subject matters of their work. In the late 1800s items began to feature creatures ranging from elephants and exotic birds to dogs and turtles, with those by sculptor Luise Terletzky-Scherf being particularly well received. Through 1938 Maria Delago, a ceramicist from South Tyrol, formed a series of East Asian figures. She was followed by Resl Schröder-Lechner, who created figurines in Tracht and of marksmen. Animal motifs by Robert Raab also appeared on the well-known Dallmayr coffee containers in 1953. Today, in addition to efforts being made to revive old traditions, young avant-garde designers and artists continue to be sought to contribute their talents to one of the world’s most successful porcelain manufacturers.
As 19th-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “Porcelain is frozen music”—though the heating process makes it seem otherwise. During production, pieces spend 36 hours in an oven at 1400 degree Celcius—a technique in which they shrink to just one seventh their original size. To get a feel for the classical method of production, tours and film screenings take place at the factory on Wednesdays. And should you wish to bring a piece of history home, items are available for sale at the showrooms and outlets.
The Porzellan-Manufaktur Nymphenburg is located in Nymphenburg Palace at the Nördliches Schlossrondell 8. Call (089) 179 197 10 for factory visits. For more information on the manufacture's producing, visit www.nymphenburg-porzellan.de
© MF Armantrout/Feb. 05