We have launched a new website and are reviewing this page. Find out more
Open daily 10.00 to 17.45 Admission free Menu

Fashions for porcelain in Europe

In the 18th century, European aristocrats and monarchs often founded porcelain factories as a sign of prestige. Their factories created luxury dining wares, porcelain figures (essentially a new ceramic type) and other ornaments in the latest style.

Porcelain figures

The European porcelain figure was invented in the 1730s by the Meissen modeller J.J. Kändler. He introduced many of the subjects and sculptural conventions still followed today. The earliest examples were often made as table ornaments for grand meals, replacing figures formerly made of sugar paste and wax. But the figures were soon widely used alongside vases and other ornaments to decorate room interiors.

Harlequin with a Hurdy-Gurdy

Harlequin with a Pug Dog by Johann Joachim Kändler, Meissen porcelain factory, about 1740. Museum no. C.9-1984.

Parrot by Johann Joachim Kändler, Meissen Porcelain Factory, about 1740. Museum no. C.8-1984

Parrot by Johann Joachim Kändler, Meissen porcelain factory, about 1740. Museum no. C.8-1984.

 

Bedrooms and private apartments

French porcelain factories made a range of luxury wares for use in bedrooms and private apartments. Women often had covered bowls for broth at their dressing tables, which would have been adorned with similarly styled porcelain cosmetic pots, ewers and basins. For the sick, covered cups for milky drinks were provided.

Pommade pot, Sèvres porcelain factory, France, 1761. Museum no. C.1434-1919

Pommade pot, Sèvres porcelain factory, France, 1761. Museum no. C.1434-1919

Ewer and basin, Vincennes porcelain factory, about 1751. Museum no. C.180A&B-1984

Ewer and basin, Vincennes porcelain factory, about 1751. Museum no. C.180A&B-1984

Grand dining

As the dining habits of the rich grew more elaborate, European porcelain factories responded by making services with matching decoration. They also supplied a host of specialised wares intended to perform specific functions at table, particularly for serving the dessert course. Porcelain tureens and tiered centrepieces often served as the focal point for table decoration.

Centerpiece, Meissen porcelain factory, 1755-1760. Museum nos. C.88 to L-1918.

Centerpiece, Meissen porcelain factory, 1755-1760. Museum nos. C.88 to L-1918. Given by Sir Otto Beit, KCMG.

Tureen and cover, Chelsea porcelain factory, about 1755. Museum no. C.676-1925

Tureen and cover in the form of a cauliflower, Chelsea porcelain factory, London, about 1755. Museum no. C.676-1925

England and wider markets

In contrast to the continental porcelain factories, those in England were mostly commercial ventures and operated without noble or royal financial support. They were run by entrepreneurs and artisans, and much of their output was aimed at the middle market. Many specialised in cheaper lines, notably blue-and-white and transfer-printed wares, the latter an English innovation of about 1750.

Plate, Bow porcelain factory, London, about 1760. Museum no. C.110-1942

Transfer-printed plate, Bow porcelain factory, London, about 1760. Museum no. C.110-1942

Plate, Bow porcelain factory, London, about 1755. Museum no. 414:80-1885

Plate with applied relief, Bow porcelain factory, London, about 1755. Museum no. 414:80-1885

What's on at the V&A?

Explore the V&A's huge range of events about the designed world, from blockbuster exhibitions to intimate displays and installations, world-class talks, casual and accredited training courses and conferences with expert contemporary speakers. Browse, search and book onto our unrivalled event programme for all ages and levels of expertise.

Book onto a great event now