Dresden and Meissen, Germany, were centers of the porcelain trade, with Meissen starting business about 1710. Meissen developed the first hard-paste porcelain factory in Germany. Meissen produced porcelain 15 miles away from the Dresden art production. Dresden artisans decorated Meissen blanks of undecorated porcelain shapes in Rococo style with fine artwork. Business was in decline by 1800, encouraging a change in style with greater production of figurines. Production of fine hard-paste porcelain continued in Meissen with decorating in Dresden, the art and cultural center of Saxony.
Dresden porcelain is a fine white product made of kaolin and china stone or petuntse. Porcelain may be hard-paste or soft-paste, and Dresden porcelain uses a hard-paste high-fired body from Meissen. Soft paste glaze does not bond with the base material like hard-paste glaze, and looks crumbly if broken. Hard-paste is shiny and the features are crisp, ideal for use for Dresden-decorated figurines. The de Medicis first made soft-paste porcelain in Italy in 1575 and the Chinese made hard-paste porcelain centuries before Meissen. The porcelain product developed about 1710 in Meissen was white, high-fired and the finest quality. The quality handwork of Dresden artistry combined with the Meissen bodies or blanks make Dresden porcelain products valuable on the world market.
Flowers were a standard decoration, but figurines became popular in the 1800s, many with painted flower decoration on clothing and applied 3-dimensional flowers. Putti figurines held bowls or frolicked around columns of flowers. Carl Thieme and Helena Wolfsohn were the best of the Dresden decorators working in the 19th century. Decorating was an art form, and hand-painting was routine. Dresden and Meissen pieces often have pierced work or holes in the porcelain in decorative designs in addition to the hand-painting.
The Meissen mark was crossed swords in a cobalt blue under the glaze, used as early as 1725 as it could withstand the heat of the second fire, reports Georg Tillman in an article appearing in “Collectors’ Weekly.” Decorators did not mark some early Dresden. Some items had both Meissen and Dresden marks, one identifying the porcelain and the other identifying the decorating company. Individual decorators also marked the porcelain pieces. Four prominent ceramics decorators registered the Dresden crown mark in 1883. Karl Richard Klemm, Donath & Co., Oswald Lorenz and Adolf Hamman all decorated similar wares with the Dresden crown mark for several years. Derby of Great Britain marks may be confused with the Dresden marks, and many imitators exist. A book such as Robert E. Rontgen’s “Marks on German, Bohemian and Austrian Porcelain” is invaluable to compare marks on Dresden or Meissen pieces.
Dresden town center faced destruction during World War II, and owners hid much of the porcelain in underground depots until after the war. The director of Dresden’s state porcelain collection found a porcelain sea nymph figurine in a Toledo, Ohio museum in 2011. The U.S. Ambassador to Germany returned the Nereid, valued at $1 million, in a ceremony in 2011.