The highly decorative wares produced by the Royal Copenhagen Factory around the turn of the century have a distinctive look much appreciated by modern-day collectors.
Though the Royal Copenhagen Factory is best known for its
blue and white porcelain tableware, produced since the 18th century, it also produced ornamental pieces. Many of these, and particularly the ones made at the height of the art nouveau period, from around 1890 to the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914, are very collectable today.
The Royal Copenhagen plate pictured 1910 plate for 1906-08 Greenland
Expedition, of which only 5 were made, is valued at
Though formal decorative figurines were produced from the 18th century on, the factory's reputation for producing decorative wares only really became established after a bankruptcy in 1884 caused its amalgamation with the Alumina Faience company. This publicly owned earthenware factory was run by Philip Schou, an engineer, who built a new factory at Frederiksborg and appointed Arnold Krog as its artistic director.
Between them, the two men revitalized the factory, developing new glazes and shapes and a method for washing porcelain with all-over colour rather than painting small areas. Krog himself specialized in underglaze paintings in smoky blues and greys, and encouraged others to let Japanese influences into their work, particularly understated naturalistic designs. The results were very much in harmony with the art nouveau style.
At the same time, the factory was producing a number of figures, particularly animals, which were made in porcelain, stoneware and earthenware. Porcelain pieces, such as a barking fox or white mouse perched on a piece of cheese, are graceful and naturalistic studies. Some were enamel-painted, while others had more experimental decoration.
Stoneware figures, including hippos and ducks, were heavily potted and decorated with a brown 'Sung' glaze, inspired by Japanese examples. Most of the stoneware figures date from the 1920s and after. Moulded animals and people were also incorporated into the designs of bowls, dishes and
vides poches, shallow dishes into which gentlemen emptied their trouser pockets before retiring.
The most common decorative pieces produced by the factory were vases, found in both earthenware and stoneware, though porcelain is more common. They were made in simple, elegant shapes and decorated with underglaze painting in muted pastel colours, mostly soft blues, pinks and greys. Flower studies were the most common subject matter.
A combination of elegant shapes, cool colours and pastel glazes gives the Royal Copenhagen vases made in the art nouveau period a distinctive appeal.
Danish China Collector's Notes
Royal Copenhagen vases, bowls and figures have been produced in great numbers over the years, and you may want to specialize in a particular type of decoration or glaze that take your fancy, or in a particular type of ware; animal and bird studies, human figures and art nouveau motifs all have their fans.
Although reproductions and fakes by other factories are rare, many of the most popular Royal Copenhagen wares have been in
continuous production since they were introduced. A guide to picking out the earlier examples is that they lack the 'fraction codes' which were painted on the bottom of each piece from 1894 on. The top number is that of the decorative style used and the bottom one is the catalogue number of the item.
The factory's principal artists always signed their wares, and the right signature can add appreciably to a piece's value. Look out for the work of Arnold Krog, Gerard Henning, Berta Nathanielson, Jenny Meijer and Fanny Garde, among others.
The Royal Copenhagen factory mark of three wavy blue lines will be found on all genuine pieces. If it occurs on figures painted over the glaze in enamel colours, they may well have been made before the 1880s, when various new techniques for painting under the glaze were introduced. Until that date, underglaze painting had been restricted to blue and white tablewares, as cobalt blue was the only colour that would remain true at the high temperatures used in glazing porcelain.
Because the decoration and the special glazes are so much a part of the appeal of Royal Copenhagen ornamental wares, you should be very wary about buying any piece which is cracked or discoloured.
Read articles and references: Good standards are Warman's
English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain (Susan and Al Bagdade), and Marks
& Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain (William Chaffers).