Jugendstil Pottery - While art nouveau flourished in western Europe, Jugendstil was the dominant movement in the centre of the continent Unlike art nouveau, it quickly won mainstream acceptance


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Jugendstil Pottery


 While art nouveau flourished in western Europe, Jugendstil was the dominant movement in the centre of the continent Unlike art nouveau, it quickly won mainstream acceptance

The broadly similar new ideas in design which swept across Europe and the USA in the last 10 years of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th were given different names in different languages. What was art nouveau in French-speaking countries and 'stile Liberty' in Italy was known as Jugendstil in the German-speaking heart of Europe, the Austro-Hungarian empire and the newly-united Germany itself.

 Various metal-workers, glass-makers, graphic artists and jewellers all embraced the new style, but it is in the field of pottery that much of the best and most characteristic Jugendstil (the name, literally 'youth style', was taken from the title of an arts magazine) work was carried out.

 It was small firms in Bohemia, Hungary and the more obscure German provinces, rather than established potteries such as Berlin and Meissen in Germany and Vienna in Austria, that were in the vanguard of the new movement. However, when it proved to be a commercial success, the large factories joined in, producing Jugendstil pottery and porcelain at every evel of quality and price.


 This aspect distinguishes Austro-Hungarian and German work from that of other European countries; in Britain, France, Belgium Holland, Scandinavia and Italy the proportion of art nouveau pieces to total output was small, and the new style was largely restricted to purely ornamental pieces.

 In Germany in particular, Jugendstil shapes and decoration were used in a wide range of domestic china which was exported to the rest of Europe and the USA, as well as being sold on the home market. Jugendstil work, like art nouveau, has long, sinuous lines and shapes and decc rations inspired by the natural world, particularly flowers and plants. A few later Jugendstil designers used abstract geometric decoration that looked ahead to art deco.

 There are large deposits of felspar, one of the main ingredients of porcelain, in central Europe, and Jugendstil potters worked in this medium more often than those in other countries. German potteries have a tradition of creating porcelain figures that goes back to Meissen in the 18th century. Factories that specialized in producing such figures set about commissioning models in the new style from prominent sculptors of the day.

 In the west of Germany, around the Rhine Valley, there was a long history of making stoneware, which proved an equally popular medium with Jugendstil potters, some of whom set up studio workshops to produce art pottery, as had been done in England.

 Jugendstil remained the dominant form of design in Germany and Austria-Hungary until the outbreak of World War 1. Jugendstil potters worked in a variety of styles, from the pleasingly curved, organic shapes and naturalistic painting that was typical of art nouveau to more straightforward, functional designs decorated with stylized, even abstract motifs that were a harbinger of the art deco style.


 At the top end of the range of Jugendstil pottery are the individual creations by studio potters and famous artists. These tend to be prohibit very expensive, and many are already in museums and private collections.

 At the other end of the price scale are the mass-produced pieces - mainly tableware and cheap ornaments - with which the German porcelain industry flooded the world markets. These are sometimes not as cheap as they should be, and are best avoided.

 The best area for the collector is the middle ground of wares decorated with patterns inspired by Jugendstil, but not necessarily attributable to any big-name designer. Look out for them in specialist shops, at auction, and in antiques fairs and markets.


 Unattributed stoneware pieces are also fairly reasonably priced, though some makers, particularly Villeroy & Boch of Mettlach, are avidly collected and fetch high prices.

 As well as vases, cachepots and other ornamental items, a wide variety of domestic items were made in porcelain, including cheese dishes, storage jars and metal-mounted trays. These have the advantage that you can use then as well as display them.

 When buying, always look for pieces in good condition; chipped or damaged pieces in the mid lie price ranges are not worth buying.

 Price of the better porcelain pieces are now so high that it's worth having broken ones professionally restored; such work can only be detected when examined under ultra-violet lamps. The best way to avoid being taken in by one of these pieces is to buy only from a reputable dealer prepared to guarantee a piece is untouched. Another area where you should exercise some caution is in purchasing Zsolnay Eosin ware, as some very similar pieces are still being made today.

Marks & Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain (William Chaffers).


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