The Rozenburg Eggshell Porcelain

The ‚Rozenburg porcelain’ entered the World’s stage at the Paris World Fair of 1900. The so-called eggshell porcelain was not subjected to any style, sassy and peculiar in its shape with imaginative patterns and distinguished through an extremely thin-walled and light material of ivory-yellow colour. After the enormous success at the World Fair, the vessels went on sale from June 1900 and were sold out within weeks. It is thanks to the undaunted will of Jurrian Kok that this new porcelain saw the light of day. The innovative kind of porcelain by Haagsche Plateelbakkerij Rozenburg contributed a lot to the Art Nouveau current of the Netherlands. All in all more than 900 models were manufactured, circa 300 of them of eggshell porcelain, over 300 painters, both male and female, had been employed.

At the beginning, business was dull due to high costs and an ensuing small group of customers. Thus, unfortunately, production ceased shortly after the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 and the manufacture closed for good in 1917.

History of the Rozenburg manufacture

The Haagsche Plateelbakkerij Rozenburg in the Netherlands only existed a few years but its repertory of shapes and patterns executed in faience, earthenware and porcelain was much larger than at most European manufacturers and soon after the end of fabrication, Rozenburg items became worth collecting even by museums. The name of ‚Rozenburg’ since then has always been linked to its thin-walled eggshell porcelain that aficionados all over the world covet.

Baron Wolf von Gudenberg, a former German cavalry officer who had been working at Delft as a porcelain decorator, decided to manufacture Delftware himself in 1883. Delftware had been famous since the middle of the 17 century, earthenware vessels and plates, glazed in its typical white and blue. He planted his enterprise at a manor called ‚Rozenburg’ in Den Haag. He chose this name to be that of his factory. At the beginning, business was dull, so that the factory changed hands quickly and knew a row of administrative directors, until in 1895 J. Jurrian Kok, who had already been artistic director, took over the management as well. He realised quickly that large factories were only able to survive when pieces of high-quality could be produced. They had to import the ingredients from England or Germany because their environment did not supply neither coal nor clay, no material for glazing nor colouring. Competing with the numerous faience furnaces of abroad was very hard. Kok, who was trained as an architect and builder had an unerring eye for lines and shapes and managed to boost the factory. They produced pleasant faiences, vases, ewers, decorative plates but the rather heavy earthenware was mediocre. Kok dreamed of creating a thin-walled, transparent porcelain. If he had been trained as a faience maker he would have shunned the difficulties that occured during the execution. There were a lot of recipes for porcelain making, but their execution was quite difficult. Like building furnaces for high-firing; the objects needed to be kept at the right temperature for some time, if the heat was too strong, or the item too long in the flames, the fine porcelain would melt, and other tricks and details that had to be taken care of. With the aide of Chemist M. N. Engelen whose interest Kok was able to wake, he began secretly to experiment with porcelain. They failed many times but in 1899 it was accomplished. A new ceramic of an interesting technique, the so-called ‚Eggshell porcelain’ was brought into production.

The eggshell porcelain

The name ‚Eggshell porcelain’ reveils already the nature of the material. It is extremely thin and sheer, like in an eggshell. Its composition is known today, Kok had kept a record. He attained a variant form of the english ‚Bone China’ that he was able to change into a pourable mass and eventually in a thin-walled but firm final good.

Shape Due to the glass-like, soft material, shapes could be achieved that had not been possible before. The round shapes typical for pottery ceded to rectangular or curved outlines. The pieces appear to be small works of art of an architect. The peculiar composition had its reason, due to the edges, the thin porcelain was more stable than with round or cylindrical shapes. This is the reason that prevented the vessels to collapse or shrink during the firing. The peculiar vessels, mostly pots, cups and covered jars seem to be soft, handles and lids align smoothly with the body. Contemporary critique celebrated the pieces as novelty. Around 315 models went into serial production. The usefulness of the vessel was in the fore, applied eyes or handles fit comfortably into the hand. The factory strived for functionality but it is doubtful if the porcelain has ever been in use.

Coulours Having Kok as artistic director, not only the shapes were modernised but also the colour scheme was revived with lighter and more diversified colours. Numerous colours were used, main colours were dulled brown, shades of green, purple and blue, more lushly in the pattern with canary yellow and a deep enamel blue. The colour scheme sometimes seemed bold, sometimes rather tender.

While producing eggshell porcelain, it was discovered that colourful patterns showed to advantage if fired underglaze. Above all, it could be achieved in one single firing instead of several like with the Delft ware. Back then, Rozenburg was the only factory that was equipped with a rich choice of colours that could be applied on biscuit, were immune to high-firing and thus were able to maintain their lustre and retain their original colour. Thus a permanent and intensive colouring was possible, even it it was not easily brought forth in the technical sense. Glazing was done by dipping the vessel into a glazing vat. The traces of the glazing tongs then melted in the oven.

Pattern Decoration was distinct: Japonesque, fancy Chinoiseries, knotted plants in polychrome but attuned colours. Flora and Fauna were processed to ornamental patterns. Motifs are manifold, rosette-like ornaments and freely stylised animals, flowers and landscapes.

In 1883 an exhibition showing Javanese arts-and-crafts was held in Amsterdam. Javaneses batik textiles presented naturalistic patterns with plants, flowers and whirling floral patterns, and moreover birds, peacocks or butterflies. The art of the Indonesian colonies had a strong influence on the representatives of the ‚Nieuwe Kunst’. The artists of Rozenburg did not stay immune to it. Exotic birds or spiders are popular motifs on Rozenburg ware. Among the plants, chrysanthemum, lilac and thistle were preferred. Some patterns are borrowed from Japanese models, posessing certain subtexts in far countries. Flowers are mostly naturalistic depictions with fine brushstrokes, landscapes on the other hand always stylised, occasionally reduced to mere lines, ceding to a flower pattern. Frequently, entwined irregular colour spots create an ornamental effect. Pattern and shape become one. Sometimes the pattern covers only few space on an object. That might stem from the influence of Japanese woodcuts. The asymmetric, diagonal build-up and its pattern without shadows against a two-dimensional background is typical. The arrangement contributes to the effect of lightness and stresses the fineness of the material.

Signatures and marks The painters eternalised themselves with their signatures on the bottom of the vessels, next to a manufacturer’s mark that changed its appearance many times. Chief painter Samuel Schellink was intensly involved with eggshell porcelain, as were Hendrikus Gerardus Antonius Huyvenaar, Jacobus Willem van Rossum or W. P. Hartgring. From 1890 ‚Rozenburg den Haag’ was used as a mark, in 1892 the stork was added and since the Paris World Fair in 1900, the crown became part of the inscription. Queen Wilhelmina bestowed the title ‚Royal Porcelain and Faience factory Rozenburg’ upon the manufacturer. Year letters preceded figurative signs, like bees, anchors or lanterns. Next to these, internal marks are given.

Sylvia Kellerer M.A.

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