Hungary for Herend Classical China? Pristine Porcelain is Nation’s Pride

A Herend Rothschild large bird teapot, featuring two different bird motifs (there are 12 Rothschild Oiseaux motifs) and scattered butterflies, circa 1915-1930.

A Herend Rothschild large bird teapot, featuring two different bird motifs (there are 12 Rothschild Oiseaux motifs) and scattered butterflies, circa 1915-1930.

The Herend Manufactory (as it call itself) has a long and exalted history in Hungary—its country of origin—with its reputation having spread to other capitals beginning in the early years of its operation. Later, and especially at present, North Americans have become exposed to the extraordinarily beautiful and expertly executed pat- terns and specialty decorative items.

The Herend factory was established in 1826 by a Vince Stingl. He began by producing stoneware, while he experimented with the technicalities of making lighter weight porcelain. Until the 17th century, porcelain had been imported from China to Europe by ship, as many European countries offered only heavy folk pottery for their tableware. The Europeans did not have the expertise or knowledge to produce thin “chinaware.” Finally, Johann Friedrich Bottger (who was actually an alchemist in search of gold), discovered a method of making porcelain around the year 1705, which allowed factories such as Meissen and others to begin the production of properly made china.

HEREND Rothschild Bird TEAPOT Large -HUNGARY-3In Hungary, experimentation with porcelain manufacturing was ongoing in Herend, a small village near the holiday resort of Lake Balaton, and in Telkibanya in the northern part of the country. Highly placed patrons lent their financial and political support to various factory endeavors. Lajos Kossuth (1802-1894), a nobleman and social reformer of the time, was influential in trying to change the economic system. He believed strongly that the modernization of the country could not occur without the establishment of Hungarian industry, which was still in a medieval and semi-feudal state. His clout with the Herend Company eclipsed that of another historical figure, Istvan Szechenyi, who was the patron of a Telkibanya concern. Eventually, Herend prevailed, and went on to become the preeminent pioneer of Hungarian porcelain, becoming renowned for its hand painted decoration. But Vince Stingl had a difficult time with the upkeep of his small factory, both with quality production and monetarily. He was in considerable debt for the purchase of essential equipment, and finally resorted to selling out to one of his creditors, Moricz Fischer, in 1839.

Mor Fischer, as he was known, gave the factory a real boost. As well as supplying a much needed infusion of capital, he worked hard to achieve an entrepreneurial dose of commercial success. He is generally considered the father of the present Herend factory. His ambition led to the expansion of the workforce, with new and improved kilns for large-scale manufacture.

The Herend backstamp and mold/pattern numbers on bottom of the Rothschild teapot.

The Herend backstamp and mold/pattern numbers on bottom of the Rothschild teapot.

The workers began researching and applying new techniques toward the reproduction of high-quality replacements for the classical pieces of Chinese and other origins, which the aristocracy could not find at that time. This led, predictably, to contemporary pattern making in the antique style, as well as to the production of forms and decorations reminiscent of the period pieces by Meissen, Sevres, Vienna and Capo di Monte. Meissen was a distinct influence, with its baroque emphasis on tea and coffee services featuring floral and aviary patterns. Likewise, the woven pattern on several Herend plate edges owes its origins to Meissen. Chinese motifs were incorporated as well, since porcelain originating in China always had a great influence on European factories with their interest in all things oriental. Several royal courts of the time (Italy among them) requested Herend to replace items that were missing from their old Chinese tableware sets. These orders helped to become firmly establish Herend’s reputation. Other Herend products perpetuated the beauty of Chinese porcelain, yet were distinctly Herend in their patterns and purpose. Some oriental patterns of this long-ago period can still be purchased today: Victoria (so named because Queen Victoria ordered this set, which was decorated with butterflies and flowers), Poisson, Ming and Godollo, for example.

While still imitating old, established patterns, the factory also started to incorporate its own personal versions of design. Thus began the theme of using local botanical and natural elements—such as fruits, insects and plants—from the Bokany region of Hungary. So, while still acknowledging the old, something was being created.

This globe Herend box is hand painted and done in pierced style with a floral decoration, circa 1900.

This globe Herend box is hand painted and done in pierced style with a floral decoration, circa 1900.

After winning great acclaim in exhibitions at home in Hungary and Vienna, the Herend style was ready for its international debut. This occurred at the first World Exhibition in London, England, in 1851. Herend took home a gold medal from the Crystal Palace, sold all the pieces on view, and received many large orders. It was a definite coup for the factory’s first international exposure. Here began the worldwide reputation that Herend porcelain still enjoys today. Within a few years, Herend displays could be found at the New York World Exhibition in 1853, and the Paris World Exhibition in 1855. Later, there would be gold medals from Amsterdam in 1887, St. Petersburg in 1901, and so on. Many distinguished customers followed from these events, several of whom had patterns named after them. Some important clients were the Rothschild family, Emperor Franz Joseph I, King Victor Emmanuel of Italy, Tsar Alexander II of Russia, the Shah of Persia, Alexander von Humboldt, and the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Fischer clung to the old-fashioned methods of porcelain production throwing the pots by hand, hand-painting the blanks, and reviving historical trends. During the period of 1857-1872, the factory was at its pinnacle. This was also the time in which the Arts and Crafts movement in England, with William Morris at its helm, was preaching a return to medieval craftsmanship, a denial of mass-produced wares, and a renewal of regional and traditional development. The Herend style fit the bill admirably. Fischer was accumulating personal honors, as well. In 1863 the Emperor Franz Joseph I gave him a knighthood, and the next year granted him all rights to patented designs of the now defunct Imperial Porcelain of Vienna factory. He also received a coveted medal from the French Legion of Honor. In 1872, he was dubbed “Purveyor to the Royal Court” (of Austro-Hungary). At the same time, outstanding pieces of Herend porcelain were beginning to appear in private collections, and museums began adding representative items to their exhibits.

In 1874, Europe experienced an economic slump. This, in combination with Mor Fischer’s advancing age and Herend insistence on manual artistic production without mechanization, drove the company toward insolvency. Fischer’s sons took the helm, Mor died soon afterward, and the firm was hard-put to get back into the mainstream. The sons tried mass production and decorative simplification, but were not successful. The factory slid into a decline in both artistic and financial aspects.

At the close of the 19th century, the company became the property of Jeno Farkashazy, a grandson of Mor Fischer, who was a trained ceramist. He reverted back to his grandfather’s values, gave new life to the old models and traditions, while introducing new innovations of his own. Things were looking up! He had great success at exhibitions around the turn of the century in Paris and St. Petersburg.

 A porcelain figurine by Herend, called "The Bather," circa 1950, created during the Communist era.

A porcelain figurine by Herend, called "The Bather," circa 1950, created during the Communist era.

In 1923, a new mixed ownership group took over, introducing modernization of decorative techniques and production methods. New artistic development and attempts to expand foreign market share were achieving success. A demand for ornamental items at affordable prices resulted in the development of small sculptures and cabinet pieces in addition to the tableware. These became very popular and included birds, animals, and figures of persons engaged in sport or dance. Hungarian subjects were favored, and these represented historical figures and those from favorite fairy tales and legends. Famous Hungarian artists of the time were commissioned to design some of these pieces. In the 1930s, commercial success was again on the way, and recognition was accorded by world acclaim at the Brussels Exposition of 1935 and at Paris in 1937. People were impressed by Herend’s products—the place settings with traditional motifs, as well as the newer and innovative sculpture line.

After the intrusion of World War II, the factory was nationalized in 1948. The war had handed a huge blow to the company. Since exports were the backbone in Herend’s financial health, it was negatively affected when it became shut out of the international marketplace. The proper china clay was unavailable, as it had always been imported. Domestic clay had never been the optimal raw material. After 1948, however, the situation improved somewhat with clay coming it from Limoges, and some exports resumed.

Production continued through the communist era, yet the Hungarian economy was isolated from the world scene by the Iron Curtain. However, within Hungary and the Eastern Bloc, there still existed a demand for political gifts and ideological statuary. Herend was in a good position to supply these needs. One can still find small cabinet sized sculptures of Stalin, and workers in socialist-approved occupations and poses.

This situation has changed dramatically in the 1990s. With the end of the communist influence, and with privatization of the company in 1993 with three-quarters of the firm owned by its employees, Herend has expanded and prospered. Herend products are now at the peak of their popularity. The majority of pieces are still hand-shaped and hand-painted, which assures its porcelain a place above similar large factories. Only the kneading and purification are mechanized. Electric kilns are utilized instead of the old wood burning stoves, and research is constantly conducted, with quality control meticulously maintained.

The Herend factory currently employs more than 1,500 crafts people—potters, designers and painters—and continues its traditional elegant style, with an extraordinarily wide selection of time-honored, richly decorated patterns, which are yours to explore and possibly own.

Some Herend patterns are majestic and gracious, some are sophisticated and sumptuous, some charming and delicate. But all are special beauties, which have been, and will be, cherished by many generations.

— by Shira Karpati

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