Easily breakable, porcelain is probably not the most practical material for making vessels intended to hold alcoholic beverages. Yet when porcelain production boomed in 18th-century Europe, aristocrats drank beer from delicate ceramic tankards and poured wine from dispensers adorned with intricate details that could have been easily snapped off by someone too many drinks past his limit. The maker of many of these embellished household objects was the Vienna-based Du Paquier Porcelain Manufactory, established in 1718 by Claudius Innocentius du Paquier, an agent in the Imperial Council of War at the Vienna court. Over its three decades of operation until it became state run, the business received commissions from aristocrats across the continent and even further afield, from members of the Habsburg court to nobility in the Ottoman Empire. In addition to drinking vessels, the manufactory also produced decorative vases, small-scale sculptures, and various tableware.
The Frick Collection, already home to an extensive collection of porcelain (including many pieces from China and the Sevrès factory in France), recently acquired 14 rare examples of Du Paquier Porcelain through a gift by its trustees Melinda and Paul Sullivan. The museum was able to select the objects, which have now gone on display (through next spring) in the building’s Reception Hall. They are relics of Du Paquier’s fine craftsmanship that was so in-demand at the time.
“The Du Paquier Manufactory created an impressive body of inventive and whimsical work, a truly distinctive voice in the history of European porcelain,” Geoffrey Ripert, the Frick’s curatorial assistant for decorative arts, told Hyperallergic. “It was the second manufactory after Meissen to discover the secret to producing hard-paste porcelain like that made in China since the 7th century — hence, yes, very influential. In fact, Meissen and Du Paquier were rivals and spied on one another.”
One particularly unique work the Frick has acquired is a white elephant wine dispenser — just one of three known to survive. The Hermitage owns another incredibly ornate, colorfully glazed example that Charles VI gifted to the Russian empress Anna Ivanovna; it demonstrates how the elephant would have stood on a revolving silver or metal stand, surrounded by eight dancing, porcelain peasants holding up cups in anticipation of wine, which would have poured from the animal’s trunk. The Frick’s white elephant once had paint on its surface but was never fired; it was likely made as a spare in case of breakage during firing, or perhaps as a second dispenser.
“The elephant might have been inspired by the live one gifted to Anna Ivanovna by Persian emissaries in 1736; in any case, it is a symbol of exuberance and exoticism which would have been much appreciated,” Ripert said. “Elephants were extremely rare animals at this time in Europe, and a porcelain rendering would have delighted and amazed any viewers. The delicacy of the sculpture, mix of materials, combined with the overtly baroque exoticism of the animal are characteristic of the exuberance of Du Paquier wares.” Another notable acquisition, used either as another wine dispenser or a coffeepot, integrates a lively cheetah into its handle, portrayed in mid-hunt after a chicken that functions as a lid knob. And on a tureen adorned with Asian-inspired motifs such as fans and cherry blossoms, springing fish serve as delightful, red-and white grips.
Du Paquier’s designs often integrate figurative details in such smart and playful ways. Among the Frick’s acquisition are two beer tankards, one of which you’d pick up by gripping the figure of a barrel maker, or cooper, identified by his leather apron. According to Ripert, only seven of all the manufactory’s tankards — each of which boasts distinct painted decorations — are known to feature a human figure. And at seven-and-a-half inches tall, this is one beer mug that would serve you well. While porcelain tended to belong in the homes of the wealthy, Du Paquier wares may have cropped up in inns, although the tankards used there were likely simpler in design. There were also numerous opportunities for the less well-to-do to own these luxury objects: Habsburg monarchs would stage shooting contests at their summer estate and distribute porcelain as prizes.
In 1744, du Paquier found himself debt-ridden despite his company’s popularity and was forced to sell it to Austrian archduchess Maria Theresa. It became known as the Vienna Porcelain Manufactory, with every object henceforth bearing the Dukes of Austria’s coat of arms until 1864, when the business closed for good. The wine dispensers, tankards, tureens, and other extravagant creations of Du Paquier recall a period when — at least for the privileged — it was not just the inner contents of dishes that had to impress.
The Frick Collection’s recent acquisition of Du Paquier porcelain is on view through March 2017.
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