Of Meissen Men
Rare Porcelain Treasures from Private Collection at Bonhams

The Elector of Saxony and King of Poland Augustus II was popularly known as Augustus the Strong because of his astonishing physical strength – it was said he could snap a horseshoe in two with his bare hands. His name, however, is these days more associated with a gentler achievement – the founding of the Meissen porcelain factory in 1710. Rare early pieces from the factory are offered in Bonhams' live behind-closed-doors sale of Important Meissen Porcelain from a Private Collection in London on Wednesday 22 July. They include a figure of Augustus the Strong himself which has an estimate of £40,000-60,000.

Like many European monarchs, Augustus (1670-1733) greatly admired the Chinese porcelain which had been exported to the West since the early 17th century, the secrets of whose manufacture had never been unlocked. In 1700, seeking to make his own 'white gold', as porcelain was known, Augustus – a self-confessed sufferer from maladie de porcelaine – first engaged mathematician and scientist Ehrenfried von Tschirnhaus. When von Tschirnhaus died, the torch passed to his assistant, Friedrich Böttger, who had come the Elector's attention in the early 1700s with a foolhardy and entirely spurious claim to be able to turn base metal into gold. Augustus had kept him a virtual prisoner ever since, but Böttger in the end delivered a prize even greater to his master's heart than limitless wealth – the mastery of making porcelain.
The figure of Augustus the Strong from the collection was made around 1720. It is a small, elegant piece and exceedingly rare; no other has come to auction in 30 years. The gold decoration was probably applied in the Funcke Workshop in Dresden. The Dresden court-goldsmith Georg Funcke decorated porcelain of the Meissen manufactory from 1713 and worked in enamel colours as well as silver and gold.

Other rarities in the sale include:
• A very early and delicate Böttger Stoneware covered bottle vase made between 1710-13 that was once in the collection of the Margraefin Karoline Luise of Baden-Durlach. It remained in the collection of the Margraves of Baden until its sale in 1995. Karoline Luise was a remarkable woman, for whom the word formidable could have been invented. Fluent in five languages, she also was a good musician, a talented artist, and a regular correspondent with the great thinkers and artists of her time, such as Voltaire and Goethe. After her wedding in 1751 to Margrave Karl Friedrich, she enthusiastically pursued her artistic, scientific and literary studies and was known to brave storms and downpours to drag her entourage – with varying degrees of enthusiasm, no doubt – into the hills around Baden-Baden in search of rare minerals for her 'Cabinet of Minerals'. Her interest in porcelain was as much scientific as aesthetic and she collected samples of clay of all the famous factories of the day, arousing a certain amount of hostility from their owners who feared she was an industrial spy. Estimate: £50,000-80,000.
• A very rare Meissen slop-bowl from around 1723-4, with a view of the Albrechtsburg in Meissen on one side and the Elbe river on the other. The Albrechtsburg, whose foundations go back to the 10th century, is situated on the Elbe, around 30 km from Dresden, and was the site of the Meissen factory from 1710-1865. It remains a place of pilgrimage for Meissen fans to this day. Estimate: £3,000-5,000.
• A very rare and large Meissen 'Augustus Rex' vase and cover, decorated in famille verte style, on a gilt-bronze foot. It was likely to have been part of a larger garniture and intended to be displayed in Augustus the Strong's Japanese Palace, which after his death in 1733 never saw the light of day. Estimate: £30,000-50,000.
• An extremely rare pair of turtles in excellent condition. They are described in the factory archives as 'butterboxes shaped as tortoises', and there is only one known comparable example which was in the collection of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, and is now kept in their former home, the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. Estimate: £25,000-35,000.

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